As of last night I have now seen all of Joss Whedon's television series, web series, and the one spin off movie based on a TV series. I was late to get into Buffy but that allowed me to watch the whole thing on DVD rather quickly, so I appreciated that. I toughed out the slower parts of Dollhouse as it aired, which I never really thought were that bad, and was glad that he at least got to wrap up the storyline even if he had to do so in a rushed fashion. I was always really resistant to Firefly though.
When it came to sci-fi, for the long time I was pretty much Star Trek or nothing. It was really quite silly, but I was convinced that none of the other series could be as good or interesting. And when I first heard about Firefly, there was nothing there drawing in my interest. Sure, I had liked Buffy, but horror fantasy and western influenced space are two very different genres. I heard about its various woes with Fox and then how they made a movie. I remember at the time thinking this was a really stupid idea. Making a movie about a show that hardly anyone watched? Surely this was going to be a failure. I remember saying that I wanted to watch the movie without seeing the show first just to prove a point - that the average movie goer would probably not be able to enjoy the experience. However a friend who was a big fan of the series begged me to watch the show first. It took me forever to get around to it, but I finally did.
I first tried watching Firefly a few years ago. Rented the first disc via Netflix, and found myself really bored during the two part pilot. I think I also watched The Train Job, a much stronger episode also on the disc, but it just didn't interest me enough to keep going. I had other things I wanted to see more. Last year, with Netflix streaming me allowing me to watch an episode whenever it was convenient, I tried again. I liked the pilot a little more, perhaps fresh off my Battlestar Galactica high I was willing to wait it out and see what would develop.
Overall, the show was a mixed bag. Some episodes were really strong and others just didn't do much to interest me. In typical Joss Whedon fashion, there are some really great characters here. It doesn't matter what setting they are in, he really knows how to create interesting, endearing, funny people that you really want to know more about. If you like character driven series and have never given any of his shows a try, you really should.
A word of warning though - Joss Whedon is a sadist. I don't mean that he likes to wear leather and beat people with whips - I mean that he enjoys inflicting pain on others. He will break your heart again and again. Don't go getting attached to couples because he will break them up, sometimes in ways that make sense and other times just arbitrarily. That character you love, the one who would be wearing the heart ring if this was Captain Planet? They're probably going to be horrifically scarred or dead.
I realize that some of these things are necessary, and that over the length of a series everything can't be sunshine and rainbows. But it's all in the execution. He will write a scene that really amps up your love for said couple/person and then rip your heart out with gut wrenching pain.
There is a certain death in Serenity. I don't need to name it because if you've watched it you know who I'm talking about. After having gone through this situation already with the other series of his, I literally screamed "Fuck you!" twice and tossed a pillow around like an angry gorilla. I scared my cat Remy so badly doing this that when I paused the movie and went to soothe him he screamed at me as if I had stepped on his tail. Of course telling you this story is basically just admitting that I'm crazy and so is Remy, but at least we're a good match. My other cat, Logan, has already given us judging looks, so you're free to do the same.
The crazy thing was I knew it was coming. Back in my "I'm not going to like this series" days I had read a recap of the movie and knew the character was going to die in a cruel way. But I kept telling myself "maybe I'm remembering it wrong" and hoping it wouldn't happen.
I'm not up to date on the Buffy Season 8 comic, but I know a certain beloved character from the series was recently killed there too. The people I know who did read it were just as hurt and outraged. At this point, it's really becoming far too much of a cliche for Whedon. It would be nice if he could actually change it up for once by letting people live. Or stay happy as a couple for longer than a couple episodes. It's something how someone can be a really good writer, and yet also be a hack at the same time. This is what prevents me from worshiping the ground the man walks on, as some of his fans do. I enjoy him but I get too mad at him too often to really love him.
By the way, if you don't have the patience/time to watch Firefly, I think you actually could see Serenity anyway. They do a pretty good job of summing up the various relationships and situations. You won't be crying for these characters in their peril like I was, but that may be a good thing. It's a pretty good stand alone story, even if it lays on its moral lesson a little too thick at points. Also, these are some really high quality actors and the special effects are pretty decent. The show and movie strike a nice balance between westerns and science fiction so if you have an interest in either you'll really like it.