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Firefly: The Complete Series

Some television shows, like some people, may just be too good for this harsh, crazy world. How else to explain it when a smart, beautifully shot, insanely entertaining show with a crackerjack cast gets shoddy treatment by its own network and vanishes after less than a full season? Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, had a battle on his hands with his show Firefly before it ever even hit the air — uncertain whether to throw their weight behind Whedon's space western or James Cameron's Dark Angel, Fox predictably went with the heavier hitter, giving Cameron carte blanche while rejecting the two-hour Firefly pilot and insisting on a shorter cut that could be used as a first episode. Once it hit the air, Fox did their level best — whether inadvertently or on purpose — to make sure it never gained an audience by taking it off for weeks at a time and moving it to different days and time-slots. Eventually it was simply canceled, with three unaired episodes still in the can. A complicated — and expensive-to-produce — show, the creators describe Firefly's premise thusly: "Five hundred years in the future, there is a whole new frontier, and the crew of the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity is eager to stake a claim on the action. They'll take any job, legal or illegal, to keep fuel in the tanks and food on the table. But things get a bit more complicated after they take on a passenger wanted by the new totalitarian Alliance regime. Now they find themselves on the run, desperate to steer clear of Alliance ships and the flesh-eating Reavers who live on the fringes of space." The show's universe is a solar system full of Earth-like planets that have been colonized by humans. Culturally, American and Chinese influences battle for supremacy — the characters swear in Chinese and Asian newspapers and props appear throughout the various locales in the show — with the show's events taking place after a civil war fought over whether planets should remain independent entities. Unfortunately, the oppressive Alliance won and it governs everything except for outlaws, like the Serenity gang, who do their best to fly under the radar.

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Firefly essentially is a western with laser pistols replacing Colt .45s and the crew of the Serenity traveling throughout the aforementioned new frontier pulling the sci-fi equivalent of bank and train robberies (one episode is, in fact, titled "The Train Job") while creating a rag-tag family of miscreants and outlaws. The gang's headed up by the transport ship's captain, Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), an ex-soldier who fought with his second-in-command Zoe (Gina Torres) against the Alliance. The ship's pilot is Zoe's husband, Wash (Alan Tudyk of A Knight's Tale), the engineer is sweet-but-scrappy Kaylee (Jewel Staite), and there's a tough-as-nails mercenary, Jayne (the always watchable Adam Baldwin). Along the way they pick up a handful of folks who have their own reasons for operating outside the mainstream — a courtesan named Inara (Morena Baccarin) who shares a mutual attraction and distrust with Mal, a preacher (Ron Glass) who's less than forthcoming about his own reasons for avoiding the law, and a doctor (Sean Maher) on the run from Alliance forces with his brilliant, crazy sister (Summer Glau). Wanting, Whedon said, to create a space epic that was more about colonization and immigration than about spaceships and robots ("I want it to be Grapes of Wrath as much as Stagecoach," he said when the show first hit the air), the show's look was all gritty frontier-towns and dusty roads, with the characters spouting dialogue that was pure Whedon (Inara: "What did I tell you about barging in here?" Mal: "That it was manly and impulsive?" Inara: "Precisely. But the exact word I used was, 'Don't.'") Fortunately for those who loved the show, Whedon is working feverishly at putting together a Firefly feature film. And fortunately for those who never got a chance to see it, the show's one-and-only season is available as a DVD box set.

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Fox's four-disc set Firefly: The Complete Series offers all 14 episodes — including three that never aired — in the order in which Whedon and co-creator Tim Minear originally wanted them to be shown. The anamorphic transfers (1.75:1) are pristine, with deep, saturated colors and crisp detail — and the audio (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English, French or Spanish) is superb. Extras include commentary on seven episodes by the creators and/or actors, three deleted scenes, a "making-of" featurette called "Here's How It Was," plus a tour of the set and a featurette on the Serenity construction, footage of Alan Tudyk's audition, a gag reel, Whedon singing the Firefly theme (which he wrote), and an Easter egg with Adam Baldwin singing. Four slimline cases in a paperboard slipcase.
—Dawn Taylor

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