Reviewed in Australia on 27 February 2018
"Firefly" is exactly the kind of science-fiction series that you'd expect Joss Whedon to make -- a sort of reverse "Star Trek" with a wild, untidy cast of characters.
And it's not hard to see why it developed such a fanatical fanbase, even though it lasted a measly fourteen episodes -- magnificent writing ("... if your hand touches metal, I swear by my pretty floral bonnet, I will end you."), well-developed characters, and a somewhat more realistic approach to a sci-fi western. It's a shame that the series never got to unfold to its full potential.
It takes place about five centuries from now, far from "Earth that was." Many planets are ruled by the Alliance, an authoritative military/corporate government that forces various planets into a unified force, which some planets are not terribly crazy about. And in "the black" of interstellar space, there are cannibalistic savage Reavers.
The story takes place on the spaceship Firefly, whose crew mostly make a living out of smuggling and/or carrying cargo. They're a motley bunch -- including the captain "Mal" and first mate Zoe, who are war veterans (Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres), courtesan-like "Companion" Inara (Morena Baccarin), goofy pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), a menacing mercenary Jayne (Adam Baldwin), mysterious priest Book (Ron Glass), fugitive doctor Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his possibly-insane sister River (Summer Glau).
This odd band of people roams through various worlds, which have a sort of Wild-West-by-way-of-space-opera atmosphere. They must deal with crimelords, the Reavers, duels, kidnappings, a devious woman who claims to be married to Mal, Jayne's folk legend status, and the Alliance itself -- who have a mysterious and sinister interest in the Tam siblings.
As much as I love some Star Trek series (specifically the original and "Deep Space Nine"), they rarely show people who fall outside the Federation and its rather smug authoritarian approach. "Firefly" is the exact opposite -- their enemies are the domineering alliance of planets who think everyone should be like them, and the Firefly crew glory in living a life of freedom and unpredictable semi-criminality.
In the "Firefly" universe, technology hasn't changed who and what people are; people still grapple with the same ethical, moral, religious and political issues that we have now, and always have had. Cruelty and kindness exist in the same measure, and people still ultimately look out for themselves -- and nobody is perfect. Even their enemies have a shade of moral greyness.
And of course, Joss Whedon brings his usual flair to the story -- butt-kicking action scenes, grotesque horror, a hint of conspiracy, and bucketloads of quotable dialogue ("Yeah, we should start dealing in those black-market beagles") that ranges from the rough'n'ready Wild West lingo to the hilarious ("Baby geese. Goslings. They were juggled").
The characters are a motley family of sorts -- they don't always agree or even necessarily like each other, but they are (mostly) unified. Their colorful different jobs (ritualized sex worker, ex-soldiers, merc, doctor, priest) allow them to have even more varied backstories. All the actors do excellent jobs -- Nathan Fillion, Morena Baccarin, Alan Tudyk and Sean Maher all give particularly good performances. The most exceptional is Glau's River, a damaged young woman who says mad things about cows and wears pretty floaty dresses.
"Firefly: The Complete Series" is a slice of rich, witty sci-fi that sadly had only a brief moment in the sun. In a fairer world, this would have gone on for years while tedious reality shows crashed and burned.