Saturday, January 29, 2011

Burn fast; burn bright

Having had a wisdom tooth out last Wednesday I spent the best part of two days sleeping or watching TV, specifically DVD box sets of Firefly and Seinfeld, and comedy reruns on Fiver.

Having watched the 'roundtable' extra on the last season of Seinfeld, it struck home to me the bravery of the show's creators to walk away while it was still the number 1 American comedy show. Nine seasons = 180 episodes, and to still retain some credibility is difficult. The final days of Friends and Frasier as they limped on to their respective twee finales shows the wisdom in the Seinfeld tack.

In a strange way, a show with a much shorter run also shows the truth inherent in the saying that the stars that blaze brightest burn out fastest. Firefly was axed after just 14 episodes, by network executives who didn't really get the show.

In the sci-fi fanboy / geek community this is still regarded as one of the most criminal acts of TV exec-land (although whoever greenlighted a second season of 'Joey' probably deserves to be spanwhengled too). And yet, I'd say it's given us a gem.

True there are all the 'could have beens', the unanswered questions, many of which were only loosely tied up by the feature film Serenity. But equally, we were spared the painful lurching of genius being lost in the mundanity of season after season. Sci-fi afficionados will remember the way Farscape deteriorated until it was put out of its misery, or how boring The X-Files became with its ponderous story arc, or the sheer dullness of many of the Star Trek spin off series.

Firefly still seems fresh and fun and playful, a few years on from it's ever so brief run in the sun. Maybe it burns the brighter because its life was so short.


  1. I recently finished Firefly for the second time (including watching Serenity) and it was like seeing an old friend for the first time in ages.

    I agree that sometimes shows overstay their welcome, but I think with Firefly it could easily have run for the rest of its series (and onto a second) without losing its way.

    The problem with the shows you mentioned is that they never had an intended end point. They just kept going for as long as they could (so that they could make as much money as possible).

    Babylon 5 was a good example of knowing when to stop. Writer J. Michael Straczynski planned from the outset that it would last five series. He had the entire story arc planned out in advance and wrote the scripts accordingly. I don't think B5 is everyone's cup of tea but I think the stories were good and the fact that it wasn't made up along the way really showed.

  2. good use of 'spanwhengled'

  3. Although Straczynski did try to bring out a prequel series that bombed, so even he wasn't immune to trying to spin something out of nothing.

    I gave up with Babylon 5 for other reasons (like it being boring and too much like star trek next generation)