It's been a fairly productive day. I read a bunch of stories (not totally caught up on that, but close), got a haircut, returned a couple of videos (which I'll write about sooner or later) and rented a couple more, went food shopping (I had almost none left in the house); somewhere in the midst of all that I managed to back up my computer, install OS X 10.2, and install the 10.2.1 update. Then went over to Ethan's to watch the opening episode of Firefly. Which some of you apparently don't know is Joss Whedon's new sf series, premiered Friday.
It's an interesting series. Set in the year 2517, six years after the Alliance forcibly unified most human worlds in a big war. (Apparently they still use the Christian calendar and measure time by Earth standards in the year 2517; the show opens on the sixth "anniversary" of the unification, whatever that means.) The protagonists are the ragtag crew of a ragtag cargo ship, trying to make a living by taking odd jobs here and there.
On the plus side, lots of eye candy (I know, I know, TV actors are attractive, it goes with the territory; still, I found some of these unusually attractive (by my tastes) even for TV actors); lots of very funny lines; sympathetic and interesting characters.
(Btw, there will be a few minor things below that could be contrued as very minor spoilers by a strict constructionist. If you want to know absolutely nothing but what you learn in the opening narration and the first two minutes of the show, then stop reading here.)
On the minus side, three to four of the protagonists quite explicitly had no good reason to be on the ship. I'm guessing that'll get better over time, but it was disconcerting to have the minister character, who's apparently a passenger (I missed a little dialogue about this), sit around on screen and comment about how little there is for him to do. Seems like he in particular could've been introduced an episode or two down the line, but of course in the premiere you have to introduce all of the stars of the show. Sigh.
There are bound to be plentiful complaints about the setting and the science. Fortunately, someone I was watching it with said something early on to the effect that the show was supposed to be a Western in space, so I went into it with the right attitude. The show is set in a heavily genred world, where space smugglers use 19th- or 20th-century guns. There are some nice science-fictionalizations of various things: a great updated bar window in the opening sequence, an Old West-style train that's apparently a high-speed monorail, etc. The characters are, um, let's say archetypes to be charitable: in particular, the captain is The Smuggler With A Heart Of Gold (or perhaps The Smuggler With A Moral Code), though he does get one great unexpected moment that makes clear that there's a little more to him than I thought (Jed said, trying to avoid spoilers).
Another nice updating: one of the lead characters is a prostitute. Or rather, a Registered Companion, and it turns out that she's more respectable than the rest of the crew put together.
But really, if this show succeeds (and I think it might), it will be on the strength of the characters and the writing. The dialogue is snappy and very funny; trademark Whedon. (I'm told Ben Edlund, creator of the original The Tick comic book (and the animated TV series, I think), who's a producer of Firefly, may be writing an episode at some point.) The setup looks to me like a cross between Blake's 7 and Gunsmoke, but given that I've only seen maybe one episode of each of those, many years ago, I may well be wrong.
Overall: promising. I'll keep watching for at least a few episodes to see how it goes.
(It occurs to me that Whedon is, in one small way, a little like Philip K. Dick: both of them use pulpy genre conventions as window dressing to sneak in stories that have a little more to them than genre fluff. Of course I'm not saying all sf is fluff; I'm just saying that Whedon, like Dick, starts with elements that look like fluff, and then builds something more interesting out of them.)
Ooh, hey, nice quote from Whedon about the captain (contains potential general spoilers), from a pretty good New York Times article about Whedon and Firefly:
"Mal's politics are very reactionary and 'Big government is bad' and 'Don't interfere with my life,'" Whedon explains. "And sometimes he's wrong—because sometimes the Alliance is America, this beautiful shining light of democracy. But sometimes the Alliance is America in Vietnam: we have a lot of petty politics, we are way out of our league and we have no right to control these people. And yet! Sometimes the Alliance is America in Nazi Germany. And Mal can't see that, because he['s like] a Vietnamese [person]."
I should also note that the premiere was originally conceived as very different from this, but was hastily reworked at the behest of the studio; that may explain some of the minor issues I had with plotting and structure.