Some television shows blaze brightly and fade quickly. Others ignite and burn for years. Joss Whedon's Firefly did neither. The sci-fi opus barely sparked during its brief run on Fox in 2002, yet managed to leave a uniquely vibrant afterglow, nurtured by stalwart fans and new ones who continue to discover the series on DVD and cable. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Science Channel will air a reunion special, Firefly: Browncoats United (Nov. 11 at 10 p.m.), which brings together Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, and others for a conversation (moderated by this reporter) about the show's origins and legacy. Here's why we think Firefly has endured for a decade.
A Tomorrow That Feels Like Today
Firefly takes place in a distant future where most of humanity lives far from Earth on desolate planets in Deadwood-esque settlements out-fitted with high-tech flourishes. Many curious watchers were originally perplexed by Whedon's mash-up of sci-fi and Western. And the fusion of American and Chinese cultures. And the backstory about a failed revolution by rebellious ''Browncoats.'' Yet these same qualities make Firefly feel timeless; nothing dates it, except Fillion's look how young he looks! mug. In fact, the show's depiction of a group of war-scarred loners living aboard a dumpy-yet-resilient spaceship, struggling to recover from past catastrophes and survive current hard times, is more relevant than ever.
''Big Damn Heroes''
If you've seen The Avengers, you know Whedon specializes in finely drawn (and often very funny) characters with crackling group chemistry. He also knows how to pick actors, and Firefly may be his best cast ever. (Cue the deluge of complaints from Buffy the Vampire Slayer loyalists.) With so many star-making turns from so many now-established names, it's mind-boggling in retrospect to believe this show bombed. Fillion's haunted antihero Mal Reynolds. Glau's damaged and dangerous River. Morena Baccarin's sophisticated-sexy ''companion'' (read: prostitute) Inara. To say nothing of Alan Tudyk, Gina Torres, Ron Glass, Jewel Staite, and Sean Maherbecause we don't have room, and we really need to talk about...
That would be the name adopted by hardcore Firefly fans, who deeply identify with the spunky-scrappy esprit de corps of their Big Damn Heroes. In an era of passionate geek tribalism, Browncoats are a breed apart. At Comic-Con this past year, nearly 10,000 showed up for Science's Firefly reunion panel in a room that could seat about 5,000. ''When I see you guys, I don't think the show's off the air,'' an emotional Whedon told them. ''I think it's going on in all of us. The story is alive because of you.''
What Could Have Been
One juicy tidbit you'll learn from the reunion: Had Firefly continued, Wash (Alan Tudyk) and Zoe (Gina Torres) would have had a baby, and fans would have discovered that Inara (Morena Baccarin, right) was dying of a terminal illness. What would've happened next? You'll have to tune in to the Science Channel special to find out.