Well, I have to admit: It looks like I misjudged this series. Despite a slow and relatively unimpressive beginning, "Firefly" has really turned out to be something worth watching.
Created by Joss Whedon, best known for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Firefly" has been billed as a hybrid of the science fiction and western genres. It's set aboard a small smuggling vessel with an eight-member crew that spends most of its time on the frontier of interstellar civilization, at some indeterminate point in the distant future. Like most good sci-fi, the series focuses on the people on board the ship rather than its technology, so there's no talk of how the ship moves from one planet to another between episodes. The captain of the ship was on the losing side of a civil war and has decided to make his career as far from the winning side as he can.
Natasha and I are about three-quarters of our way through the series, which was smothered less than halfway through its first season. Monday night we watched the episode where Simon, the ship's doctor, hired the crew to sneak him and his sister River into the hospital on the planet Ariel so he could learn exactly what had been done to River to make her so unpredictable in her behavior. The ongoing development of the characters themselves, and the relationships among them, have made the show compelling despite some of the oddities in the way the concept was executed. (I think I mentioned before that the show seemed too spaghetti western, given that it's supposed to be at the very least several hundred years in the future.)
Aside from the characters, one of the things I've found interesting about the show is the way it centers on a group of outlaws -- noble outlaws, perhaps, in the spirit of Robin Hood, but outlaws nonetheless -- who do some pretty shocking things, like stealing medicine from a hospital, easily gunning down other people, and even at times betraying or trying to kill one another. Star Trek, this ain't.
As my oldest brother predicted when I told him of my initial dissatisfaction with the series, the preacher Book is turning out to be an interesting and mysterious character. But I have to admit that I find Jayne a thoroughly intriguing character if for no other reason than he's the least honorable of the outlaws on board Serenity, very clearly in it for the money, and yet even he has a conscience that bothers him when he knows he's wronged a companion and that tears him up when he discovers that he's become a folk hero on Canton because the mud farmers misjudged his motives in dropping a fortune in their midst four years back. (And what a kicking folk song they have about him, too. Any idea where I can get a copy of it, without the dialogue mixed in?)
I'd have to say my favorite epsiodes so far have been "Out of Gas," where life support on board fails; and the one where they rob the hospital, though I liked parts of "Shindig," where Mal unintentionally challenges someone to a duel; and "Our Mrs. Reynolds," where he finds out he's married. (I was really disappointed with the way they got themselves out of that mess; I thought the initial premise for the episode was much more interesting.)
So it's been a good show, so far. I expect Natasha and I will buy a copy of "Serenity" when we get around to it, and we will consign Fox execs to a special hell -- one normally reserved for child molesters and people who talk at the theater -- for not giving the series a chance. There at least they can join the execs from ABC who killed Star Trek and the execs from Paramount who killed the Trek franchise.