Firefly Gave Us Modern TV. It’s Still Never Coming Back.

Spencer Ellsworth
Nov 27 · 4 min read

Every generation has their white whale of a concluded series.

Baby boomers got hooked on Star Trek and made a big noise about it until they got movies, spinoff shows, more movies, more spinoff shows… Generation X kept the love of Star Wars alive until they got novels, video games, comics and, err, prequels.

Image: Fox

Milennials got Firefly. And three years later, Serenity, a movie that, while excellent, reminded us that the story worked better on TV.

And then nothing.

So we kept begging, flying flags, hoping the move would be a hit in China, hoping for streaming before we knew it was streaming, hoping for some seemed-bizarre-at-the-time Internet/TV hybrid…

And it became a whole thing. With a whole lot of shows.

It wasn’t just Firefly we wanted back.

Firefly was the flagship for the, pun intended, “un-cancel” culture of the 2000s, in which fans loudly protested the fates of their favorite shows.

Our whining worked.

*sinister voice* Our whining… CREATED modern TV!

Family Guy came back. Futurama came back. Arrested Development came back. Veronica Mars, a show oft-mistaken for a Joss Whedon gig, came back as a crowdfunded movie and now as a TV series. Community died and came back like four times.

And as we continued to binge DVDs and then binge streaming shows, the TV landscape changed in favor of stuff like Firefly and Veronica Mars. Smart, niche, weird, dangerous genre stuff, each season a novel in an uber-saga. Why not? It was clear that audiences didn’t want reliable old friends once a week — we had griped online about shows we binged in a few sessions, so TV became binge-worthy. We got the Marvel TV Universe. Game of Thrones. Boardwalk Empire. House of Cards. American Gods. Netflix took a big risk and just started throwing out original programming, and then so did Amazon, and HBO finally, FINALLY got a streaming option. We had brought the clever, sharp, dangerous spirit of Firefly to all of TV.

And Firefly, uh…

Still didn’t come back.

There they sat on Netflix. Fourteen episodes. One movie.

Nothing else ever.

(Same goes for Pushing Daisies, but that’s another article.)

This year, it’s been 17 years since the cancellation of the show, the same time gap, one must notice, between “Turnabout Intruder” and “Encounter at Farpoint,” the respective passing =and rising of each Trek generation.

We’re at the point where Firefly has lost a little bit of its luster. One can’t help noticing, in the era of Ali Wong, Fresh Off The Boat and Kim’s Convenience, that the many borrowed Chinese/pan-Asian elements didn’t come with, uh, actual Asian people. And creator Joss Whedon doesn’t inspire the wholesale loyalty he once did — not after his ex-wife’s revelations that his feminist, progressive characters hid some troubling personal hypocrisy.

Of course, Whedon wasn’t the complete heart and soul of Firefly — American Horror Story producer Tim Minear was the other head of the writers’ room, accompanied by Tick creator Ben Edlund and TV legend Jane Espenson. And a new, fresh cast is a great place to confront a previous lack of diversity, (and face the fan theory that the Browncoats actively were racist against Asian people).

The comics have told stories meant for later seasons of Firefly already. Perhaps it’s time to jump twenty years in the future, to when Mal’s rotting in prison due to Jayne’s final betrayal, and River reassembles a new scrappy crew for the ultimate caper?

(This scenario came via Michael R Underwood, a fantastic writer who any Firefly fan should check out.)

But my Milennials, oh thou jaded late-20-to-30-somethings, I fear that, as cool as this sounds, it wouldn’t be what we wanted in 2006. Or 2008. Or 2010.

We’ve got Killjoys, The Mandalorian, another Battlestar Galactica reboot, The Expanse, Rebels, Picard coming, Star Trek Discovery, and about a thousand other little sci fi shows that you essentially need a spreadsheet to keep up with, all of which are coasting on our memory. The crew of the battered spaceship Serenity gave us a TV landscape beyond our 2002 dreams, and now… they’d be another good show in a flood of good shows.

If we got Firefly: The Next Generation, I’d definitely watch it.

I’d put it in the queue for sure.

Right after The Expanse season 4, even!

I mean, as long as I don’t have to buy another streaming service.

This is the ‘verse we now-jaded Millennials created. And just like boomers and Gen X-ers waxing rhapsodic about late night Trek parties and drive-in Death Stars, what we really mean, when we get maudlin over that 2002 message board, is that we can’t be 20 again, falling in love so unreservedly with a piece of entertainment.

So clutch those moments, that love of Firefly close, and sing it with me. Take my message boards, my un-social-media’d Internet, my idolizing of Joss Whedon as a feminist icon.

But you can’t take those late-night 2004 binges from me.


Pop Culture conversations

Spencer Ellsworth

Written by

Guy with opinions! Author of A RED PEACE from Tor, and THE GREAT FAERIE STRIKE from Broken Eye Books. Space bugs and faerie unions; check em out.



Pop Culture conversations

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade