Portland is a great town for geeks. Several comic book writers, artists, and publishers make their homes here. You can’t swing a light saber in this town without hitting some skinny hipster with black nerdy-cool glasses and a vintage T-shirt, ready to talk about why the second half of season 13 of “The Simpsons” was better than the first half of season 9. And Portlanders love the work of Joss Whedon: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly,” and the film “Serenity.”
My first up-front exposure to this devotion was Tuesday night, when I joined some friends at the McMenamins Mission Theater to watch the two-hour pilot episode of “Firefly.” Sponsored by KUFO and McMenamins, they’ll be screening two episodes every Tuesday night at the Mission until they’ve finished the series … which won’t take long, since it only lasted 15 episodes, counting the two-hour pilot as two.
I had seen the first six episodes that Fox aired back in 2002, but that did not include the pilot. Fox didn’t like the pilot, so they aired another episode as the premiere and didn’t show the actual pilot until the very end, when they had given up on the series and were just burning off episodes. And by then I wasn’t watching anymore.
Shame on me, because I’ll be doggoned if the pilot isn’t a fine piece of entertainment. My friend Mike Russell, who helped coordinate the event and introduced the episodes, says he considers the pilot even better than the “Serenity” movie that came after the series, and I might agree with him. And even though I’ve seen about half of the episodes already, I think I might return every Tuesday night for the next seven weeks to see the whole series.
The Mission is a charming old theater with regular chairs (i.e., not theater chairs), couches, and little tables. Food and drinks (including beer) are available for purchase. And the best part? The “Firefly” screenings are all free, though you do have to be 21 to be admitted (because of the aforementioned beer).
The event had been promoted on KUFO’s Cort & Fatboy show and a few other places, but there was no guarantee that there’d be more than a handful of the hardcore fans at Tuesday’s premiere. To our great surprise, the theater counted 312 admissions: the place was packed. Everyone had a fine time eating, drinking, enjoying the show, and occasionally shouting important dialogue along with the actors. There was even applause, which of course makes perfect sense when you’re responding to a piece of filmed entertainment.
In addition to Mike, my pal Dawn Taylor and her husband Patrick were on hand, as was an old friend of Mike’s named Ryan who lives in England and is an actor and has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company in addition to appearing in “Resident Evil” and a direct-to-DVD Wesley Snipes movie, which is a pretty diverse resume.
So if you find yourself in Portland any of the next seven Tuesday nights at 10 p.m., you might stop by the Mission Theater and enjoy some free entertainment. You don’t even have to be a geek! (Although it wouldn’t hurt.)
P.S. A further example of Portland’s love for Joss Whedon: Over the weekend of June 22, there were charity screenings of “Serenity” in nearly 50 cities all over the world, with proceeds going to Equality Now, which fights abuse of and discrimination against women and is one of Whedon’s pet causes. And where did these organized charity screenings begin? Right here in Portland!
P.P.S. One more example, though it’s more of a coincidence: In that “Firefly” pilot we watched, there’s an ill-fated character named Bendis. According to Whedon’s DVD commentary, the character was named after acclaimed comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis, who lives in Portland.