Serenity premiers tonight.
For the rest of us – god, high hopes, fears, and I know whatever I see, I’ll be left waiting for more. Joss, you better be hard at work on Serenity II already.
I’m a firefly newcomer; Doxy and Gregg both told me over and over to go fucking rent the DVDs, and so far neither one has steered me wrong on anything (Gregg, thanks forever for making me read Sandman). But I was hooked from the first episode, and then hooked even deeper on re-watching.
I was a huge Buffy fan; I loved it, when it was at it’s best. But Buffy was an idea with a shelf-life, and the show exceeded the shelf-life by three seasons at least. Joss was also still learning how to do a teevee show when he did Buffy and it showed. In some ways he did better with Angel; while it never hit Buffy’s highest highs, it also never got anywhere near Buffy’s deplorable lows. In terms of craftsmanship, it was simply a better made show.
But both show Joss’ gifts; as a writer, as a universe-builder, as a director. And as a character developer, because it’s really the characters that make his shows work. He fishes characters out of the oddest places and makes them live and breath. Fred, who is close to my favorite buffy character of all time. Spike, who was so obviously stolen from the pages of Swamp Thing and Hellblazer that I’m surprised Joss didn’t get sued. Drusilla. Cordelia. Willow, in all her incarnations. Giles, who seemed like a cardboard cut-out until they started to tease us with his ripper past.
The trouble with both shows is that there were also characters, and actors, that just could not hold up the quality. Some of the casting was painful, and when Joss stepped away from Buffy to do other things, the writing often veered into sheer horror. And then, some of the ideas, like the ‘Buffy’s little sister’ story line, and ‘Glorificus’, the three geek super-villians, the army of slayers, having Cordelia take on Doyle’s powers when Doyle left, possibly sounded good when they were brain-stormed, but fell badly flat on screen. Some of it was just the acting (Michelle Trachtenberg, who was sweet and funny in Ice Princess, could NOT manage the dialog or the characterization to carry off Dawn – and then there were all the young models cast as slayers, or glorificus, and many others). But a lot of it just has bad idea written all over it. There was nothing good about the ‘sister’ idea, and they clearly started up a lot of plots with no idea what they were going to do with a finale. Angel’s sone was another stupid clunker, again, not very well thought through, and an actor who couldn’t carry off the portrayal.
I think Joss lacked a clear and complete vision for both shows after the first few seasons; maybe he just lost interest, or maybe he burnt out on dealing with the egos of his stars and his networks.
With Firefly, he started things differently. First, he cast actors – damned good ones – right from the word go. His one huge mistake — Rebecca Gayheart, who’s totally lickable but can’t act her way out of a paper bag — was booted a few days into filming and replaced with the incredible Morena Baccarin, who’s far more lickable, and who is a gifted actress.
The super-solid casting is complimented by a clear vision of his story; he’s not leaning on the supernatural, he’s got a stage as wide as space in which to tell a story, and he’s got his usual crew of writers and directors much more in line with how to tell his story. Buffy was always presented as camp; at best, it was great operatic tragedy with a thin veneer of comedy. But often its need to be light and silly made the story-telling weak. Here, though the characters are all smart-ass and funny, the story is serious, people die, people are hurt. There’s a much deeper, more dramatic edge.
I think this show could have survived past a decent first season or two or three. It has more room to tell it’s story, and a more deft, sure hand at the helm than I think Joss started with. To me, it’s already the best thing Joss has done, and he’s only just starting.
So – do I have high hopes? Yes. Very high. I am set up for disappointment, but I don’t care. I’m going to see this moving expecting nothing but success. We’ll see.