By Aaron Broder
What is it about TV shows that inspire such mad devotion? Sure, fandoms arise to support stellar movies, but they never seem to match the intensity that some TV shows manage to draw in. Something about the continuous, serial nature of a TV show just lends itself well to causing obsession in a way that isn’t really seen that much elsewhere (although book series can certainly cause a similarly widespread fixation).
You can’t really talk about devoted groups of fans without talking about the Browncoats, the dedicated group of followers who fell in love with Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” as soon as it aired. The space western (I swear, it’s better than it might sound) may have gotten cancelled with only 14 episodes produced, but that did not by any means temper the fans’ enthusiasm. It’s hard to talk about what makes “Firefly” so special without repeating what hundreds of fans and critics have said before, but the show has a unique aesthetic and a well-written case of flawed, but relatable characters that gave the crew of the ship Serenity a real sense of family.
It took a few years after the series’ cancellation, but the Browncoats’ devotion has led to more than a few fan sequels, a tabletop RPG, a series of comics and a canonical sequel in the form of the movie “Serenity.” Now the Stanford Savoyards, a student-run theater company that exclusively performs Gilbert and Sullivan shows, has decided to bring the ‘verse to life in a unique way–by setting “The Pirates of Penzance” in the “Firefly” universe.
Most of the “Firefly” flavor is in the costumes and the set dressing, which I unfortunately didn’t get to see, but it’s still easy to see how well the two universes mesh together. The crew of “Serenity” was morally ambiguous; they were pirates for sure, but they worked against the oppressive Alliance and took care to make amends when they hurt innocent bystanders. Likewise, the pirates don’t attack ships weaker than they are, and they spare anyone who says they’re an orphan. And while the character analogues fall apart somewhat in the specifics (Zoe would never fall for Simon), it’s easy to see how the Pirate King and Captain Mal are, at their core, similar characters.
In a weird way, pairing “The Pirates of Penzance” with “Firefly” recaptures a lot of what I thought “Serenity” missed out on. “Firefly” was a very personal show about the unlikely family that came about in the spaceship “Serenity”; it was about fighting unlikely odds and barely scraping by in time for the next fight. “Serenity” was all about being Big Damn Heroes and taking a stand against the evil empire; not necessarily a bad plot, and outside of a few key moments, most of that sense of family, what I really loved about the show, was lost. The story of “Pirates” is far closer to the warm, comfortable feeling of “Firefly” than the epic scope of “Serenity”, even if it does veer off in a much sillier direction at times.
It’s really nice to see the crew of “Serenity” back in action, even if it’s in such an indirect way. I rarely need an excuse to revisit the ‘verse, but it’s nice every once in a while to have a reminder. Its brevity tends to anger any fan (don’t even think about mentioning Fox around most Browncoats), but at least in its brevity it never suffers the fate of TV shows that last long beyond their expiration date; there’s rarely a moment of “Firefly” that isn’t worth watching.