I liked it alright, but I'm kind of baffled at how much I thought was lame about it. Apparently I'm more like the network that canceled it and less like the countless fans who adore it.
What I liked:
1) Most of the characters had something to love about them and things I thought were crap. Which is something to like. Weird, I know. But there's nothing more obnoxious than an impossibly perfect character. In Joss Whedon's universe, however, morals are completely mucked up, so it's hard to gauge their morals based on their universe. I'm going to be a jerk and base them on my universe, where prostitution is still illegal in most states and even if it weren't illegal, I'd still call it deplorable. Just because Joss Whedon thought it'd be fun to make prostitutes/geishas into a respectable class, doesn't mean they're Good. This is somewhat reflected in Malcolm's reactions to Inara's profession, but we never really know if that's because he's in love with her or if he thinks the profession is all around Terrible.
2) Kaylee. I really liked the way Kaylee's character unfolded. The innocence about her was endearing and it warmed me up to Malcolm and some of the other characters who were protective of her. She's sweet and naive--of course, this was totally exploited by the writers of the show who thought it would be real fun, later on in the series, to show us that Kaylee first met Malcolm while being a skank with the original engineer on Serenity. Yay. I get it. I know I'm going against what I just said in the point number one, but they really sullied Kaylee by doing that. Who wrote that episode? Some slash-fiction creep? But again, I get it that we're in a universe where Good equals people who don't rape you to death and rip your skin off while you're still alive and Bad equals people who do those sorts of things. Really airtight definition, that. Thanks Joss et. al.
3) The music. At first it was really awesome. This always happens when you watch a series on DVD. It's too easy to watch the next episode right away. Soon the motifs and any repeatable feature of the show becomes sickeningly obvious and obnoxious. So after a while the music started to bug me. But I don't hold that against the show. That's really a flaw of the continuous play feature.
4) Jayne. He's great. I mean, he's obviously supposed to be kind of a jerk. But the things he liked and did were totally in character. His guns. Women. Money. It fit him, and his stupidity softened the questionable aspects of his character, so you end up loving him because he kind of doesn't know any better. Perhaps this was what bugged me about Kaylee being a slut in the flash-back episode where Malcolm stays behind with the ship--Kaylee isn't a slut. Nothing about her before that episode EVER suggested that she's loose. Suddenly she's banging a guy in the engine room of the ship--well, it just seemed like a mean trick. And sorry, but when they tried to explain that away by saying she has a fetish for machines . . . well, once again, doesn't really fit.
5) The universe itself. Sometimes I thought it was really ridiculous and unformed, while other times I thought it clever and fun. So I'm going to go with it being mostly good. I thought it intriguing (word of the day) how they created a future where the Asian cultures had sort of merged with the American west. Pretty cool. Although the swearing in Chinese was often lame and instead of helping, it hindered the believability of the universe. For me. And I laughed, and felt embarrassed for watching the show.
What I didn't like:
1) Inara. She was the weakest link. They should have let her die in the first episode. She was a Deanna Troi character, to me: completely unnecessary, tossed in to titillate. Most of her lines were stupid, especially when she waxed philosophic about her job as a prostitute. Though I get what the writers were doing, yes, I know, dude, it was like a western meets Asian culture, man, it was like the final frontier, like space is the old west and there are guns and outlaws and whores, only they've like elevated women who sleep with men for money to the status of like, Ambassadors (that was my frat-boy impression, although I don't imagine many frat-boys were watching this show). Blah blah blah. She was stupid. And the tension between her and Malcolm always felt forced. Sadly. Because love is such a strong reason for why we do things. His love interest could have been a better impetus for why he did dangerous missions or made bold moves, instead for me it always seemed like the authorial hand was in there manipulating Inara and Malcolm. Oh well. Perhaps this is why the show was canceled? Inara? It could be. Ha ha.
2) River. I know the show wasn't around long enough to flesh this storyline out, so I can forgive them for it. But my initial impressions of it weren't positive. In her favor, she did create some tense moments that made the story interesting, but for the most part I never wanted her onscreen.
I get the impression that lots of people are disappointed the show was canceled. I have to say I can see why it was canceled. Yeah, it would be great if it had lasted, but by the time I got to the final episodes, I could see they were running out of steam. Did I mention that I really liked Malcolm? I did. And sometimes the writing was truly brilliant, and by writing I mean the dialogue. There were moments where the characters said surprising and witty things. I loved it for that. I'm going to try out some of the Buffy stuff. I was in college during its heyday and completely missed it.