Firefly (TV series)

Not to be confused with Fireflies (TV series).
The word "Firefly" against a parchment background written in a golden illuminated flowing cursive script
Created by Joss Whedon
Theme music composer Joss Whedon
Opening theme "The Ballad of Serenity" performed by Sonny Rhodes
Composer(s) Greg Edmonson
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 14 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)
Producer(s) Ben Edlund
Cinematography David Boyd
Editor(s) Lisa Lassek
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time 44 minutes
Production company(s)
Distributor 20th Television
Original network Fox
Picture format
Audio format 5.1 Surround Sound
Original release September 20 (2002-09-20) – December 20, 2002 (2002-12-20)
Followed by

Firefly is an American space western drama television series created by writer and director Joss Whedon, under his Mutant Enemy Productions label. Whedon served as an executive producer, along with Tim Minear. The series is set in the year 2517, after the arrival of humans in a new star system and follows the adventures of the renegade crew of Serenity, a "Firefly-class" spaceship. The ensemble cast portrays the nine characters who live on Serenity. Whedon pitched the show as "nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things".[1]

The show explores the lives of a group of people who fought on the losing side of a civil war and others who now make a living on the fringe of society, as part of the pioneer culture of their star system. In this future, the only two surviving superpowers, the United States and China, fused to form the central federal government, called the Alliance, resulting in the fusion of the two cultures. According to Whedon's vision, "nothing will change in the future: technology will advance, but we will still have the same political, moral, and ethical problems as today".[2]

Firefly premiered in the U.S. on the Fox network on September 20, 2002. By mid-December, Firefly had averaged 4.7 million viewers per episode and was 98th in Nielsen ratings.[3] It was canceled after eleven of the fourteen produced episodes were aired. Despite the relatively short life span of the series, it received strong sales when it was released on DVD and has large fan support campaigns.[4][5] It won a Primetime Emmy Award in 2003 for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series. TV Guide ranked the series at No. 5 on their 2013 list of 60 shows that were "Cancelled Too Soon".[6]

The post-airing success of the show led Whedon and Universal Pictures to produce Serenity, a 2005 film which continues from the story of the series,[4] and the Firefly franchise expanded to other media, including comics and a role-playing game.[7][8]



The series takes place in the year 2517, on a variety of planets and moons. The TV series does not reveal whether these celestial bodies are within one star system, only saying that Serenity's mode of propulsion is a "gravity-drive". The film Serenity makes clear that all the planets and moons are in one large system, and production documents related to the film indicate that there is no faster-than-light travel in this universe. The characters occasionally refer to "Earth-that-was", and the film establishes that, long before the events in the series, a large population had emigrated from Earth to a new star system in generation ships:[9] "Earth-that-was could no longer sustain our numbers, we were so many". The emigrants established themselves in this new star system, with "dozens of planets and hundreds of moons". Many of these were terraformed, a process in which a planet or moon is altered to resemble Earth. The terraforming process was only the first step in making a planet habitable, however, and the outlying settlements often did not receive any further support in the construction of their civilizations. This resulted in many of the border planets and moons having forbidding, dry environments, well-suited to the Western genre.


Mal and Zoe in the original pilot "Serenity". The photo depicts the harsh planetary environments of the fictional universe's frontier cultures.

The show takes its name from the "Firefly-class" spaceship, Serenity, that the central characters call home. It resembles a firefly in general arrangement, and the tail section, analogous to a bioluminescent insectoid abdomen, lights up during acceleration. The ship was named after the Battle of Serenity Valley, where Mal and Zoe were on the losing side. It is revealed in "Bushwhacked" that the Battle of Serenity Valley is widely considered the loss which sealed the fate of the Independents.

Throughout the series, the Alliance is shown to govern the star system through an organization of "core" planets, following its success in forcibly unifying all the colonies under a single government. DVD commentary suggests that the Alliance is composed of two primary "core" systems, one predominantly Western in culture, the other pan-Asian, justifying the mixed linguistic and visual themes of the series. The central planets are firmly under Alliance control, but the outlying planets and moons resemble the 19th-century American West, with little governmental authority. Settlers and refugees on the outlying worlds have relative freedom from the central government, but lack the amenities of the high-tech civilization that exists on the inner worlds. In addition, the outlying areas of space ("the black") are inhabited by the Reavers, a cannibalistic group of nomadic humans that have become savage and animalistic.[10]

The captain of the crew of Serenity is Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and the episode "Serenity" establishes that the captain and his first mate Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres) are veteran "Browncoats" of the Unification War, a failed attempt by the outlying worlds to resist the Alliance's assertion of control. A later episode, titled "Out of Gas", reveals that Mal bought the spaceship Serenity to continue living beyond Alliance control. Much of the crew's work consists of cargo runs or smuggling. One of the main story arcs is that of River Tam (Summer Glau) and her brother Simon (Sean Maher). River is a child prodigy, whose brain was subjected to experiments at the hands of Alliance scientists at a secret government institution. As a result, she displays schizophrenia and often hears voices. It is later revealed that she is a "reader", one who possesses telepathic abilities. Simon gave up a career as a highly successful trauma surgeon to rescue her from the Alliance, and as a result of this rescue they are both wanted fugitives. In the original pilot "Serenity", Simon joins the crew as a paying passenger with River smuggled on board as cargo. As Whedon states in an episodic DVD commentary, every show he does is about creating family.[11] By the last episode, "Objects in Space", the fractured character of River has finally become whole, partly because the others decided to accept her into their "family" on the ship.[11]

Signature show elements

The show blended elements from the space opera and Western genres, depicting humanity's future in a manner different from most contemporary science fiction programs in that there are no large space battles. Firefly takes place in a multi-cultural future, primarily a fusion of Western and East Asian cultures, where there is a significant division between the rich and poor. As a result of the Sino-American Alliance, Mandarin Chinese is a common second language; it is used in advertisements, and characters in the show frequently use Chinese words as curses. According to the DVD commentary on the episode "Serenity", this was explained as being the result of China and the United States being the two superpowers that expanded into space.[12]

The show also features slang not used in contemporary culture, such as adaptations of modern words, or new words altogether. For example, "shiny" is frequently used in a similar manner as the real world slang "cool", and "gorram" is used as a mild swear word. Written and spoken Chinese as well as Old West dialect are also employed. As one reviewer noted: "The dialogue tended to be a bizarre purée of wisecracks, old-timey Western-paperback patois, and snatches of Chinese".[4]

Tim Minear and Joss Whedon pointed out two scenes that, they believed, articulated the mood of the show exceptionally clearly.[11] One scene is in the original pilot "Serenity", when Mal is eating with chopsticks and a Western tin cup is by his plate; the other is in "The Train Job" pilot, when Mal is thrown out of a holographic bar window.[13] The DVD set's "making-of" documentary explains the distinctive frontispiece of the series (wherein Serenity soars over a herd of horses) as Whedon's attempt to capture "everything you need to understand about the series in five seconds".

One of the struggles that Whedon had with Fox was the tone of the show, especially with the main character Malcolm Reynolds. Fox pressured Whedon to make Mal more "jolly", as they feared he was too dark in the original pilot, epitomized by the moment he suggests he might "space" Simon and River, throwing them out of the airlock to die. In addition, Fox was not happy that the show involved the "nobodies" who "get squished by policy" instead of the actual policy makers.[11][14]


Main characters

Firefly maintained an ensemble cast that portrayed nine crew members and passengers of the ship, Serenity. These characters fight criminals and schemers, Alliance security forces, the utterly psychotic and brutal Reavers, and the mysterious men with "hands of blue"—who are apparently operatives of a secret agency which is part of the megacorporation referred to in the DVD commentary only as The Blue Sun Corporation. The crew is driven by the need to secure enough income to keep their ship operational, set against their need to keep a low profile to avoid their adversaries. Their situation is greatly complicated by the divergent motivations of the individuals on board Serenity, but complex characterization was hampered by the show's brief run.

All nine of the main characters appeared in every episode, with the exception of "Ariel", from which Book is absent—he was meditating at an abbey.

Recurring characters

Despite the series' short run, several recurring characters emerged from the inhabitants of the Firefly universe:


No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateProd.
1"Serenity"Joss WhedonJoss WhedonDecember 20, 2002 (2002-12-20)1AGE79
Malcolm Reynolds is a veteran and the captain of Serenity. He and his crew are smuggling goods, but they need to pick up some passengers for extra money. However, not all the passengers are what they seem.
2"The Train Job"Joss WhedonJoss Whedon & Tim MinearSeptember 20, 2002 (2002-09-20)1AGE01
The crew of Serenity takes on a train heist commissioned by a crime lord. They steal the goods, only to find it is medicine that is desperately needed by the town.
3"Bushwhacked"Tim MinearTim MinearSeptember 27, 2002 (2002-09-27)1AGE02
Serenity is pulled in by an Alliance cruiser while investigating a spaceship that was attacked by Reavers. Simon and River must hide to prevent capture, while something is wrong with the lone survivor of the attacked spaceship.
4"Shindig"Vern GillumJane EspensonNovember 1, 2002 (2002-11-01)1AGE03
Inara attends a formal society dance, only to find Malcolm there as well, attempting to set up a smuggling job. Mal comes to blows with Inara's conceited date and finds himself facing a duel with a renowned swordsman, and only one night to learn how to fence.
5"Safe"Michael GrossmanDrew Z. GreenbergNovember 8, 2002 (2002-11-08)1AGE04
Mal must choose which crew members to save when one is gravely wounded and two others are kidnapped. Simon finds an uneasy haven in a remote village, but River's uncanny perceptions jeopardize the Tams' temporary safety.
6"Our Mrs. Reynolds"Vondie Curtis HallJoss WhedonOctober 4, 2002 (2002-10-04)1AGE05
As an unexpected reward for an unpaid job, Mal finds himself married to a naïve, subservient young woman named Saffron. The crew are amused at his discomfort and Book lectures him on propriety, but things are not as smoothly straightforward as they thought them to be.
7"Jaynestown"Marita GrabiakBen EdlundOctober 18, 2002 (2002-10-18)1AGE06
Returning to a planet where he ran into some serious trouble years ago, Jayne discovers that he has become a local folk legend. Mal decides to use this entertaining distraction to complete a job, but some unfinished business may derail his plans.
8"Out of Gas"David SolomonTim MinearOctober 25, 2002 (2002-10-25)1AGE07
After Serenity suffers a catastrophe that leaves her crew with only hours of oxygen, flashbacks show how Mal and Zoe acquired Serenity and assembled their motley crew.
9"Ariel"Allan KroekerJose MolinaNovember 15, 2002 (2002-11-15)1AGE08
Hard up for cash, Serenity takes on a job from Simon: help him get a thorough diagnostic of River in return for the opportunity to loot the vast medical stores of an Alliance hospital on central world Ariel. But River's pursuers are hot on their trail, and they receive some unexpected inside help.
10"War Stories"James ContnerCheryl CainDecember 6, 2002 (2002-12-06)1AGE09
Angered at Zoe's unshakable war connection to Mal, Wash demands a shot at a field assignment. Unfortunately, crime lord Niska chooses this moment to exact a brutal vengeance for Mal's failure to complete an earlier job.
11"Trash"Vern GillumBen Edlund & Jose MolinaJuly 21, 2003 (2003-07-21)1AGE12
Saffron returns to plague Serenity with a scheme to steal a rare antique weapon from a wealthy landowner. Unfortunately for Mal, she neglects to mention just how she came across the information needed to break into the landowner's home.
12"The Message"Tim MinearJoss Whedon & Tim MinearJuly 28, 2003 (2003-07-28)1AGE13
A former Independence soldier who had served with Mal and Zoe returns in a dramatic manner, with a vicious Alliance officer chasing after him for some unusual smuggled goods.
13"Heart of Gold"Thomas J. WrightBrett MatthewsAugust 4, 2003 (2003-08-04)1AGE10
A Companion-trained friend of Inara's who runs a brothel on a remote planet calls for help from Serenity when a local bigwig reveals his intentions to take the baby from a woman he impregnated.
14"Objects in Space"Joss WhedonJoss WhedonDecember 13, 2002 (2002-12-13)1AGE11
Serenity encounters a ruthlessly professional bounty hunter, Jubal Early, who will stop at nothing to retrieve River. But River, feeling unwelcome on the ship, takes a novel approach to escaping from the long arm of the Alliance.



Nathan Fillion as Malcolm Reynolds, featured in a print advertisement for Firefly in 2002

Whedon developed the concept for the show after reading The Killer Angels, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Shaara chronicling the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. He wanted to follow people who had fought on the losing side of a war and their experiences afterwards as pioneers and immigrants on the outskirts of civilization, much like the post-American Civil War era of Reconstruction and the American Old West culture.[24] He intended the show to be "a Stagecoach kind of drama with a lot of people trying to figure out their lives in a bleak pioneer environment".[25] Whedon wanted to develop a show about the tactile nature of life, a show where existence was more physical and more difficult.[11] After reading The Killer Angels, Whedon read a book about Jewish partisan fighters in World War II that also influenced him.[24] Whedon wanted to create something for television that was more character-driven and gritty than most modern science fiction. Television science fiction, he felt, had become too pristine and rarefied.[26]

Whedon wanted to give the show a name that indicated movement and power, and felt that "Firefly" had both. This powerful word's relatively insignificant meaning, Whedon felt, added to its allure. He eventually wound up creating the ship in the image of a firefly.[11]


During filming of the pilot episode, Whedon was still arguing with Fox that the show should be displayed in widescreen format. Consequently, he purposely filmed scenes with actors on the extreme edge of both sides so that they could only be shown in widescreen.[11] This led to a few scenes on the DVD (and later Blu-ray) where objects or setups that were not visible in the original 4:3 broadcasts were now displayed—such as the scene in the pilot where Wash mimes controlling the ship with a non-existent yoke. However, the pilot was rejected by the Fox executives, who felt that it lacked action and that the captain was too "dour".[13] They also disliked a scene in which the crew backed down to a crime boss, since the scene implied the crew was "being nothing".[11] Thus, Fox told Whedon on a Friday afternoon that he had to submit a new pilot script on Monday morning or the show would not be picked up.[13] Whedon and Tim Minear closeted themselves for the weekend to write what became the new pilot, "The Train Job".[13] At the direction of Fox, they added "larger than life" characters[13][14] such as the henchman "Crow", and the "hands of blue" men, who also introduced an X-Files-type ending.[14]

For the new pilot, Fox made it clear that they would not air the episodes in the widescreen format. Whedon and company felt they had to "serve two masters" by filming widescreen for eventual DVD release, but keeping objects in frame so it could still work when aired in pan and scan full frame.[27] To obtain an immersive and immediate feel, the episodes were filmed in a documentary style with hand-held cameras, giving them the look of "found footage", with deliberately misframed or out-of-focus subjects.[11][28] As Whedon related: "...don't be arch, don't be sweeping—be found, be rough and tumble and docu[mentary] and you-are-there".[29] Computer-generated scenes mimicked the motion of a hand-held camera. This style was not used, however, when shooting scenes that involved the central government, the Alliance. Tracking and steady cameras were used to show the sterility of this aspect of the Firefly universe.[11] Another style employed was lens flares harking back to 1970s television. This style was so desired that the director of photography, David Boyd, sent back the cutting-edge lenses which reduced lens flare in exchange for cheaper ones.[11]

Unlike most other science fiction shows, which add sound to space scenes for dramatic effect, Firefly portrays space as silent, because a vacuum cannot transmit sound.[30]

Set design

The spacecraft Serenity was digitally rendered by special effects house Zoic Studios. The shape was inspired by the shape of the firefly insect, and its tail section lights up in imitation of it.

Production designer Carey Meyer built the ship Serenity in two parts (one for each level) as a complete set with ceilings and practical lighting installed as part of the set that the cameras could use along with moveable parts.[28][31] The two-part set also allowed the second unit to shoot in one section while the actors and first unit worked undisturbed in the other. As Whedon recalled: " could pull it away or move something huge, so that you could get in and around everything. That meant the environment worked for us and there weren't a lot of adjustments that needed to be made."[31] There were other benefits to this set design. One was that it allowed the viewers to feel they were really in a ship.[28] For Whedon, the design of the ship was crucial in defining the known space for the viewer, and that there were not "fourteen hundred decks and a holodeck and an all-you-can-eat buffet in the back".[32] He wanted to convey that it was utilitarian and that it was "beat-up but lived-in and ultimately, it was home".[33] As Joss Whedon discusses in the DVD commentary, each room represented a feeling or character, usually conveyed by the paint color.[32] He explains that as you move from the back of the ship in the engine room, toward the front of the ship to the bridge, the colors and mood progress from extremely warm to cooler. Besides evoking a mood associated with the character who spends most time in each area, the color scheme also alludes to the heat generated in the tail of the ship. Whedon was also keen on utilizing vertical space; thus, having the crew's quarters accessible by ladder was important.[31] Another benefit of the set design was that it also allowed the actors to stay in the moment and interact, without having to stop after each shot and reset up for the next.[28] This helped contribute to the documentary style Whedon strove for.

The set had several influences, including the sliding doors and tiny cubicles reminiscent of Japanese hotels.[31] Artist Larry Dixon has noted that the cargo bay walls are "reminiscent of interlaced, overlapping Asian designs, cleverly reminding us of the American-Chinese Alliance setting while artistically forming a patterned plane for background scale reference".[34] Dixon has also remarked on how the set design contributed to the storytelling through the use of color, depth and composition, lighting, as well as its use of diagonals and patterned shadows.[34]

Their small budget was another reason to use the ship for much of the storytelling. When the characters did go off the ship, the worlds all had Earth atmosphere and coloring because they could not afford to design alien worlds. "I didn't want to go to Yucca Flats every other episode and transform it into Bizarro World by making the sky orange", recalled Whedon.[29] As Meyer recalled: "I think in the end the feel was that we wound up using a lot of places or exteriors that just felt too Western and we didn't necessarily want to go that way; but at some point, it just became the lesser of two evils—what could we actually create in three days?"[35]


Soundtrack album by Greg Edmonson, Joss Whedon
Released November 8, 2005 (2005-11-08)
Genre Classical, Country
Length 60:15
Label Varèse Sarabande
Professional ratings
Review scores

Greg Edmonson composed the musical score for the series. He stated that he wrote for the emotion of the moment. However, one reviewer averred that he also wrote for the characters, stating: "Edmonson has developed a specialized collection of musical symbolism for the series".[39] To help illustrate the collection, the reviewer gave key leitmotifs, or "signatures", various names, noting that "Serenity" recalls the theme of the show and is used when they return to the ship, or when they were meeting clandestinely; it was "the sound of their home". The slide guitar and fiddle used in this piece are portable instruments which fit the lifestyle of the crew: "the music they make calls up tunes played out in the open, by people who were hundreds of miles away yesterday. 'Serenity' conjures the nomadic lifestyle the crew leads and underlines the western aspect of the show."[39] Another emotional signature was "Sad Violin". It was used at the end of the Battle of Serenity Valley, but also helped set up the joke for when Mal tells Simon that Kaylee is dead in the episode "Serenity". The most memorable use of "Sad Violin", however, is at the end of "The Message", when the crew mourned the death of Tracey. This was also the last scene of the last episode the actors shot, and so this was seen by them, and Edmonson, as Firefly's farewell. To denote impending danger, "Peril" was used, which is "a low pulse, like a heartbeat, with deep chimes and low strings".[39] The reviewer also noted character signatures. The criminal Niska has his own signature: Eastern European or Middle Eastern melodies over a low drone. Simon and River's signature was a piano played sparsely with a violin in the background. This is in contrast to the portable instruments of "Serenity": the piano is an instrument that cannot be easily moved and evokes the image of "the distant house and family they both long for". The various signatures were mostly established in the first pilot, "Serenity", and helped enhance the narrative.

In every episode, the musical score intensified my experience of this intelligent, remarkable show. Using and combining all these signatures, Greg Edmonson brought out aspects of Firefly's story and characters that were never explicitly revealed in the other elements of the series.[39]

The musical score expressed the cultural fusion depicted in the show. Cowboy guitar blended with Asian influence produced the atmospheric background for the series. As one reviewer stated:

Old music from the future—the music of roaring campfires and racous [sic] cowboys mixed with the warm, pensive sounds of Asian culture and, occasionally, a cold imperial trumpet, heralding the ominous structural presence of a domineering government. Completely thrilling.
—Steve Townsley[40]

The show's theme song, "The Ballad of Serenity", was written by Joss Whedon and performed by Sonny Rhodes. Whedon wrote the song before the series was greenlit and a preliminary recording performed by Whedon can be found on the DVD release. The soundtrack to the series was released on CD on November 8, 2005, by Varèse Sarabande, although a 40-minute soundtrack was released by Fox Music in September 2005 as a digital EP.[38] "The Ballad of Serenity" was used by NASA as the wake-up song for astronaut Robert L. Behnken and the other crewmembers of STS-130 on February 12, 2010.[41]

Track listing[42] (tracks 1–17 appear in both the digital and CD releases)
No. Title Length
1. "Firefly — Main Title"   0:52
2. "Big Bar Fight" (from "The Train Job") 1:56
3. "Heart of Gold Montage" (from "Heart of Gold") 2:10
4. "Whitefall/Book" (from "Serenity", "The Message") 2:20
5. "Early Takes Serenity" (from "Objects in Space") 2:36
6. "The Funeral" (from "The Message") 2:36
7. "River's Perception/Saffron" (from "Objects in Space", "Our Mrs. Reynolds") 2:14
8. "Mal Fights Niska/Back Home" (from "War Stories", "Shindig") 1:54
9. "River Tricks Early" (from "Objects in Space") 3:30
10. "River Understands Simon" (from "Safe") 2:04
11. "Leaving/Caper/Spaceball" (from "Trash", "Objects in Space", "Bushwhacked") 2:39
12. "River's Afraid/Niska/Torture" (from "Ariel", "The Train Job", "War Stories") 3:21
13. "In My Bunk/Jayne's Statue/Boom" (from "War Stories", "Jaynestown", "Bushwhacked") 2:28
14. "Inara's Suite" (from "The Train Job", "Serenity", "War Stories") 3:29
15. "Out of Gas/Empty Derelict" (from "Out of Gas", "Bushwhacked") 1:50
16. "Book's Hair/Ready for Battle" (from "Jaynestown", "Heart of Gold") 1:59
17. "Tears/River's Eyes" (from "Serenity", "Objects in Space") 1:59
18. "Cows/New Dress/My Crew" (from "Safe", "Shindig", "Safe") 2:11
19. "Boarding the Serenity/Derelict" (from "War Stories", "Bushwhacked") 2:02
20. "Burgess Kills/Captain & Ship" (from "Heart of Gold", "Out of Gas") 3:26
21. "Saved/Isn't Home?/Reavers" (from "Out of Gas", "The Train Job", "Serenity") 2:55
22. "Reavers Chase Serenity" (from "Serenity") 3:22
23. "River's Dance" (from "Safe") 1:50
24. "Inside the Tam House" (from "Safe") 2:22
25. "Dying Ship/Naked Mal" (from "Out of Gas", "Trash") 2:10


(From left to right, top to bottom) Ron Glass, Summer Glau, Alan Tudyk, Sean Maher, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Morena Baccarin, and Nathan Fillion: eight of the nine main actors in 2005 (not pictured: Gina Torres)

In casting his nine-member crew, Whedon looked first at the actors and considered their chemistry with others. Cast member Sean Maher recalls, "So then he just sort of put us all together, and I think it was very quick, like right out of the gate, we all instantly bonded".[43] All nine cast members were chosen before filming began. However, while filming the original pilot "Serenity", Whedon decided that Rebecca Gayheart was unsuitable for the role of Inara Serra, and shot her scenes in singles so that it would be easier to replace her.[11] Morena Baccarin auditioned for the role and two days later was on the set in her first television show. "Joss brought me down from the testing room like a proud dad, holding my hand and introducing me," Baccarin recalled.[44]

Whedon approached Nathan Fillion to play the lead role of Malcolm Reynolds; after Whedon explained the premise and showed him the treatment for the pilot, Fillion was eager for the role.[45] Fillion was called back several times to read for the part before he was cast. He noted that "it was really thrilling. It was my first lead and I was pretty nervous, but I really wanted that part and I wanted to tell those stories."[46] Fillion later said he was "heartbroken" when he learned the series had been cancelled. Fillion has called his time on Firefly the best acting job he ever had,[47] and compares every job he has had to it.[48]

Alan Tudyk applied through a casting office and several months later was called in for an audition, where he met with Whedon. He was called back to test with two candidates for the role of Zoe (Wash's wife) and was told that it was down to him and one other candidate. The Zoes he tested with were not selected (Gina Torres eventually received the role) and Tudyk was sent home, but received a call informing him he had the part anyway.[49] His audition tape is included in the special features of the DVD release.

Gina Torres, a veteran of several science fiction/fantasy works (Cleopatra 2525, The Matrix Reloaded, Alias, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys), was at first uninterested in doing another science fiction show, but "was won over by the quality of the source material".[50] As she recalled, "you had these challenged characters inhabiting a challenging world and that makes for great storytelling. And no aliens!"[50]

For Adam Baldwin, who grew up watching westerns, the role of Jayne Cobb was particularly resonant.[51]

Canadian actress Jewel Staite videotaped her audition from Vancouver and was asked to come to Los Angeles to meet Whedon, at which point she was cast for the role of Kaylee Frye, the ship's engineer.[52]

Sean Maher recalls reading for the part and liking the character of Simon Tam, but that it was Whedon's personality and vision that "sealed the deal" for him.[43] For the role of Simon's sister, River Tam, Whedon called in Summer Glau for an audition and test the same day. Glau had first worked for Whedon in the Angel episode "Waiting in the Wings". Two weeks later, Whedon called her to tell her she had the part.[53]

Veteran television actor Ron Glass has said that until Firefly, he had not experienced or sought a science-fiction or western role, but he fell in love with the pilot script and the character of Shepherd Book.[54]

Production staff

Tim Minear was selected by Whedon to be the show runner, who serves as the head writer and production leader. According to Whedon "[Minear] understood the show as well as any human being, and just brought so much to it that I think of it as though he were always a part of it".[55] Many of the other production staff were selected from people Whedon had worked with in the past, with the exception of the director of photography David Boyd, who was the "big find" and who was "full of joy and energy".[56]

The writers were selected after interviews and script samplings. Among the writers were José Molina, Ben Edlund, Cheryl Cain, Brett Matthews, Drew Z. Greenberg and Jane Espenson.[56] Espenson wrote an essay on the writing process with Mutant Enemy Productions.[57] A meeting is held and an idea is floated, generally by Whedon, and the writers brainstorm to develop the central theme of the episode and the character development. Next, the writers (except the one working on the previous week's episode) meet in the anteroom to Whedon's office to begin 'breaking' the story into acts and scenes. For the team, one of the key components to devising acts is deciding where to break for commercial and ensuring the viewer returns. "Finding these moments in the story help give it shape: think of them as tentpoles that support the structure". For instance, in "Shindig", the break for commercial occurs when Malcolm Reynolds is gravely injured and losing the duel. "It does not end when Mal turns the fight around, when he stands victorious over his opponent. They're both big moments, but one of them leaves you curious and the other doesn't."

Next, the writers develop the scenes onto a marker-filled whiteboard, featuring "a brief ordered description of each scene". A writer is selected to create an outline of the episode's concept—occasionally with some dialogue and jokes—in one day. The outline is given to showrunner Tim Minear, who revises it within a day. The writer uses the revised outline to write the first draft of the script while the other writers work on developing the next. This first draft is usually submitted for revision within three to fourteen days; afterward, a second and sometimes third draft is written. After all revisions are made, the final draft would be produced as the 'shooting draft'.


Jill Ohanneson, Firefly's original costume designer, brought on Shawna Trpcic as her assistant for the pilot. When the show was picked up, Ohanneson was involved in another job and declined Firefly, suggesting Trpcic for the job.

The costumes were chiefly influenced by World War II, the American Civil War, the American Old West, and 1861 samurai Japan. Trpcic used deep reds and oranges for the main cast, to express a feeling of "home", and contrasted that with grays and cool blues for the Alliance.[58] Since the characters were often getting shot, Trpcic would make up to six versions of the same costume for multiple takes.[59]

Unproduced episodes

Since the cancellation of the series, various cast and crew members have revealed details they had planned for the show's future:[66][67]


Critical response

Many reviews focused on the show's fusion of Wild West and outer space motifs. TV Guide's Matt Roush, for instance, called the show "oddball" and "offbeat", and noted how literally the series took the metaphor of space operas as Westerns. Roush opined that the shift from space travel to horseback was "jarring", but that once he got used to this, he found the characters cleverly conceived, and the writing a crisp balance of action, tension and humor.[68] Several reviewers, however, criticized the show's setting; Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle felt that the melding of the western and science fiction genres was a "forced hodgepodge of two alarmingly opposite genres just for the sake of being different" and called the series a "vast disappointment",[69] and Carina Chocano of said that while the "space as Wild West" metaphor is fairly redundant, neither genre connected to the present.[70] Emily Nussbaum of the New York Times, reviewing the DVD set, noted that the program featured "an oddball genre mix that might have doomed it from the beginning: it was a character-rich sci-fi western comedy-drama with existential underpinnings, a hard sell during a season dominated by Joe Millionaire".[71]

The Boston Globe described Firefly as a "wonderful, imaginative mess brimming with possibility". The review further notes the difference between the new series and other programs was that those shows "burst onto the scene with slick pilots and quickly deteriorate into mediocrity... Firefly is on the opposite creative journey."[72] Jason Snell called the show one of the best on television, and one "with the most potential for future brilliance".[73]

Reviewers also compared Firefly to Whedon's other series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Chocano noted that the series lacks the psychological tension of Buffy, and suggests that this might be attributable to the episodes being aired out of order.[70] MSN, on the other hand, pointed out that after viewing the DVD boxed set it was easy to see why the program had attracted many die-hard fans. "All of Whedon's fingerprints are there: the witty dialogue, the quirky premises and dark exploration of human fallacy that made Buffy brilliant found their way to this space drama".[74]


Example fan artwork produced by Susan Renee Tomb (widely known in the Browncoat community as "11th Hour") used as guerrilla marketing to promote sale of Firefly and Serenity DVDs.

Firefly generated a loyal base of fans during its three-month original broadcast run on Fox in late 2002. These fans, self-styled Browncoats, used online forums to organize and try to save the series from being canceled by Fox only three months after its debut. Their efforts included raising money for an ad in Variety magazine and a postcard writing campaign to UPN.[75][76] While unsuccessful in finding a network that would continue the show, their support led to a release of the series on DVD in December 2003.[5] A subsequent fan campaign raised over $14,000 in donations to have a purchased Firefly DVD set placed aboard 250 U.S. Navy ships by April 2004 for recreational viewing by their crews.[77]

These and other continuing fan activities eventually persuaded Universal Studios to produce a feature film, Serenity.[4] (The title of Serenity was chosen, according to Whedon, because Fox still owned the rights to the name 'Firefly'). Numerous early screenings of rough film cuts were held for existing fans starting in May 2005 as an attempt to create a buzz to increase ticket sales when the final film cut was released widely on September 30, 2005.[4] The film was not as commercially successful as fans had hoped, opening at number two and making only $40 million worldwide during its initial theatrical release.

On June 23, 2006, fans organized the first worldwide charity screenings of Serenity in 47 cities, dubbed as Can't Stop the Serenity or CSTS, an homage to the movie's tagline, "Can't stop the signal".[78] The event raised over $65,000[79] for Whedon's favorite charity, Equality Now. In 2007, $106,000 was raised;[80] in 2008, $107,219; and in 2009, $137,331.[81]

In July 2006, a fan-made documentary was released, titled Done the Impossible, and is commercially available. The documentary relates the story of the fans and how the show has affected them, and features interviews with Whedon and various cast members.[82] Part of the DVD proceeds are donated to Equality Now.

NASA Browncoat astronaut Steven Swanson took the Firefly and Serenity DVDs with him on Space Shuttle Atlantis's STS-117 mission in June 2007.[83][84][85] The DVDs were added to the media collection on the International Space Station as entertainment for the station's crews.[86][87]

A fan-made, not-for-profit, unofficial sequel to Serenity, titled Browncoats: Redemption, premiered at Dragon*Con 2010 on September 4, 2010. According to the film's creator and producer, Whedon gave "his blessing" to the project. The film was sold on DVD and Blu-ray at the film's website, with all proceeds being distributed among five charities.[88][89] The film was also screened at various science-fiction conventions across the United States, with admission receipts similarly being donated. All sales ended on September 1, 2011, one year after its premiere, with total revenues exceeding $115,000.[90] Community discussion continues regarding screenings in conjunction with the Can't Stop the Serenity project.

Cult status

In 2005, New Scientist magazine's website held an internet poll to find "The World's Best Space Sci-Fi Ever". Firefly came in first place, with its cinematic follow-up Serenity in second.[91] In 2012, Entertainment Weekly listed the show at No. 11 in the "25 Best Cult TV Shows from the Past 25 Years," commenting, "as it often does, martyrdom has only enhanced its legend."[92]

Brad Wright, co-creator of Stargate SG-1 has said that the 200th episode of SG-1 is "a little kiss to Serenity and Firefly, which was possibly one of the best canceled series in history". In the episode, "Martin Lloyd has come to the S.G.C. [Stargate Command] because even though 'Wormhole X-Treme!' was canceled after three episodes, it did so well on DVD they're making a feature [film]".[93] The follow-up film, Serenity, was voted the best science fiction movie of all time in an SFX magazine poll of 3,000 fans.[94] Firefly was later ranked #25 on TV Guide's Top Cult Shows Ever.[95] The name for the Google beta app Google Wave was inspired by this TV series.[96]

On the CBS sitcom, The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon Cooper is a fan of Firefly. When he and Leonard Hofstadter are discussing their roommate agreement, they include a passage in which they dedicate Friday nights to watching Firefly, as Sheldon believes it will last for years. Upon its cancellation, he brands Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox, a traitor.[97] During the second season of The Big Bang Theory, in episode 17 ("The Terminator Decoupling"), Summer Glau appears as herself, encountering Sheldon, Leonard, and their friends on a train to San Francisco. When Raj tries to hit on her he says that although he is an astrophysicist, she was actually in space during the shooting of Firefly. Glau chides him for believing this and Raj backtracks, saying, "Those are crazy people!"[98]

On the NBC comedy Community, the characters Troy and Abed are fans of the show. They have an agreement that if one of them dies, the other will stage it to look like a suicide caused by the cancellation of Firefly, in the hopes that it will bring the show back.[99]

In the 2003 Battlestar Galactica miniseries/pilot, a ship resembling Serenity appears in the background of the scene with Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell).[100] Serenity is one of several spaceships inserted as cameos into digital effects scenes by Zoic Studios, the company responsible for digital effects in both Firefly and Battlestar Galactica.[100]

In an interview on February 17, 2011, with Entertainment Weekly, Nathan Fillion joked that: "If I got $300 million from the California Lottery, the first thing I would do is buy the rights to Firefly, make it on my own, and distribute it on the Internet".[101] This quickly gave rise to a fan-run initiative to raising the funds to purchase the rights.[102] On March 7, 2011, the organizers announced the closure of the project due to lack of endorsement from the creators, with $1 million pledged at the time it was shut down.[103]

Joss Whedon, Tim Minear, and cast members Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Summer Glau, Adam Baldwin and Sean Maher reunited at the 2012 San Diego Comic-Con for a 10th anniversary panel. Ten thousand people lined up to get into the panel, and the panel ended with the entire crowd giving the cast and crew a standing ovation.[104]

A tenth anniversary special, Browncoats Unite, was shown on the Science Channel on November 11, 2012. The special featured Whedon, Minear, and several of the cast members, in a discussion on the series' history.[105]

The television series Castle, where Fillion plays the lead character Richard Castle, has made ongoing homages to Firefly. Castle has props from Firefly as decorative items in his home, has dressed up as a "space cowboy" for Halloween ("You wore that five years ago," cracked his daughter), speaks Chinese that he learned from "a TV show [he] loved", and has made rapid "two-by-two" finger motions while wearing blue surgical gloves. He has been humorously asked if he has ever heard of a spa known as "Serenity", and Firefly catchphrases such as "shiny", "special hell" and "I was aiming for the head" have been used as punchlines during various dramatic scenes in Castle. He has worked a murder case at a science fiction convention with suspects being the cast of a long-cancelled space opera that only ran for a season, and has had incidental interaction with people portrayed by Firefly cast members.[106][107][108]

Con Man, a 2015 comedy web series created by Tudyk and co-produced by Fillion, draws on the pair's experiences as cult science fiction actors touring the convention circuit.[109][110] Though it is not autobiographical, the show's fictional Spectrum echoes Firefly and Tudyk's and Fillion's roles reflect their own Firefly roles. Torres and Maher made guest appearances. Maher played himself as a former Firefly actor.[110][111][112]

According to Reason's Julian Sanchez, Firefly's cult following "seems to include a disproportionate number of libertarians." The story themes are often cautionary about too-powerful central authority and its capacity to do bad while being considered by the majority as good. The characters each exhibit traits that exemplify core libertarian values, such as the right to bear arms (Jayne, Zoe), legal prostitution (Inara), freedom of religion (Book), logic and reasoning (Simon), and anti-conscription (River).[113] Joss Whedon notes this theme, saying "Mal is, if not a Republican, certainly a libertarian, he's certainly a less-government kinda guy. He's the opposite of me in many ways."[114]


Firefly won the following awards:

The series was also nominated for the following awards:


At the time the series was cancelled by Fox, it averaged 4.7 million viewers and ranked 98th in Nielsen ratings.[3]

Broadcast history

Firefly consists of a two-hour pilot and thirteen one-hour episodes (with commercials). The series originally premiered in the United States on Fox in September 2002. The episodes were aired out of the intended order. Although Whedon had designed the show to run for seven years,[116] low ratings resulted in cancellation by Fox in December 2002 after only 11 of the 14 completed episodes had aired in the United States.[117] The three episodes unaired by Fox eventually debuted in 2003 on the Sci Fi Channel in the United Kingdom.[118] Prior to cancellation, some fans, worried about low ratings, formed the Firefly Immediate Assistance campaign whose goal was to support the production of the show by sending in postcards to Fox. After it was canceled, the campaign worked on getting another network such as UPN to pick up the series.[75][76] The campaign was unsuccessful in securing the show's continuation.[5]

The A.V. Club cited several actions by the Fox network that contributed to the show's failure, most notably airing the episodes out of sequence, making the plot more difficult to follow.[119] For instance, the double episode "Serenity" was intended as the premiere, and therefore contained most of the character introductions and back-story. However, Fox decided that "Serenity" was unsuitable to open the series, and "The Train Job" was specifically created to act as a new pilot.[13] In addition, Firefly was promoted as an action-comedy rather than the more serious character study it was intended to be, and the showbiz trade paper Variety noted Fox's decision to occasionally preempt the show for sporting events.[117]

Fox remastered the complete series in 1080i high-definition for broadcast on Universal HD, which began in April 2008.[120]

On March 12, 2009, the series was the winner of the first annual Hulu awards in the category "Shows We'd Bring Back".[121]

The Science Channel began airing the series on March 6, 2011.[122] All episodes aired in the intended order, including episodes "Trash", "The Message" and "Heart of Gold", which were not aired in the original Fox series run. Along with each episode, Dr. Michio Kaku provided commentary about the real-life science behind the science fiction of the show.[101]

Home video releases

A box set containing the fourteen completed episodes (including those which had not yet aired in the United States) was released on region 1 DVD on December 9, 2003,[123] region 2 on April 19, 2004, and region 4 on August 2, 2004. The box features the episodes in the original order in which the show's producers had intended them to be broadcast, as well as seven episode commentaries, outtakes and other features. The DVDs feature the episodes as they were shot in 16:9 widescreen, with anamorphic transfers and Dolby Surround audio. By September 2005, its DVD release had sold approximately 500,000 copies.[124]

The series was re-released on Blu-ray Disc on November 11, 2008, comprising three discs; exclusive extras to the Blu-ray release include extra audio commentary from Joss Whedon, Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk and Ron Glass for the episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds", as well as an additional featurette, "Firefly" Reunion: Lunch with Joss, Nathan, Alan and Ron.[125]

Firefly: The Complete Series
Set details:
  • 14 episodes
  • 4 disc set (3 disc Blu-ray)


  • Anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio)
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 (DVD)
  • DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (Blu-ray)
  • Subtitles vary depending on region
Bonus features:
Release dates: Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
December 9, 2003
November 11, 2008 (Blu-ray)
April 19, 2004
September 19, 2011 (Blu-ray)[126]
August 2, 2004
December 3, 2008 (Blu-ray)

Media franchise

The popularity of the short-lived series served as the launching point for a media franchise within the Firefly universe, including the feature film Serenity, which addresses many plot points left unresolved by the series' cancellation.

Additionally, there are two comic-book mini-series, Serenity: Those Left Behind (3 issues, 104 pages, 2006), Serenity: Better Days (3 issues, 80 pages, 2008) and a one-shot hardcover Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale (56 pages, 2010), along with the one-shots Serenity: Downtime and The Other Half and Serenity: Float Out in which Whedon explored plot strands he had intended to explore further in the series. The comics are set, in plot terms, between the end of the TV series and the opening of the feature film. The two mini-series were later published in collected form as hardcover and paperback graphic novels. A six-issue series titled Serenity: Leaves on the Wind began in January 2014 and the series takes place after the events of the film.[127]

In July 2014, the release of video game Firefly Online was announced, in which all the cast will reprise their roles.[128]


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Further reading

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