‘Firefly’: Behind-the-Scenes Running Gag Came Back Every Time Someone Messed Up Their Lines

Firefly, a science fiction TV show from the mind of controversial director Joss Whedon, has developed a cult following after it was canceled before its first season was even completed.

The space drama went on to spawn an entire franchise universe, including the hit blockbuster Serenity and multiple comics and games. Firefly also helped launch the careers of many actors and actresses. Summer Lyn Glau is one of them, and her name became part of a running gag on the set of both Firefly and Serenity.

‘Firefly’ was set in the year 2517 but premiered in 2002

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In the distant future, an intergalactic civil war has left a few rogue planets and moons in a never-ending war against the overarching Alliance government. Firefly traces the lives, relationships and battles of these rebels. 

Firefly featured a great band of characters, whip-smart dialogue, and a plot filled with twists that have kept fans onboard for years despite having only a single season,” reports SyFy. But the outlet is quick to point out that while the show continues to be a fan-favorite, some aspects of it haven’t aged well over the past two decades. “The complete lack of actual Asian characters in Firefly is negligent at best, racist at worst,” warns SyFy, especially in the context of the show’s Chinese-influenced sets, costumes and language (Mandarin Chinese is spoken in many scenes). 

Many of Firefly‘s devoted fans on social media platform Reddit assume that River Tam, one of the main characters, is of Asian descent. And while she isn’t (there is no reference to her lineage in the show, and the actress who plays her is actually Scottish, Irish and German), the character is central to Firefly‘s storyline. And the star who plays her is also pivotal to a running gag behind the scenes. 

Summer Glau plays River Tam on ‘Firefly’

Summer Glau, Alan Tudyk and Adam Baldwin
Summer Glau, Alan Tudyk and Adam Baldwin | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

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Glau guest-starred in one of Whedon’s earlier projects, Angel. This led him to cast her in Firefly as Tam. Tam’s story arc is a major component of Firefly‘s plot.

“One of the series’ central plots involved River Tam’s journey of recovery following the torture and experimentation she endured at the hands of the Alliance,” reports CBR. “Combined with physic abilities she couldn’t always control, she was susceptible to experiencing the feelings of those around her.”

Her character is portrayed as being intuitive and compassionate, although other characters on the series are consistently worried about her mental health and try to evict her off of their spaceship. 

Glau’s name became a running gag

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During the end of a long scene in Firefly‘s third episode, “Objects in Space,” Glau forgot her lines. Her colleagues on set found the situation humorous and turned it into a running gag anytime someone else messed up.

“The cast had a running gag where they would yell Summer Glau’s name whenever any of them flubbed a line or forgot to do something,” explains IMDB.

Since Firefly and Serenity ended, Glau has had brief stints on other shows. These include Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Dollhouse and Arrow. Beyond that, she’s largely been absent from the public eye. 

“To some, it may seem like Glau’s momentum fizzled out,” reports ScreenRant. “The reality, however, is that her personal life became more important.” The publication explains that Glau recently gave birth to her second child in 2017 and appears to be focused on her growing family.