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Fillion Fandom

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When the first TV ads aired for the new science fiction/western hybrid Firefly in the late summer of ’02, the “from the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer” hype FOX was laying on so thickly had zero effect on me.  At that point, the name “Joss Whedon” meant nothing to me — I’d never seen any Buffy (except the wretched movie). I wouldn’t become a disciple of The Way of Whedon for over another year.

No, what struck me was this:  “Hey, cool, Nathan Fillion’s on a new show!  Maybe I’ll have to check that out.”  (Though I didn’t, of course, until after Firefly had been canceled and released on DVD.) See, I’m now in my fourteenth year of Fillion Fandom™.  All you people who first discovered him as the roguish-yet-lovable Captain Mal Reynolds?  Pshaw.  Newbies, latecoming bandwagon jumpers, the lot of you.

Way back in the summer of 1994, I wasn’t taking any college classes and my 25-hour-a-week job at a record store mainly took up my nighttime hours, so during most days I was pretty free.  And with my afternoons unencumbered by anything resembling productive activity, what I did was watch soap operas — specifically, All My Children, One Life to Live and Days of Our Lives. [1]

Fillion as OLTL's Joey BuchanonOne of One Life To Live‘s main good guys during that summer was Joey Buchanon, played by, you guessed it, Nathan Fillion.  Joey was more in the romantic hero soap character mold than action hero or anti-hero, but heroic he was nonetheless. Most of the appeal of the character — to me, anyway — was from Fillion himself, who had an undeniable air of goodness about him. His Joey was very earnest and likable, even if I never could understand why he was so hung up on skanky Kelly, who was so full of bad news she might as well have been wearing a “Chico’s Bail Bonds” jersey.

Fillion might not have been the highlight of my soap-watching stint that summer — my mild man-crush on him was far eclipsed by the gripping lust I felt for Maria and Julia, the Santos sisters, who spent the summer bludgeoning me with their exquisite hotness on All My Children. But he left enough of a positive vibe on me that I noted every time he appeared in my pop culture field of vision over the next few years. I took it as a sign that his career was going somewhere when he played Not The Ryan You’re Looking For in Saving Private Ryan; I thought his career must be taking a step back when he signed on to the occassionally-amusing-but-not-particularly-noteworthy sitcom Two Guys And A Girl And At One Time There Was A Pizza Place But We Dropped It After The Second Season.

Have you ever noticed how some actors seem to exhibit certain characteristics so naturally and so frequently that you just assume that person’s like that in real life? (Well, OK… I do, anyway.) That’s how Nathan Fillion’s always seemed to me in regards to that aforementioned fundamental goodness most of his characters exude. Much of what made Mal Reynolds such a compelling figure was the contrast Fillion’s natural (or natural-seeming) good-guy-ness brought to him: for all of Mal’s law-breaking and Fed-shooting and doctor-yelling, there’s never any doubt that he’s a good man who’s fallen on hard times, a hero in a less-than-heroic situation.

Yes, I’m aware that Fillion’s an actor and if he’s any good at his job at all — and I believe he is — then there doesn’t have to be any connection whatsoever between the parts he plays and the man himself. But there’s undeniably something of a strength, morality and dignity underneath most of the characters he plays [2], and whether that quality has any basis in the man behind the characters or not, it makes him an appealing presence on screen.

I’m still hoping that quality someday makes him a huge star.

(Funnily/sadly enough, between the time I started writing this post Monday night and the time I finished it Wednesday night, Fillion’s newest show, Drive, was canceled by FOX… after three episodes. Nathan, if you are going to be a Big Huge Star at some point soon, I don’t think it’s going to be any thanks to the bastards at FOX.)

[1] I’ll talk more about my history with soaps some other time, but I firmly believe that watching Days with my mom when I was little probably helped foster in me the love for serialized storytelling I’ve still got today.

[2] The most notable exception to this tendency was his arc as the evil preacher Caleb in Season 6 of Buffy; there was no underlying streak of good to be found in that character, and because of it I think having Fillion, who’d just been de-Firefly-ed, play the part struck something of a wrong chord.

Written by Allen

April 26th, 2007 at 10:00 am

Posted in Pop Culture,TV

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