A friend at work recently, who was in a training class that I led, mentioned the series Firefly to me, that I've never seen before, but that seems to be universally accessible for free online (YouTube, hulu, even Netflix) so I decided to give it a watch. Written/produced by Joss Whedon of the recent Avengers film...
...I thought it might not be too bad. I hadn't seen Avengers, or much of Buffy (I saw one episode of Buffy with an evil android played by John Ritter that was both troubling and stupid). So I sat through a couple episodes of Firefly to check it out, including the pilot, and... I just don't get it.
Right off the bat, my initial impression is that this seems a little too much like fan fiction involving an alternate-universe Han Solo, who never met Luke, Leia (or Chewie, for that matter), joined a (different) space rebellion, then became a space smuggler/cowboy with a massive chip on his shoulder. The Star Wars parallels are inescapable, such as the massive "Alliance" or whatever it's called, with huge "Star Destroyer"-type ships in space. The Serenity-ship is, itself, an old, battered, Falcon-ish space-craft, with similar gimmicks like unreliable engineering and what not. The main character Mal just seems a little too Han Solo, including being the lone smuggler with the shaggy hair, stripe up the side of the pants, the gun/blaster holstered on the side and so on. There are plenty of other uncomfortably-strong parallels as well. For instance, the Jayne character seems a little too much like Bill Paxton's marine character straight out of Aliens.
I'll say this, though: the characters are colorful, and Whedon does do a good job of developing all of their backgrounds, if a tad unoriginal. I'm thinking that the "space western" genre has already been done to death, and this is starting to just feel like imitation.
Additionally, I'm wasn't too stoked about the sex content, the nudity, the language, and even some of the violence. It's definitely sci-fi for a more mature audience, much like the atrociously revamped Battlestar Galactica series was (glamorous, carnal, mostly-white people in space).
The writing also seemed a little schizoid at times, such as in the pilot episode when the Mal character tells the doctor in complete seriousness that one of the crew members died, then goes to have a laugh about it with the rest of the ship crew as the doctor discovers that the crew member was actually still alive, and Mal knew about it all along. This wasn't funny, and also seemed strangely inconsistent with how the character profile was unfolding at that point. Mal Solo seemed to be stern, serious, and concerned with doing what's right, and yet in a time of seriousness he'd break down and crack an idiotic joke? Equally puzzling was the scene in which the somewhat-shallow "token christian" missionary character asks to say grace at the meal and Mal tells him to do so quietly to himself. Is it that big of a deal? The second episode he makes a similar cold-hearted remark to the missionary about, "you (missionary guy) are welcomed on this ship, but God isn't." Hard to tell if this is the Mal character talking or Whedon just venting his own hang ups. I can't say, and I haven't read enough of his background to know, but its generally a turn-off for me when there's an unresolved antagonism towards the person of religious faith in a show like this. As a Christian viewer, I'm left wondering if the religious view here will get a remotely fair shake, or if it's the back of the bus for my view (and objectivity). I don't know. I lost interest and just couldn't get into it.
Some other minor observations: the sets look unbelievably cheap. The interior shots of the ship look like studio interiors, and I never really got the illusion that this was a ship traveling through space. The exterior "western" shots suffer from the same silly situation of Stargate, in that the planets they visit all sort of look the same (in the situation with Stargate, all of the planets look like Canada.) And that brings to mind something else: it seems like the "space western", particularly the "western" part, seems sort of strained. Would people really carry holstered-weapons cowboy style in the future, or resort to horses over modern vehicles, even if it meant using lower-budget things like 4-wheelers or what not? I don't know - it just didn't seem genuine to me. I lost interest, couldn't follow it, and moved on. It just didn't seem inspired, and maybe I'm just getting older, but it seemed like a mashup of characters and themes and elements from too many other films, many of Fox origin. I respect that it has a huge fan following, but I personally just don't get it.
Firefly is sort of the death knell of sci-fi for me personally. I'm just burned out of the genre, and there just isn't much originality anymore. It took watching Firefly to really let that sink in. This genre is just tired. Or maybe I'm just tired. Who knows.