Review of Firefly (TV Show)

Bottom line: Intense and yet often hilarious – a rare example of a good sci fi show.

Rating: Shiny (Strongly Recommended)

Blurb:

The blurb that follows is lifted from the Barnes and Noble page, and it’s a bit long, but it does a reasonable job of answering the question “but what is it about?

Joss Whedon, the executive producer behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, reached for curious new heights in the fall of 2002 with the Fox series Firefly, and the fruits of his labor are collected in this four-disc set. Set 500 years in the future, Firefly falls in the category of sci-fi space adventure, yet its flavor is rooted in the Wild West. Earth is pretty much spent, and a totalitarian government known as the Alliance rules the planets where most of its earlier inhabitants have spread. Nathan Fillion stars as Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, who fought for independence from the Alliance in a civil war, and now captains the Serenity, a ship of outcasts. His crew includes his second-in-command Zoe Gina Torres, a pilot named Wash Alan Tudyk, engineering maven Kaylee Jewel Staite, and career soldier Jayne Adam Baldwin. Also aboard are Inara Morena Baccarin, a highly respected prostitute; a preacher known as Shepherd Book Ron Glass, of Barney Miller fame; and a mysterious pair of siblings — Simon and River Tam — portrayed by Sean Maher and Summer Glau, respectively. Although Whedon’s Farscape- meets- Bonanza concept clicked straight away with many fans, the series failed to meet Fox’s ratings needs, and crashed after 11 episodes, all collected here, in addition to a trio of unaired episodes. Fox could not permanently ground this crew, however; Serenity, a big-screen reunion movie directed by writer-producer Whedon, opened in theaters in September, 2005, drawing generally favorable reviews.

Review:

This show has many things that I would normally hate – there is lots of tension, drama, and unhappiness – but there is also excellent characters, strong morals, and subtly hilarious lines. Essentially, it is Joss Whedon (god of the nerds) at his finest. Shoot, it might be TV at its finest. It was cancelled after eleven episodes, and strong fan outrage prompted a follow up movie, Serenity, which is also amazing, but difficult to watch because there are so many sad moments in it. (Note: Firefly also has its very hard to watch moments. Don’t be scared off: I am a total wimp and want everyone to be happy all the time. Tone-wise it’s very similar to Castle – see my review here.)

So what is it that prompted such a small but incredibly intense following? Everything about it is done well. The casting, acting, writing, special effects, everything is just fantastic. The characters feel like real people and you root for them even when they screw up. Whedon developed the show after reading the book The Killer Angels (strongly recommended, even for non-history buffs, like myself) about the Civil War and wondering what happened to those who fought on the losing side.

This is the kind of show that you find yourself thinking about days, months, even years after watching it. I can’t watch it too frequently because, as I said earlier, it can be dark and there is definitely violence, language, and sex. Even with all of that, it still feels hopeful. Loyalty and family bonds are very strong themes throughout – family being those we are related to, those we gather around us, and those we somehow fell into it with. And if we have our family standing with us, we can face anything.

Get it: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Are you a Browncoat? Does it sound like something you’d try?

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

 

Wimsey Wednesday: an Introduction to a Not-Altogether-Unhealthy Obsession

Howdy! I’m on vacation in Brazil for most of September, so I turned the tables on my readers and opened up the blog for guests posts while I’m gone. You may recognize today’s guest blogger from the comments as “intexplorer”, but I just call him “Dad”. As you will see, I come by my love of both Dorothy Sayers’ work and alliteration naturally.

When I was a teenager, I was a voracious reader with tastes that were either very eclectic or not-very-discriminating.  I read science fiction, mysteries, adventures, history, political tomes, fantasy, and more.  When I first read Lord of the Rings, I remember being struck with how complex the sentence structures were.  Whereas the fiction of C.S. Lewis and Alastair MacLean were always easy reads and instantly accessible, J.R.R. Tolkien and, later, Dorothy Sayers, required a bit of literary recalibration.  Looking back on this, I think that my reading diet contained so much light fare that my brain was not accustomed to the meaty writing of a Sayers or Tolkien without some extra effort on my part.

Mind you, I’m not equating the quality of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy with The Guns of Navarone, but I guess it does follow that part of the genius of C.S. Lewis was that he wrote superb fiction which is instantly accessible to the average reader.

Dorothy Sayers created the character of Lord Peter Wimsey after World War I as a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Bertie Wooster.  Wimsey is a member of the English aristocracy, but as the second son, he has no title, few responsibilities, and lots of money.  So naturally he decides to devote some of his spare time and ample intelligence to solving the mysteries that spring up all about him.

Author Dorothy Sayers was one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford (in 1915) and was a friend of C.S. Lewis and other members of an Oxford literary club called the “Inklings.”  Sayers seems to have been unlucky in love and, clearly, Lord Peter Wimsey was her perfect man.  He is introduced as a somewhat cardboard-ish figure in Whose Body, but as Sayers develops his world and character over the course of eleven novels, he becomes as real and interesting as any person I’ve not personally met; and more interesting than many people I have met.

The books are a marvel to read, with the mysteries being of secondary importance to the sense of time, place, and manners.  Most of the books are also available as audiobooks and some as dramatizations, with the former to be preferred over the latter.  The late Ian Carmichael read most of the novels in unabridged format for the BBC Radio 4 “Book at Bedtime” series during the 70’s and early 80’s—long before audiobooks became popular.  Carmichael completely owns the characters, and any of these books make an excellent way to pass the time during long car trips.  Many is the time we have listened to some—or most—of a Wimsey mystery on a road trip, and then been forced to spend the next week or so finishing the audiobook in one or two hour segments every night: they are that addictive.

The Lord Peter Wimsey novels can be divided into two groups:  Wimsey the bachelor, and Wimsey the wooer (of novelist Harriet Vane).  Perhaps coincidentally, the two Wimsey television adaptations are divided the same way.  Next week, I will review the better (and more recent) series, which covers three of the four Wimsey/Vane novels.  And then I will review the earlier adaptation, which stars an already-too-old Ian Carmichael.  This series is also excellent, but likely to be of more interest to those who share my not-altogether-unhealthy obsession with the Wimsey characters and series.

*Janie again here! For my take on Dorothy Sayers, see my post here.

Castle TV Series

Bottom line: A murder mystery TV series with great characters, acting, and storylines.

Rating: Strongly Recommended

Castle is my favorite TV show. Maybe of all time, but definitely my favorite currently running show. It’s a murder mystery that features Detective Kate Beckett and her crew, who have been told to bring a writer, Richard Castle, along with them in the course of their investigations, so that he can gather information to write a series of books.

I only tried it because it stars Nathan Fillion, who was the male lead in the tragically short lived TV series Firefly. Castle is fantastically good. It’s one of those rare shows where everything comes together: the writing, characters, casting, acting, plots, etc. are all just incredibly well done. They even managed to handle the sexual tension (it’s TV, therefore there must be sexual tension) well. I stopped watching Bones because at the end of every season, there would be this huge “will they/won’t they” cliffhanger, and then when they started the next season they just pretended the last episode hadn’t happened. After 5-6 seasons like that, I just got fed up. I’m not a huge TV watcher in general, but any time the writers start to obviously manipulate the audience, I lose interest instantly (this annoys my husband – we’ll be invested maybe a couple of seasons deep and all of a sudden, I’m done.). I want to be thinking about the story and the characters, not be wondering about how the writers are going to yank my chain next. Anyways, in Castle the relationship between the male and female lead feels natural, and progresses and regresses (for the vast majority) according to believable events within the context of the show. As the characters are the main draw for me, this is even more important than usual. And ALL the characters are great, even the supporting cast – they feel realistic and interact well and are basically the kinds of people that you wish you could go hang out with.

The only downside for me is that sometimes you get an incredibly intense, edge-of-your-seat, gruesome show, and sometimes you get a fun, lighthearted show, and you never know which you’re going to get. Although I think in general that’s a good thing (keeps it fresh), it is the reason I stopped watching about a year ago when I was pregnant and tired and stressed out and couldn’t handle anything even remotely intense. I haven’t managed to get caught up yet, but I will.

Get the first season: Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

Side Note: As an interesting promotional tactic, the powers that be have created the Nikki Heat books that are supposedly written by the character Richard Castle (the Amazon author page even shows Nathan Fillion). They’re actually not bad mysteries. The writing style is a little more sensationalized and occasionally cheesy than I would typically go for, but it’s a fun extension of the Castle world. This is one of the incredibly rare times when I’ll tell you to watch the TV show first, but there it is. I’ve read the first two Nikki Heat books and enjoyed them. I don’t know yet if I’ll read the others – my “to be read” list has become quite enormously high again – but not because I don’t think I wouldn’t like them. Do be aware, especially if you typically read cozies, that these are fairly intense and PG-13-y.

Get the first book, Heat Wave: Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.

Family Fridays – Avatar: The Last Airbender TV Series

TV Show: Avatar: The Last Airbender (this has nothing to do with the James Cameron Avatar movie)

Genre: Children’s Fantasy/Anime

Ages: 8-10 on up, depending on the child

Synopsis:

Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Only the Avatar was the master of all four elements. Only he could stop the ruthless Fire Nation from conquering the world. But when the world needed him most, he disappeared. Until now… On the South Pole, a lone Water Tribe village struggles to survive. It’s here that a young Waterbender named Katara and her warrior brother Sokka rescue a strange boy named Aang from a cavernous iceberg. Not only is Aang an Airbender–a race of people no one has seen in a century–but they soon discover that Aang is also the long lost Avatar. Now it’s up to Katara and Sokka to make sure Aang faces his destiny to save the tribe–and himself. Did we mention he’s only 12?

Review:

My husband and I have watched all three seasons of this more than once. It’s a fun show that has great world building, some beautiful art, and interesting characters. I’m going to call the style “anime-lite.” I am not an anime lover (though I am an animal lover) – I’ve tried a couple of different shows and could just never get into any of them. This show has some of the overly stylized elements of anime, some episodes more than others, but they didn’t annoy me as they often do.

This is a classic “good vs. evil” saga, and there are some darker episodes (this is, after all, about a world war), but if your child is used to watching superhero cartoons, this is pretty tame by those standards. It takes the traditional four elements, adds a touch of magic, and then makes them into martial art forms. There are some really great themes explored that go beyond the usual friendship, love, loyalty, etc. For example, Aang, the main character, really struggles with how to bring peace to the world but still remain true to his nonviolent beliefs. Also there is a flying bison.

It is aimed at the younger generation, but if you are a fantasy fan, it’s definitely worth checking out at any age. It’s available at Barnes & Noble, and is free to stream from Netflix and Amazon prime.

Side Note: There was a movie adaptation, which looked terrible, so I haven’t seen it. Reviewers have not been kind to it. There is also a continuation of the series called “The Legend of Korra” which takes place a couple of generations later than the original series. This is much darker and has a steampunk edge to it. I found it to be too much stress for very little emotional payoff. I’m told that it got better a couple of episodes in, but life is too short to watch shows you don’t like.

*If you use these links to make a purchase, Lector’s Books may receive a small commission. This will not affect your price or purchasing experience in any way.