Firefly/Serenity (Spoiler Review from 3rd Paragraph)
While I may have seen a TV commercial in passing during Firefly's brief 2002 run, I only learned of it during the lead-up to September's release of the movie Serenity, and saw my first episode during a Sci-Fi Channel marathon. That episode, "Our Mrs. Reynolds," didn't blow me away, but did give what proved to be an accurate impression of a shiny series with tremendous possibility.
To an extent, this was in the set-up itself, which involved a 'verse divided into haves and have-nots, and with a ship of petty criminals for its heroes instead of the standard military crew of a starship or space station. The richest area of Firefly, however, was its characters. I've only seen about eight of the show's 14 filmed hours, but already you had the interesting plotline of the Tam siblings, Book's mysterious backstory, Inarra having curious taste in transportation, a captain and second with military history, a young female mechanic whom I can't think of a good word to describe, a Jayne who could challenge Snape in the morally ambivalent department, and Wash taking the same poking-fun-at-the-story from within role Han Solo had in the original Star Wars. There were so many potential stories with these people alone, not to mention the few recurring villains we got to see and any other twists that might have emerged out of the writers' imaginations.
Whatever may happen in the future, Serenity was a worthy continuation - and if need be, conclusion - to the saga of Mal Reynolds and his crew which tied up most of the threads that had been thus far developed. It was a film that took this band of hired hands and runaways and showed them decisively as a united family struggling to survive in a realistic world where people are less than the Star Trek "evolved humanity" ideal. This came into focus when Mal announced they were going to reveal the secret of Miranda, but was the clear direction when he instinctively took River back to the ship after the bar incident and The Operative's use of their shared history from the TV show caused them to reunite with characters who had drifted away in search of secrets which affected them all.
Those secrets touched on the core premises of the Firefly/Serenity storyline, dealing as they did with issues of choice and the dangers of trying to force the flaws out of human nature. Traditional views of heroism are turned on their heads as the band of petty theives who care mainly about themselves unequivocally become the good guys in relation to those who idealistically want to improve humanity according to their own conceptions. (I think Isaiah Berlin would be proud.) Mal finds the moral imperatives he tried to turn away from after the war, while the others, without undergoing questionable character alterations, put themselves on the line willingly under his leadership. And in the end, the battle is won not through battle, but through ideas, as telling the truth proves more valuable than killing the other side, an other side that you could justly say just has a different point of view.
In the course of these events, a number of characters found what could be satisfying resolutions (such as Wash proving his heroic mettle), even as the final image of Serenity blasting off with the crew ready to go and River and Mal philosophizing at the helm leaves hope that we will see these guys again someday. Given the overwhelming quality of Whedon's creation, I can only hope that whoever is responsible for its ratings and box office difficulties consider falling on their swords, or at least cutting its rights loose to surer hands.