I have been putting off writing this entry for a long time, which is in no way a reflection on my opinion of the show. It’s more like I’m afraid I can’t do Firefly justice, especially considering the rapturous devotion of its fans. If you’re a loyal browncoat you probably know the pilot backwards and forwards. If you’re not, it may be that you blinked and missed it before Fox canceled it. (I won’t rehash the whole fan outcry/Serenity story.)

It’s not like Joss Whedon invented a new genre here; we’ve seen space anti-heroes before. And I, for one, was not a Whedon fan prior to this, so I wasn’t like “Hooray, a new show from the creator of Buffy.” The show just hit all the right notes with cool setting, fascinating characters, great dialogue, and a healthy dose of dark humor.

The show opens with an in-the-trenches war scene, which could be out of any number of movies. The clue that something is different is that the aircraft flying overhead look like nothing we’ve seen before. A man (Mal, played by Nathan Fillion) and a woman (Zoe, played by Gina Torres) are leading a shell-shocked contingent against an attack. Their language is slightly heightened; in fact, the whole scene is a bit confusing the first time around. All we really need to know is that the troops are forced to lay down arms when their back-up abandons them. The look on Mal’s face and the music playing tell us all we need.

Music is huge in this pilot. The score is a twangy, gritty collection of music reminiscent of old westerns. Its juxtaposition with high-tech space travel gives Firefly its own unique tone.

We jump ahead six years from the battle scene to a spacewalk by a crew of three. The striking quality of this scene is that it is very quiet—opposite the previous scene—with sound seemingly sucked up by the vastness of space. Meanwhile the pilot of the ship, who seems to be keeping an eye on the mission, is actually playing with dinosaur toys on his console. (I may have to add this to my list of best character introductions.) “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal,” cries the Stegosaurus to the Tyrannosaurus.

From there, we start to meet the rest of the crew. There is the ever-cheerful mechanic, Kaylee (Jewel Staite). There is a “companion,” or prostitute, Inara (Morena Baccarin). And there’s Jayne (super-dreamy Adam Baldwin), all-around tough guy. The pilot is Wash (Alan Tudyk), Zoe’s husband.

The crew has to quickly shut down the ship’s power as they pass an enemy, and we find out a few details. The ship our crew flies is an out-of-date model called a Firefly. Its name is Serenity, and it becomes a character unto itself over the course of the series. The ship and its crew are, for lack of a better term, off the grid. They’re clearly hiding from something.

Captain Mal and company land on a dusty planet and pick up some new passengers, a preacher, a doctor, and a third man. A lot of characters and a lot of information are introduced very fast. The show demands your attention and is worth watching over and over, because so much happens. The dialogue is layered with character revelations and plenty of wit. The basics are, they’re short on cash, carrying stolen cargo, and on their way to seek help from a woman who once shot Mal. This is not going to go smoothly.

If you haven’t seen this, watch and enjoy the twists and turns for yourself. No one is who they seem. They all have secrets. Some violence beaks out now and again. And the doctor is transporting some very unusual cargo. Our protagonist, Mal, seems cool on the surface, even when angry, but clearly that war experience—and maybe a lot of other pain—is seething beneath the surface. Oh, and there are enemies out there in space called Reavers, to whom the crew’s reaction is bone-chilling. Just watch it.


Spin-off pilots are their own breed. In some ways they have it easier than regular pilots, already having a waiting audience. For Joss Whedon creations, this effect is even greater. In other ways, they have it harder, since fans can be demanding. The pilot for a spin-off has to balance enough familiar information to let existing fans feel like they’re in on something, but still lay out the exposition and character introductions needed to get the series started.

In Angel, we’re reintroduced to the title character (David Boreanaz), now living in Los Angeles. He brings us into the setting with a few words describing the City of Angels (pun not spelled out but certainly implied), while he sits somberly in a dive bar. We get that the city is going to be as a much a character as anyone. Angel is drunk off his ass, and we could open a whole discussion on the chemistry of vampire intoxication, but not here. He is slobbering to the unwitting barfly next to him about the girl who got away, without naming Buffy. (For some reason, there is a giant rainbow flag hanging in the bar, but there is no other indication that it’s a gay bar. Or why Angel would be in a gay bar.)

Within moments our hero is dispatching with some evil vampires about to feed on some nubile young clubbers. It’s a big, bad comic-book style brawl that leaves Angel jonesing for blood. He heads home, to his dark basement apartment, to find a half-human Irishman named Doyle (Gleen Quinn) waiting for him. Doyle fills us in on Angel’s origin story and the Buffy-Angel relationship. Doyle is some sort of psychic with migraines. He’s got an assignment for Angel, to go meet a woman at a coffee shop who is some kind of trouble.

The girl is being hunted by a wealthy investor who turns out to be a powerful vampire named Russell. Angel tries to protect her, but she gets herself killed, and Russell decides to lure Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), who is now an aspiring actress, into his lair. And some other stuff happens.

It’s best not to think too much about the plot. Everything happens a bit too easily: Doyle just pops in and Angel obeys without question, then Angel just happens to be at a party where Cordelia is, then the same vampire that kills the girl in the coffee shop just happens to have his sights set on Cordelia as his next victim. Angel, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer before it, succeeds more on its wit.

For all its action-packed mellowdrama, this pilot is full of laughs. Even Charisma Carpenter’s painful acting is saved by some great one-liners. My favorite is, when she calls Russell out as a vampire, she accuses: “I’m from Sunnydale. We had our own Hellmouth.”  Another one is, after Cordelia babbles on about her fabulous life and then walks away to talk to more important party-goers, Angel remarks, “It’s nice to see she’s grown as a person.” Other bits are more subtle and surprising. Angel jumps gallantly into his convertible to chase after bad guys only to realize it’s not his car.

David Boreanaz’s social awkwardness is just adorable. Lest we forget how beautiful he is, the writers remind us at least twice in this episode. As a character he is oblivious to his own hotness (vampires don’t have reflections, remember) which makes him that much more appealing. Darn it, he just wants to do the right thing.

So for Buffy fans or the uninitiated, this pilot is super entertaining. And it ends with a beginning, the launch of Angel Investigations, so it keeps the viewer coming back for more.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“Welcome to the Hellmouth”

There have been numerous articles in the last few years declaring that geeks are now cool. Shows like Big Bang Theory and Glee are held up as proof of this trend. It’s not the Marcia Bradys or the Mike Seavers we want to root for anymore. We love outcasts and braniacs. ComicCon isn’t just for Trekkers anymore. When did the tide turn? My first answer would be with Veronica Mars. But thinking back, there was Freaks and Geeks—short-lived as it was. But, wait. Even before that, there was Buffy. She may have been the original cool social reject; it helped that she was hot.

So imagine it’s 1997. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a campy film starring Kristy Swanson that you may remember from earlier in the decade. Joss Whedon is not a name you hear regularly, if at all (did you know he was a writer on Toy Story?), and you’ve certainly never heard of a Whedonverse.

The stage, complete with eerie horror movie music, is set when a horny teenage couple break into the high school, apparently to get it on, but—oops—the perky blond chick is a vampire who changes and brutally kills the guy. (Sucks to be that actor. Congratulations, you landed a part in what promises to be a hit teen drama. But you die in the first two minutes.)

For those not familiar with slayerism, the opening credits and voiceover give the gist; in every generation, there is a chosen one, etc., etc. Here, Buffy is the fresh-faced Sarah Michelle Gellar, known mainly as a soap actress.

Buffy’s mom drops her off at her new school in fictitious Sunnydale, CA, where she has apparently transferred following the events of the film. And wouldn’t you know it? Sunnydale is smack on top of the Hellmouth, a portal to all things occult. On Buffy’s very first day, a body turns up in a locker with telltale bite marks on its neck. But we’ll get back to that…

In addition to introducing Hellmouth-adjacent life, the pilot takes as its storyline a typical teenage tale; Buffy’s attempt to fit in with the cool crowd, only to find that she is destined to walk among the outcasts. She approaches her new school with hope for normalcy, but nevertheless carries a sharpened wooden stake in her bag. (“Pepper spray is just so passé.”)

She first befriends the self-centered beauty queen Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), who picks on the brainy Willow (Alyson Hannigan). Meanwhile, charmingly awkward Xander (Nicholas Brendon) can’t keep his eyes off of Buffy. Willow likes Xander. Mr. Giles (Anthony Head), new librarian in the apparently deserted school library, seems to already know all about Buffy’s slaying ways. So she goes to him when she learns about the locker body.

Vampires live under the city and are gearing up for some huge revolt, called The Harvest. So Buffy’s going to have a busy sophomore year, what with cheerleading, homework, and ass-kicking.

Oh, and I did I mention there is a dark and mysterious, and ridiculously hot guy trailing Buffy around town? We don’t get a name, or much information at all, except that he knows what’s up with the Harvest.

So the pilot gets us off and running with plenty of action, love triangleism, and more on the mysterious guy (who will, of course, be introduced later in the series as Angel), to look forward to. It’s a bit dark, often funny, and has enough eye candy to get addictive. And this is all despite the fact that, objectively speaking, it’s kind of bad. The acting, the dialogue… but stuff can be bad and still plenty entertaining. Just look at the original Star Wars.

For added fun, there is an unaired version of Welcome to the Hellmouth floating around the ‘net.

Memorable quote: (Said all SoCal bitchy) “God, what is your childhood trauma?”