by Marty Demarest

For movie studios, DVDs are convenient replacements for VHS tapes. But for some of us, DVDs are replacements for cable TV. Any series that's even moderately successful is now bundled up, season by season, and foisted upon the public who apparently couldn't get enough the first time around. Those of us who don't want to spend thousands of dollars each year on our televisions, however, get to discover things for the first time. Without advertisements.

Firefly was the show that Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon developed when his hit series ran out of steam. Rather than continue mining the same genre he had profited from so well with Buffy and Angel, he dove into something completely different: A western in space. In Firefly, the characters wear boots and gun belts and wrangle with the law. They just happen to be flying spaceships and living in mixed-race marriages.

That a series that's at least as good as the latest Star Trek offerings could slip by the viewing public speaks volumes in favor of the argument that television makes you ignorant. But in this case, most of the blame should be directed towards Fox, which didn't even air the pilot first. (They saved it for the end, in a cleverly idiotic move.) Fortunately, everything is now safe on DVD, including three unseen episodes.

Naturally, in watching a whole season at once, incongruous moments reveal themselves. And Whedon's writing, which was usually pointedly hilarious and fresh in Buffy, occasionally sounds like new takes on old clich & eacute;s. (It serves as a reminder that Whedon is also one of Hollywood's busiest script doctors, making Hollywood crud sound even Hollywood cruddier.)

But when it works, Firefly is a lot of fun. The lead character, who is (of course) the captain of the ship, is a former soldier who fought on the wrong side of the last revolution. His crew includes a prostitute who rents the escape shuttle as her base of operations, and a handsome doctor who's on the run with his schizoid sister. This isn't Star Trek.

There's also a fun, low-budget feel to the series - in several senses. The pilot episode impresses with some special effects of space-to-earth battles. After that it's all close-ups and interior shots; you just remember that it's in space. And at $50, it's a hell of a lot cheaper than a season of cable.

Publication date: 1/15/04

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