Will the Browncoats Rise Again?
Thoughts On a Firefly Revival
There has been recent rumblings about Disney reviving Firefly on Disney+. The news has been traveling around the blogosphere and while I haven't seen any large, credible outlets pick up the story -- presumably they're waiting on official word from the Mouse House and all we have right now are rumors -- it's gained just enough traction that I felt like it was worth discussing it. Why? Because the idea of a Firefly revival seems like an inherently bad idea.
From the perspective of the House of Mouse bringing back Firefly has a certain level of logic to it. While it was never as popular a property as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it's media empire of shows, comics, and one early failed movie, Firefly does have its fervent fans (the self-dubbed "Browncoats"). This group was active enough to get Universal to make a sequel film to the one season of Firefly produced. While that, too, didn't exactly make gangbusters at the Box Office, barely making back its budget, it helped to keep the spark alive.
The first question we have to ask, though, is whether that spark is still alive. It's been 16 years since Serenity came out and, aside from a couple of comics runs (the last of which was 2005's Those Left Behind), the franchise has been pretty dormant. Yes, an RPG based on the Firefly universe came out in 2014 but that's a product aimed at hardcore fans (and most people I know, even if they liked the series, went and played other games instead). Occasionally you see a Browncoat at a convention but, by and large, the franchise has died off from obsolescence.
That's not to crap on Firefly or sequel Serenity. I loved the series when it came out and have watched through it a few times in the years since (although I do need to go back and watch it again with a critical eye to see if it holds up, especially due to the controversy surrounding Joss Whedon). The universe that was built on the show, and the characters starring on it, are fantastic and if Disney+ had existed 16 years ago, ready to pick up Fox's series and start a revival while the iron was hot, I would have absolutely been on board. I feel like it's just been too long, though, to make this series work.
If you do a Firefly revival the first thing you have to consider is if it's going to be a reboot or a continuation. Fans probably want a continuation, something that brings all the actors back to their roles (presumably using the Operative in place of Shepherd Book as Ron Glass died in the interim). It has been 16 years, though, so all these actors are much older. How does a revival work, then? have they been traveling around still for the last 16 years, stuck in amber until the show picks up? That sounds sad and depressing, but if the show decides to push the characters forward as if the last 16 years meant something wouldn't that be even weirder? At that point, if the characters are far enough down their life-paths, would it even feel like Firefly anymore?
Yes, sure, you could fudge the time somewhat. 16 years could be represented at ten instead without it being odd. It might be a push to take the actors and say it's only been, say, five years, or no time at all, though. I like all the actors and I think the entire cast was great, but seeing a visibly aged Nathan Fillion putting on the browncoat again and acting like nothing has changed would feel a lot like Sean Connery trying to fit into the James Bond tuxedo for one last romp in Never Say Never Again. It just wouldn't work.
So what then? A "Firefly: The Next Generation"? Well, that doesn't work, either, in large part because the storyline of the show was so inextricably tied to the back-story of the characters. Mal, along with first officer Zoe, fought in the solar system civil war that pitted the Alliance against the Independents. Our heroes fought on the side of the Independents. They lost. Since then, Mal has carried a bit of a chip on his shoulder and so many of his actions, and the actions of his crew, have been continuing the fight (in their own way) with the Alliance. If you tried to push the story far enough forward so that a new team picks up where the crew of the Serenity left off it wouldn't have the same emotional weight. The crew is what made the show and carried it forward.
That then leaves us with a reboot, then, but it doesn't feel like that would have the same spark, either. The reason the show worked so well was the perfect blend of actors and writing. It would be hard to find another crew of actors that could play these characters, or characters like them, as well and with the same spark and energy. Even with a new cast playing new characters in similar roles it would still feel like the actors were playing copies. They wouldn't get to originate the roles, new or old, and would be constantly fighting the comparison. You can simply look at Star Trek '09 and the fan divisions over that movie to see how well that can go. Like, I personally like that movie but it's not beloved among fans the way you'd expect.
And that doesn't even address the elephant in the room: Joss Whedon. The writer/director/producer's name has been dragged through the mud, for good reason -- he's a sexist, womanizing predator with enough stories and reports to back up that statement -- and he's persona non grata in Hollywood right now. He left The Nevers mid-way into season one and was quietly removed from any connection the proposed Buffy reboot (which has since languished in development hell). A Firefly reboot would presumably move forward without Whedon (for good reason), but then the show wouldn't have him and his voice.
Say what you will about Whedon (and we could talk for days about his creepy writing in projects like Dollhouse) but Firefly was a unique vision that certain benefited from his voice. Sure, you could probably hire back a lot of the writers and get a pretty solid set of scripts kicked out, but without Whedon attached would if feel anywhere near the same? I suppose whenever the second half of season one of The Nevers comes out we'll get a good idea of how Whedon projects work when Whedon isn't involved.
In essence, then, we have a proposed Firefly reboot that likely won't have the actors, the characters, or the creative voice of the show attached. Maybe that's why we haven't heard more about this, officially, from Disney: someone suggested it, a few heads were put together, and then someone said, "wait... does this really work?" Right now I don't see how it could and until something more concrete is brought out that will remain my stance. Firefly is great and there was a time I would have welcomed another visit to that universe. In all regards, though, time has moved on and I think we all just need to let the idea of a revival go.