Firefly was an unexpectedly shortened series created by writer/director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) that aired in the fall of 2002. The grassroots popularity of its limited run was able to spawn a highly enjoyable feature film shortly thereafter, Serenity. Though it all ended abruptly, there is much in the finished episodes to appreciate, and the complete series on DVD includes three excellent episodes that never aired.
The name of the series comes from the model of spaceship our protagonists travel in. It's an out-dated clunker full of problems but it's a comfortable mobile home that engineer Kaylee (Jewel Staite) affectionately maintains for a variety of passengers who fall in the enormous gap between government (a.k.a. Alliance) official and beggar on the fringe. Captained by Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, Waitress), the crew flies from one smuggling or delivery job to the next, be they legal or not under Alliance rules, to maintain their independence. Their main objective is to keep food on the table, fuel in the tank, and to stay away from Reavers, hideous beings whose hunger for anything living is never satisfied. By staying on a planet too long they would end up on the Alliance's radar, or end up slaves to a system they don't wish to support, so purposeful vagabonds they are when we join them.
The characters are just as important in this low-budget science fiction show as the actual physical world that Joss has created. Each person serves a specific function, and all of the functions are given equal weight in terms of how progress is made during an episode. Everyone has their responsibility for completing the task, and without everyone accomplishing their given duties, the whole enterprise cannot succeed. An added bonus is that every character's dialogue is acutely well-written while remaining definitively different from each other.
Zoë (Gina Torres) is the First Officer of the ship who helps Captain Reynolds to smoothly finish a job while her husband Wash (Alan Tudyk) serves as pilot. Inara (Morena Baccarin) is the companion on board who ensures diplomatic relations with whatever planet they happen to contact. Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) relinquishes his fully-funded family heritage to help fix wounds and protect his sister River (Summer Glau, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) who has been biologically altered by the Alliance to be a trained assassin. Finishing off the group is the mercenary Jayne (Adam Baldwin), whose integrity we are never quite sure of.
Joss likes to play with stereotypes, and he does so exceptionally well with this troupe. Though the idea of a "companion" is synonymous with prostitution, in Firefly's world, such a contributor actually confers honor on the ship that carries one and if a ship doesn't have a companion, they must work harder to gain respect. River's extensive time in captivity, which included involuntary physical manipulation with several different technologies, allows her to do unprecedented damage without being conscious of it. However, when she's not in this manufactured zone, which comes and goes unpredictably, she's an average, vulnerable teenager who is learning how to appreciate human connections. Zoë and Wash are a bi-racial couple, and when Wash has bouts of jealousy over her following her Captain's orders ("War Stories") you simply don't see Reynolds and Zoë as a pair because the chemistry between the current couple is so tangible. It's easy to get attached to every one of them because they are all allowed to be fallible, intelligent, funny, effective, and relatable.
Humor is the major, and enormously effective, difference between Firefly and many other science fiction shows, as the genre tends to be usually so bent on being technically savvy. The laughs obtained through watching the adventures of Firefly are consistently original and simply fun. From one episode to the next, the relationships stay fresh and engaging. Though there are a couple of weak episodes, such as "Out of Gas," you never get bored listening to these people speak, or watching them in action together.
This band of well-spoken, proud miscreants journey from one assignment to the next, scraping out as much of an honest living as is possible in a galaxy-wide totalitarian regime. There is a constant juggling of old-fashioned values meeting modern standards, from seeing women wearing hoop skirts ("Shindig") to high tech hospitals ("Ariel") and the result is an endlessly entertaining collection of stories about people helping each other through difficult odds, in a constantly changing environment, without missing a joke at another's expense ("Our Mrs. Reynolds"). Firefly and its counterpart Serenity are both very worthwhile viewing experience for those that look for an intelligent mix of banter, adventure, and a tribute to an independent spirit.