I've been a somewhat cautious fan of science fiction for a while, and passed this over at first assuming it's early cancellation to have signaled poor quality. The fact that it was made by Joss Whedon didn't help it since I'd not seen the appeal in Buffy or Angel. But a friend lent me the first disk of this box set, and I realized my mistake. This is genius, every single episode. I bought it right away.
Early cancellation turns out to have been a symptom of ruthless and blind money making on the part of fox, the more I found out how fox screwed this series over the more I'm amazed.
So; self-indulgence over, review beginning. This is a blend of two seemingly incompatible genres - sci-fi and western. It does this stunningly well, basically the whole thing's set in a future where everyone flies round in spaceships but all the most remote planets on the edge of civilization are basically the old American west, they don't have enough food or medicine or much else for that matter. Just like the old west there are all kinds of lawless activities out here and the show follows the crew of one ship who's main way to survive is to smuggle, steal, kill and do whatever else they need to in order to just keep flying. They aren't bad guys, but they're not quite good guys either. By the end of the series you really feel like you know all the characters in the crew, and what's so brilliant is they feel like characters not stereotypes, and the complex relationships between them are completely believable.
The whole series really sucks you into its world, it's a world that makes sense (everyone's English/Mandarin bilingual) and's a million miles from the squeaky-clean world of shows like star trek. The music is equally instrumental in this, blending Chinese, American, eastern European, and many other completely different styles into a believable blend that feels very improvised and very much like the music these people would be playing, nothing orchestral or operatic, just some guys with an old guitar or two sitting round playing the blues.
From a visual standpoint the series is equally impressive. The CGI is stunning, on par with the best Hollywood can throw at us, and utilizing unusual CGI techniques like zooms and rapid unfocused turns of the camera to give it a style similar to documentary, news or reality programming where the cameraman doesn't quite catch everything perfectly. The same technique of calculated roughness is applied to the live-action camera-work so that the characters aren't always perfectly in shot and walk in from odd angles. It feels like this is all happening, you just happen to be watching it.
The writing is absolutely brilliant. The plots are vary between really good, great, and jaw-dropingly awesome. The dialog is cool, quick, funny and reminds me of Elmore Leonard in it's easy but always-snappy flow.
Basically this is genius. It's a strangely believable story of ordinary people on the frontiers of civilization just trying to make a living and get by, and in the end that's the the most involving story of all - one that makes us feel.
Here's to serenity, hoping she'll fly again.