Firefly and I didn't get off to a good start. My first taste of the series was through the movie, Serenity, and it tasted awful. Though portrayed as a stand-alone sci-fi adventure romp, Serenity was more an extended finale for this series which, at the time, I had never heard of. My expectations betrayed and confronted with a cast of characters more irritating than likable, I resolved that Firefly was not a show for me.
However, peer pressure and universal praise poked at my reluctance. Renowned as “the best TV show ever made” by countless people I both do and do not know, I grudgingly considered the fact that perhaps I was being recalcitrant simply because I enjoy being a contrarian when it comes to popular media. Its appearance on Netflix's Watch Instantly sealed the deal; I felt like I had to give it a shot or else be unfair when gleefully crowing over its failings to outraged friends.
The first thing I have to note is that it takes a number of episodes to get into the series. Firefly has an incredibly quirky cast in a exceedingly peculiar setting, and that takes some getting used to. A space western where starships travel the cosmos from one rustic, backwater planet to another? A puzzling mix of Chinese and Western cultures into a mishmash of who-knows-what? Old-fashioned duels and shootouts next to space battles and laser blasters? It strains the mind in a way that it is not used to and the genre blend, while ambitious, sometimes seems too far-fetched to embrace.
Character-wise, we have the roguish Han Solo archetype in Captain Mal Reynolds. A nerdy joke-cracking pilot. An insane and whimsical little girl. A gruff simple-minded mercenary for hire. A lovable cutesy mechanic. And more. It's a bizarre bunch of folks and, to be frank, at first they come off as more annoying than anything. Watching the crew goofily bumble about a Chinese-English space western potpourri... Something about it, at first, just seems to be too much.
But, somewhere along the line, this changes. The characters gain more depth. They show sides of themselves that we haven't yet seen. And they get put into situations that actually make you feel for them and fear for their lives. For me, that moment was the episode where Mal is forced to stay behind with the ship and try vainly to fix it before he dies of oxygen deprivation. Things get worse, and his apparent saviors decide instead to shoot him and steal everything. This episode, along with the preceding “Our Mrs. Reynolds” illustrated to me that the series was capable of balancing the humor with more mature, intricate, and compelling storylines.
And things get only better from there on out. Most of the characters become quite endearing, and the interactions between them, flawed and different as they all are in their own ways, are touching and grow on you. To those who read this blog regularly it'll come as no surprise that my favorite character was Mal. But I also enjoyed so many others immensely. Jayne, Kaylee, and Wash were consistently hilarious with some of the best lines. Those who I didn't care for at first (Simon, Shepherd, River) slowly shifted into more interesting multi-faceted characters. And those members of the cast who I didn't like much at all (Inara, Zoe) were relegated to side roles where I didn't have to pay much attention to them. It is to the show's credit that it also had some quite interesting villains. Jubal Early in particular was incredibly intriguing to watch; it's been a while since I've seen a character like that in any story.
All in all, I enjoyed my time with Firefly, though I found the first few episodes slightly tedious. But is it the best show I've ever seen? No. It was undoubtedly entertaining, but the setting just didn't click for me over time. I've nothing wrong with westerns or science fiction, but combining the two just felt too often forced. The constant inclusion of Chinese language and culture never really seemed convincing. And the deliberately 'Western' feeling sections just didn't make much sense given the context of interstellar travel and that level of technology.
But I could definitely see the promise of the show. The dialogue was positively hilarious and the majority of characters were memorable. It is something that could have been truly great if only it had more time to share its message. So I suppose that makes me one of the horde who regret Fox Network's abrupt cancellation of it.