Oftentimes we look back fondly on shows that ended too soon. “If only they had one more season.” One of the most talked about short-lived shows is none other than Firefly. Even if you’re not a fan, you have undoubtedly overheard two of your friends talking about the travesty that is Firefly’s cancellation, or have perhaps come across an article online regarding this little gem and why it should be brought back. It is a topic I too have talked about but what if Firefly is so special because it was short lived? Would it have the same cult following if it continued on?
Consisting of 14 episodes, only 11 of which were aired, Firefly didn’t even last a full season back in 2002, and yet it has become one of our generation’s biggest television cult hits. Since its cancellation, it has garnered followers and fanatics who crave more. They eventually got their wish with the 2005 film Serenity which skipped ahead in the timeline and served as a conclusion of sorts to the series. We can certainly get into the particulars of its cancellation, from the lower ratings, to Fox completely bungling the marketing campaign due to their inability to understand what the show was, but this isn’t about why it was cancelled. It’s about the surge in popularity that followed.
I love both Firefly and Serenity, but would the show be as good if it kept going? Think back to Heroes, you know, “save the cheerleader, save the world.” Most people that even remember Heroes simply remember its pathetic death spiral as the show devolved into shit. Nobody talks about the fun first season, the intrigue created by the cryptic warnings from the future, or the wonderfully mysterious and powerful villain Sylar. There were great characters and stories, and then it all fell apart, making us forget how good of a show it actually was once. Even Heroes: Reborn couldn’t fully revive the series, though it was an improvement over the last couple seasons of Heroes.
Then there was Lost, which was incredibly popular in the beginning and still maintained a strong viewership until the end. It actually received a proper conclusion, though some fans hated the ending, while others didn’t understand it (I swear, if I have to tell one more person that the island WAS NOT purgatory the entire time, I am going to kick them in the head). Hardly anybody talks about this show anymore. Again, it had a great first season, then as time went on it started to drag a little. That is until the network decided it would allow them to end it and so they picked up the pace as they headed straight for the conclusion. With an inconsistent pace and divisive conclusion, Lost faded away from our minds as we moved forward to other shows. And yet Firefly remains a topic of conversation.
One of my favorite sci-fi shows is Stargate SG-1, which ran for ten seasons and became the longest running American sci-fi show until Smallville surpassed it. Much like Firefly, this show relied heavily on the chemistry of the team to provide the humor, drama, and great stories throughout its lengthy run. Eventually they started running out of stories, the team was changed up a couple of different times, and the mythology became more and more complex in an attempt to keep things fresh. Still, it was a solidly fun show all the way to the end. However, if this show is ever brought up in conversation nowadays, it is almost always by me. I rarely hear or see anyone else talk about it. It clearly had a solid enough fan base to merit ten seasons, and while not a perfect show, it was great fun and one I still enjoy watching even if some of the special effects look a bit dated.
Stargate SG-1 had some fantastic moments and spot-on chemistry between the members of the team, a team not too dissimilar from some of the key players on the Serenity crew. You have the sarcastic, witty leader (Mal/O’Neill), the muscle who doesn’t always understand things (Jayne/Teal’c), the tough and smart no-nonsense female (Zoe/Carter), and the passionate and determined scientist who often serves as a sort of moral compass (Simon and Shepherd/Jackson). Granted, these character tropes have been around for ages, with similar versions showing up in everything from Star Trek to Guardians of the Galaxy, so they are by no means exclusive to these two shows.
The problem with idolizing a show that only has 14 episodes is that it didn’t have the time to be bad. That is not to say it would end up being terrible. It could have become the best show to ever exist but that is highly unlikely. Series creator Joss Whedon had planned on having seven seasons, and I don’t know about you, but I have never watched a show that went for seven or more seasons that was the same high quality throughout. Hell, it’s rare to find a show that has been consistently great throughout its first three seasons. Some shows get better, some get worse, others are all over the place. Every show that carries on for multiple seasons always has those subpar episodes, sometimes entire seasons, that just aren’t quite as good as the rest.
There is no doubt that Firefly is a great show, but I think it is enhanced by its lack of episodes. We didn’t have time to get tired of it or for them to jump the shark. There was no sophomore slump, no “mixing it up” that went awry. Had this series went on to gain a full season or two, or even more, I fully believe it wouldn’t be as popular as it is now. It may have gathered a following, like it did post-cancellation, but like every other show that received a full run, it wouldn’t be as talked about and highly revered as it is today.
What we are left with is a show that was cancelled too soon, and yet it is great because it was cancelled too soon. It has become a quandary that we can never know the solution to. We can all say we would have loved more, but at what point do we say it’s been enough? Typically, we only know once a show has already begun to go downhill, and so the more we get, the greater the chance it loses its luster. And so for us, this will always be that perfect little series, a space western with great characters. It became this cult hit, passed around by friends as this cool show no one knew about. Part of the intrigue of the show that caused so many to pass it around and talk about it was the fact it was cancelled, creating ire in these new fans and causing them in turn to do the same thing and pass it around to their friends until it eventually became widely popular.
Instead of lamenting about the disappointment that is the cancellation of Firefly, we should be celebrating what we have. We have a show that never went bad, that didn’t drag or make any missteps. Yes, that makes it frustrating that it was cancelled, but had it gone on and received even a full season order or a second season, it is entirely likely it wouldn’t be as special as it is now. So enjoy these 14 fantastic episodes and the fun film that followed. Be happy that plenty of the series actors have gone on to star in plenty of other successful series or films.
One last part of this equation is- what would have happened if they brought the show back? Let’s say they listened to the fans and actually ordered the series into production once again a couple years down the road when its cult status really started gaining some steam. That would have been a terrible mistake and going with the film was a much better option. If the series would have continued for a full season, even a short season like the original 14 episodes, it is highly unlikely it would be able to pick right back up and maintain those high expectations throughout. Perhaps the story would grow stale, or maybe they’d try a multi-episode arc that misses the mark, but eventually it would become just like any other show and lose its luster.
Firefly has become a bit of a cultural phenomenon with my fellow nerds and beyond, making it one of the most beloved short-lived television shows around. Because of this, the passionate fans continually wish they had more, but I don’t think they realize just how drastically that could change the specialness of Firefly. Instead of wishing for more, we should all be happy we have this show as it is, happy it is this perfect little segment of a show, untainted by missteps, annoying new characters, or uninteresting filler episodes. Some might imagine more would be just as good, but to do so would be delusional as no show can maintain the same high quality indefinitely. So now we are left with a show we still talk about fondly that died an early death, but that makes it no less of an enjoyable piece of television. In a perfect world we would have had seven flawless seasons, but that won’t ever happen. The likely outcome would be similar to the fate of Stargate SG-1, people would stop talking about it once it concluded and it would just fade away into the distance. But now it will live on, passed on for years as the show that should have continued on. We can all agree that it’s a great show and no one can take that away from us.
Andy Snyder is a writer and regular contributor for Happy Dragon Pictures. He loves video games, films from all over the world, screenwriting and kittens.