Some things in life are cyclical: The seasons, the discussion of certain political issues in the public forum, the media frenzy around a new America's sweetheart followed by the inevitable backlash and backpeddling. There is also, of course, the constant cycle of possibilities for the future of the Firefly franchise. Right now we're being confronted with that last one, as Firefly executive producer Tim Minear said the words "limited series" in relation to whether Firefly can live on on-screen.
Firefly is, in the history of television — and more specifically the history of television fandom — seen in metaphor as a phoenix, rising from the ashes of unceremonious treatment and cancelling at the hands of Fox. In part due to fan campaign and even larger part due to co-creator Joss Whedon's dogged persual, the world was treated to a film, Serenity, which performed poorly at the box office but which lives in a special place in the hearts of fans — this writer included.
Firefly also, more recently, lives on in a comic book series through Dark Horse (constant home of Whedon series offshoots), which follows the characters after the events of Serenity. A couple of years after the film but before the comic series, there was also a fan campaign to help star Nathan Fillion buy the rights to Firefly from Fox — a campaign which Fillion himself had to shut down before too many people spent too much money on something that wasn't going to happen. And when the Veronica Mars movie got the green light with the help of Kickstarter, chatter of a possible Firefly-related kickstarter campaign predictably cropped up almost instantly. Joss Whedon had to shut down that idea himself.
Well now the Veronica Mars movie is nearing release, and so, as is now unspoken tradition when dealing with shows coming back from the dead, a Firefly producer was called. Here's what Minear (who has also worked on shows like Angel, Dollhouse, Wonderfalls, Terriers, and more recently American Horror Story) said when faced most recently with the question of what Veronica Mars might mean for Firefly:
To be clear: There’s no revival currently planned and there are many obstacles to this happening (perhaps first and foremost is that star Nathan Fillion is exclusive to Fox’s rival network ABC for his role on Castle, which is currently in its most-watched season). And last year, the show’s ultra-busy creator Joss Whedon told EW he preferred to focus on building new worlds rather than revisiting old ones.
Good, diplomatic, logical. Then EW kept picking at the scab, and Minear offered some ideas as possibility:
I would never foreclose the possibility. The fact that it was even a feature film after it spectacularly failed on Fox was a miracle. And of course it lives on in other forms. ...
I’m completely talking off the top of my head, but there’s a show that’s been on for the last couple years that’s reinvented the form in terms of the limited series. I’m trying to think of the name of that show — Oh yes! American Horror Story! It doesn’t have to be 13 episodes. Look how Sherlock does it.
I think a limited series of some kind would work best. Something like that could also work if, say, 20th could partner with Netflix, or another distributor. It would have its home on Fox, of course [then a second window on streaming]. A limited series would do very well, I bet.
You can't exactly blame EW for continuing to poke at the issue — the question of whether Firefly will ever have another on-screen chapter is one as long-running as the story of the story's first revival was epic. And you can't blame Minear for giving this answer — it's an option that honestly makes a lot of sense given the modern television landscape of The Killing-on-Netflix, and he knows what his fans want.
But honestly, the resurgence of Firefly-reboot talk this quote understandably resulted in did cause an eye-roll followed by a long bracing breath in this writer. Because I love Firefly, yes, I really do. But sometimes the endless dragging out of the possibility of Firefly's on-screen life feels like as much a metaphor for humanity's inability to deal with mortality as it does like repeatedly kicking a beloved, dead pet.
Could Firefly theoretically go on forever? Yes — the fan support and the comics prove that. I have no doubt fans would be able to turn Firefly into the next Doctor Who
if they tried, egging it on until it's gone through several
incarnations and was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of when Fox first
dropped that fateful axe.
I have no doubt that Firefly, had it been allowed to continue on Fox — and under Whedon and Minear's vision — would have continued to be a truly great show. I also have very little doubt in my mind that, had it continued, it would have hit narrative speed-bumps that dragged on, character moments that confused, plot points that pissed off — you get the picture. It happened to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it certainly happened to Angel. Hell, it even happened to Veronica Mars.
Firefly is so beloved in part because it was cut down in its prime. If Firefly came back now it would be very notably missing multiple fan-favorite characters — remember, (spoiler alert) Inara was/is terminally ill, and Wash and Book said their last goodbyes in Serenity.
We may love this show, and its writers, and its characters. But bringing it back, forever, dragging on this one saga even as the actors and creators age and find fulfillment in other projects? It might not be the most wise method of continuing to love Firefly.
And remember, we'll always have Comic-Con.