By Jeff Jensen
Updated November 11, 2012 at 03:33 PM EST

Some television shows blaze bright and fade quickly. Others ignite and burn for years. Joss Whedon’s Firefly did neither. The sci-fi opus barely sparked during its 11-episode run on Fox in 2002, yet produced a uniquely vibrant afterglow, nurtured by stalwart fans, as well as new fans who continue to discover the series on DVD and cable. To celebrate the cult classic’s 10-year anniversary, Science will air a reunion special tonight called Firefly: Browncoats Unite, which brings together Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, and more for a conversation (moderated by this reporter) about the show’s origins and legacy and where the series might have gone had it continued. Three reasons why Firefly has endured for a decade, and just might endure for another:

A TOMORROW THAT FEELS LIKE TODAY Firefly takes place in a distant future, when a vast portion of humanity lives in galaxies far, far away, on desolate planets made hospitable with terraforming technology, in Deadwood-esque settlements adorned with high-tech flourishes. Many curious viewers were perplexed by the sci-fi/western mash-up… and the fusion of American and Chinese cultures… and the backstory about a failed revolution by rebellious “Browncoats.” And yet the same qualities that made Firefly so high concept also make it feel timeless. Nothing dates it, except Fillion’s look-how-young-he-looks! mug. In fact, the show’s depiction of a makeshift family of war-scarred loners living aboard a dumpy yet resilient spaceship, struggling to recover from past catastrophe and survive current hard times, feels more relevant than ever before.

“BIG DAMN HEROES” If you’ve seen The Avengers, you know Whedon specializes in finely drawn (and often very funny) characters with crackling group chemistry. He also knows how to pick actors, and Firefly might be his best cast ever. (And cue the deluge of complaints from Buffy The Vampire Slayer loyalists.) With so many star-making turns from so many now-established names, it’s boggling in retrospect to believe this show bombed. Fillion’s haunted anti-hero Mal Reynolds. Glau’s damaged and dangerous River. Morena Baccarin’s sophisticated-sexy “companion” (read: prostitute) Inara. To say nothing of Alan Tudyk, Gina Torres, Ron Glass, Jewel Staite, and Sean Maher – because we don’t have room, and we really need to talk about…

THE BROWNCOATS That would be the name adopted by hardcore Firefly fans, who deeply identify with the spunky-scrappy esprit de corps of their Big Damn Heroes. In an era of passionate geek tribalism, Browncoats are a breed apart. At Comic-Con this past year, nearly 10,000 showed up for Science’s Firefly reunion panel in a room that could seat about 5000. “When I see you guys, I don’t think the show is off the air,” an emotional Whedon told them. “I think it’s going on in all of us. The story is alive because of you.”

How about you, Firefly fans? Why do you think the show has endured? And those who’ve never watched: Why not? The message board is yours. Also: Here’s our sneak peak at the reunion special, with Nathan Fillion talking script ideas for The Firefly That Never Was.

Twitter: @EWDocJensen

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