It's Not So Bad: Canceling 'Firefly' was the best thing that could've happened
It's Not So Bad is a new feature on HitFix where a brave, stupid writer defends an unpopular pop culture subject.
If you had to sum up how “Firefly” fans about their beloved cult classic, it would be thusly: You can’t take the sky from me. But you can take my favorite sci-fi/western, murdered prematurely on the altar of episode mismanagement.
In a time before streaming, the only way to watch a show was on the specific date and time it aired. For the 2002-2003 season, 4.7 million viewers on average was a paltry sum that left “Firefly” 98th in the Nielsen ratings and on the chopping block.
Every “Firefly” fan has their own story as to how they stumbled across this quirky genre-bending show. For me, I was one of the dedicated 4.7 who tuned in to watch live. At least for the first few episodes, until I became irritated by the staccato, jumping plot lines. It wouldn’t be until I reconnected with the series as a DVD box set purchased at Disc Jockey that I would realize Fox had been airing episodes out of order.
I also turned up for “Serenity” in theaters in 2005, adding my hard-earned dollars to the $25 million domestic gross. I bought the swag, followed the defunct and now resurrected MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) video game, and incorporated “Shiny” into my pop culture lexicon.
I still regularly binge-watch the show at least twice a year.
And I’m here to say…canceling “Firefly” was the best thing that ever happened to it.
A strange thing happens when a piece of media goes away before audience fatigue sets in*. It is ensconced in perfect nostalgia, like pop culture amber. Had “Firefly” been allowed to continue, would it have morphed into the cult juggernaut it is today? History says no.
*For the purposes of this argument, I’m not counting the “Serenity” comic series by Dark Horse.
Browncoats — the collective name for “Firefly” fans — were not the first nor the last group to rally around a show, trying to save it with a Hail Mary pass; two others that spring to mind immediately – “Jericho” and “Community.”
Of those two, the latter has arguably faired better as it’s limped along towards the fandom goal of “Six Seasons and A Movie.” But with each new resuscitation, “Community” has shed parts of itself like the television version of Beric Dondarrion until even the fans ask, “Do we still want a movie?”
As for “Jericho”? Fans managed to convince CBS to give the show a second season. But a loud vocal minority didn’t translate into the millions of eyeballs needed to keep a show on solid footing and Season Two had lower ratings than even the first time around, leaving no wiggle room for negotiation when the cancelation axe came down a second time.
But what if “Firefly” had never been canceled in the first place? What if the executives had given the show a chance to find an audience and simply renewed it? There’s a distinct likelihood the bloom would’ve come off the rose.
“Sophomore Slump” is real and it doesn’t just affect college students. A freshman show can have the tightest writing and the best cast in the world, only to lose the plot in following years. Just look at “Sleepy Hollow” for a recent cautionary tale.
Lackluster writing will never tarnish the memory of “Firefly.” Fans will never look at later seasons and cringe at what has become of once-beloved characters. The crew of the “Serenity” will never age, never be mischaracterized. They — and the universe they inhabit — exist on a pristine pedestal of potential cut down in its prime.
Which is the best place to live, if you want to live forever.