'Firefly' First Episode: THR's 2002 Review
In fall 2002, Fox rolled the dice with a new sci-fi series, Firefly, which debuted Sept. 20 and became a cult favorite. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below:
In a new season largely bereft of innovative ideas or daring concepts, Firefly stands out like a supermodel at a bus stop. In this, the first series by Buffy creator Joss Whedon under his development deal with Fox, he combines the sci-fi and Western formats, peppers them with wit and action and comes up with something truly original and highly watchable.
Yes, the adjective “troubled” has been attached to the development process for this show. The two-hour pilot, which might normally launch such a series, will be seen later in the season as a special. Whatever the bumps along the way, the end result is a new and different form for storytelling and characters with engaging stories to tell.
Firefly gets its name for the type of transport spaceship owned and operated by Capt. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). For six years, Reynolds fought on the losing side of a war to keep all the planets from coming under a singled allied government.
Now the war is over, and Reynolds tries to keep a low profile even as he engages in a transport business of cargo that is often contraband. The Alliance is portrayed less as an evil, menacing force than a benign bureaucracy.
Fillion is perfect as a traditional Western anti-hero: calm and charismatic, occasionally reckless but always guided by a strong moral compass. But this ranger is not alone. On board are eight others — some part of the crew, some seeking refuge and others with their own agendas. There’s second-in-command Zoe (Gina Torres), who can kick butt with as much finesse as Buffy; Wash (Alan Tudyk), her mild-mannered husband and the ship’s pilot; Kaylee (Jewel Staite), the eager and surprisingly young engineer; and Jayne (Adam Baldwin), a mercenary with a personality borrowed from Gen. Alexander Haig.
Along for the ride are space-age hooker Inara (Morena Baccarin), ship medic Simon (Sean Maher) and his sister, River (Summer Glau), who escaped from an Allied research institution but not before several brain cells got scrambled.
You might think it would be impossible to find an intersection between the high-tech world of sci-fi and the low-tech world of Westerns, but Whedon pulls it off. Mostly, he does this by avoiding the gaudier elements of sci-fi — such things as androids and mutants — and creating a universe with a mixture of technologies, barren landscapes and an Asian influence.
In this, he received enormous support from production designer Carey Meyer, set decorator David Koneff and costumer Jill Ohanneson, who connect to create a future world with a wild and woolly ambiance. Creating this strange, intriguing universe is one thing; attracting viewers to it is another. If Whedon is to avoid an unfair sophomore slump, Fox must get a lot of young male viewers who often aren’t available Friday nights. That proved to be a problem for predecessors in the time slot (The Visitor, Freakylinks and even Dark Angel) and could be for this series, as well. — Barry Garron