Thursday, February 07, 2008

Torchwood Season 2

BBC America Saturdays 9:00 e.s.t.
starring: John Barrowman, Eve Miles, Burn Gorman, Naoko Mori, Gareth David-Lloyd
Whenever I saw the name Torchwood on my DVR’s now playing list last fall, it would be an immediate watch now. You know how it is, there are some shows you are excited about, but might save until a few episodes pile up to enjoy in one sitting. Lost is like that for me. Others, you give a little “ugh” and watch because you’ve already gotten involved in a series, but at a certain point it becomes a chore before you man up and just delete the damn thing for your season pass list. Others, you sit and watch immediately because you just can’t wait. Sometimes, these are the very shows you’re embarrassed to admit you watch. Such was the case with me and Torchwood.

Let me be clear, I loved this show. It’s basically a british version of the X-files, centering around a team assembled and led by a Doctor Who supporting character, the immortal time agent Captain Jack Harkness. They investigate the weird and the secret, the occult and the just plain wrong, and they think they do it with panache and style (your mileage may vary). In its first season, Torchwood worked better as an idea of a tv show that it did as an actual tv show. The episodes were wildly uneven in quality with some of them, like Small Worlds, which reimagined a fairly malevolent fairy mythology and They Keep killing Suzie, which played with the unfortunate consequences of a resurrection on the higher end of the quality spectrum and others, like Cyberwoman and Combat taking genre tropes and stringing them in Christmas lights. The season ended on a mixed note, with the team fighting a breakdown of the time/space vortex in Cardiff and a abysmally literal interpretation of the devil coming to town to make trouble.

The main problem the show had was that it thought it was groundbreaking, and kept reminding of us how groundbreaking it was, especially in the area of sexuality. It’s creators nonchalantly threw out comments like “Oh, everyone’s bi on Torchwood” and every single character had a same-sex encounter, even if it was only hinted at. All this is fine, and it would be a progressive approach to the issue is some of it didn’t come across so gimmicky, so “oh, look what we’re getting away with now,” that it actually cheapened the issue.

Still, I loved every minute of it. What can I say, some shows just push the right buttons.

Season two just started on BBC America. The first two episodes added Buffy alum James Marsters to the supporting cast as a rogue time agent who once had a relationship with Captain Jack. The second started what looked to be a season-long arc about a secret alien invasion, which could have ended up like the worst of the obtuse X-Files mysteries but actually developed the plot while leaving it open for more.

What works: These first two episodes are on par with the strongest episodes of Season one. Of the two, I preferred the second, in its paranoia-inducing concept of finding out that you are not who you think you are. The first, with Marsters, would have been a disaster if not for Marsters’ performace, as it’s basically a macguffin hunt that turns out, predictably, to have been an exercise in misdirection. The actors seem to have settled in, the writing is more assured. The show seems to have found its tone, combining camp and suspense, in a way that it rarely did in season one. The characters seem more natural too. When Captain Jack and Captain Jon hart make out while busting apart a Cardiff bar, it actually seems character driven, and not just a stunt.

What doesn’t: I’m still not a great fan of Burn Gorman’s Dr. Owen Harper, and Eve Miles’ Gwen grates at times, as does her boyfriend, who I’d really hoped was dead during the finale. The villains are stronger as well, but this is still Torchwod’s weakest aspect.

Bottom line: Better than it was, but still by no means perfect. Still, I probably love it more because of its imperfections.

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