Enter Torchwood. Though ostensibly a spin-off from long-running British institution Doctor Who (and an anagram of that show’s title, natch), I’ve found that you don’t need to know anything about Doctor Who to appreciate the trials and tribulations of the good people at Torchwood One, a secret special-ops base located under the Welsh metropolis of Cardiff. (Yes, Cardiff.) The good people of Torchwood, who include an openly bisexual time-agent from the 51st century, a morally loose doctor with an extra helping of snark, a sexy and shy Japanese computer specialist, a tea-boy with secrets locked in his closet (literally), and a former police constable, are alien catchers. They spend each episode thwarting intergalactic threats, betraying one another’s trust, having affairs, and making out with each other. Without spoiling too much, I can tell you that the first few episodes include a run-in with some “sex gas,” a glove that brings people back to life, and a female version of classic Whoniverse villains, the Cybermen.
It’s ridiculous. It’s dark. It’s hilarious. And it’s very, very British—with the exception of incomprehensible lead actor John Barrowman, who was born in Scotland, but somehow speaks with a Midwestern American accent. Kind of. I found his voice grating at first, but as you get to know the character, his incongruity makes sense. Burn Gorman, last seen stealing scenes as Mr. Guppy in the BBC’s adaptation of Bleak House, shines as Dr. Owen Harper, an arrogant, amoral scientist with a tendency to take his clothes off for no reason whatsoever. And Eve Myles, as P.C. Gwen Cooper, makes a fine girl-next-door viewpoint character.
Though the episodes sometimes degenerate into cheesiness, sci-fi/fantasy regulars might agree that watching ridiculous special-effects is half the fun to be had here. And while some might disparage the show’s “omnisexual” characters as mere sensationalism, it’s rather refreshing to see a TV series that doesn’t make headlines every time it features a same-sex romantic moment. As what's known as a post-watershed show (read: after the kiddies have gone to bed), it doesn't pull any punches on the sex or violence, either. Torchwood may not be for everyone, but you’ll know whether or not it’s for you within a few episodes, and if it is, you’re in for a lot of laughs.