If you haven't yet sampled Fox's gonzo space Western, Firefly, its creator, Joss Whedon, would like to make one small request: Please do... and preferably tonight at 8 pm/ET. "This week definitely matters [to the series' future]," the celebrated writer-director-producer tells TV Guide Online. "[Network prez] Sandy Grushow said to me before we ever started that this [show] is going to be a slow grow, and [the World Series] is going to hurt us, which it has. Fox has a lot of shows that are underperforming because of this weird season.

"So," he continues, "I'm not like, 'My future is assured!' But it's also not like the death knell chiming."

Far from it. In fact, Fox just commissioned three additional scripts from Whedon, the mastermind behind UPN's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its glorious WB spinoff, Angel. However, Firefly has yet to get a full-season pickup. "[The script order from the net] is a vote of confidence, and it's a way of not making a decision," Whedon theorizes. "The next few weeks will be important, and this week I'm particularly stressing because I think it's such a good entrance into the world [of spaceship captain Mal Reynolds and his merry band of rogues and misfits]. That's why I'm all hyped about it.

"It has a number of flashbacks to how the crew got together," he continues, "so it's a really good way to learn how it all began. For somebody meeting the characters for the first time, it's a real insight into who they are. There's not all this [plot] information to process, which is a problem because the pilot was never shown. People are like, 'Um, what's going on?' The idea was never to confuse people."

Just so Whedon doesn't add to viewers' consternation, he quickly notes that the backtracking scenes are not highlights from the debut that Fox shot down. "These flashbacks are to before the pilot," he clarifies. "The pilot was the story of how this crew picked up a few wayward stragglers; [this installment] flashes back to how [the original gang] first found the ship itself, what the ship is and what it means to Mal, because [the craft] really is the 10th character on the show."

Now that that matter has been cleared up, Whedon hopes that viewers will be able to sit back, relax and enjoy the show... for years to come, ideally. For the moment, though, he sighs, "Everything is kind of in flux."