For me, science fiction has several draws. The first is that it generally features bizarre gadgets, and I'm predisposed to enjoy gadgets in my entertainment because I like them in real life. But most importantly, I think, beyond the unusual storylines with their thinly-veiled parallels to the real world, is that science fiction gives writers an opportunity to have unusual characters and settings for everyday situations.
Firefly works for me not because of the wild-west hijinks, the thing that the series is "about"—I hate wild west settings for stories. It works because the crew of Serenity is great. Not only do they work together as an interesting group, but individually, they're all some of my favorite characters of their type. In the shower today I was thinking "who's my favorite sci-fi captain," "doctor," et cetera, and I realized that the crew of Firefly is all over the place. I haven't seen too many sci-fi series, never having been able to get into things like Babylon 5 or Farscape, but here's a quick list:
Emergency Medical Holograph, Star Trek: Voyager (my favorite character overall)
(Runner up: Dr. Phlox, Enterprise)
Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly
(Runner up: Captain Janeway, Star Trek: Voyager)
(Runners up: I like all of the Star Trek engineers)
(Runners up: Data, Star Trek: The Next Generation; Starbuck, Battlestar Galactica)
Et cetera. The characters in Firefly are just excellent. That's not to say that the Star Trek characters are bad; I generally think that the various Star Trek series have had some of the best casting out of all of the shows I've watched. It's just that the characters in Firefly are just so likable that they're hard to resist. Firefly uses that to its advantage, focusing on developing characters and making you fall in love with them. Whether or not that's a dirty trick to keep me watching, it's certainly entertaining. The crews of Serenity, Voyager, and various Enterprises are well-cast families, and that makes them really appealing; it barely even matters that they happen to be flying around in space while you are watching.
(Now I'm trying to think of the worst-cast TV shows that I've watched more than a few episodes of. Maybe the BBC version of The Office?)
Currently listening: Alanis Morrissette—Are You Still Mad?