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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Sunday, September 22, 2002
First Thoughts on 'Firefly'

[Warning: minor spoilers]

'Firefly' is the latest show from Joss Whedon, the creator of 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer', which any regular reader of this space knows by now I am a major fan of. It has some similarities to the legendary and brilliant British SF show, 'Blake`s 7', but the likeness is not overwhelming. Set several centuries in the future, it tells the story of a fairly ragtag crew aboard the space ship Serenity, eking out a precarious living by performing ad hoc and mostly illegal contracts while trying to stay ahead of the Alliance, an authoritarian government trying to bring all human worlds under their control.

It isn't really fair to judge a new show after only one episode. The premiere had to spend a lot of time establishing back story; it invested even more time setting up plot lines for future use, most notably involving a character who the crew see as insane but will clearly be shown in future shows to have powerful psi abilities, or something similar. In spite of those handicaps, it told a solid and interesting story with some good twists, while using the story to show us the characters.

After writing that and thinking about how much 'Firefly' tried to do, and actually did, in the first episode, I'm more impressed than when I started this review. Still, I have to rate the episode overall as good, not terrific. When I saw the premiere of 'Buffy' it grabbed me from the first show, in fact, almost from the first scene. In what I think was the second scene, Buffy meets a guidance couselor on the first day at her new school. The counselor pretentiously announces that at Sunnydale High, troubled students are given a new beginning and an opportunity to put their past problems behind them. To make his point, he begins tearing up Buffy's discipline record from the school she was previously kicked out of. But then he happens to read a bit of the report, reads a little more, and then grabs some scotch tape and begins piecing it back together. It was a terrific scene and I've been hooked from that moment. Nothing in 'Firefly' worked quite that well.

The main story line has the crew being hired to steal a mystery shipment on a relatively backwards planet. There are unexpected obstacles to overcome in the actual theft, but the biggest obstacle is when Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) finds out what he has actually stolen, and has to choose between his conscience and the risk of not only losing a large payoff but also deeply offending his distinctly nasty employer.

The cast is entirely unknown and near unknown performers, but looks solid. Probably the best so far is Morena Baccarin as Inara the 'companion', basically a high class courtesan, who's reasons for being aboard Serenity in the first place are less than clear. However, some of the other regulars had minimal roles in the premiere and may emerge as standouts later.

In sum, 'Firefly' showed me more than enough to make me want to come back for future episodes.