I wanted to like BBC America's "Torchwood" in its first season, and on occasion I did, but too often it was overly dark and the Torchwood team members were not that likeable. Certainly the show's star, John Barrowman ("Central Park West"), is charismatic and appealing, and I appreciate that although "Torchwood" is a spin-off of "Doctor Who," you don't have to watch the Doctor to know what's going on with Torchwood, a British agency that operates "outside the government, beyond the police, fighting on behalf of the human race."
Evidently everything changes in the 21st century and it's up to Capt. Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) -- a time traveler who cannot be killed and who has seen the future (or a possible future) -- to save the world.
The good news is, "Torchwood" gets off to a lighter, more rousing start in its second season premiere (9 p.m. Saturday). There's a better balance between the darker and lighter elements, a mix of relationship drama and character comedy that would invite comparisons to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" even if "Buffy" star James Marsters (Spike) was not a guest star in this rollicking episode. His participation makes the hour that much better.
For viewers who missed the first season of "Torchwood," it's pretty easy to get on board in season two. All you need to know: Jack is bisexual (actually, more like omnisexual), evincing pain when he learns a female Torchwood operative has gotten engaged and then asking a male member of the team on a date; Jack disappeared at the end of season one and Torchwood has been operating without him.
An opening scene when a blowfish-type alien holds a gun to a bystander's head does an efficient, effective job of reintroducing the Torchwood team with short bursts of character description. The presence of a coked up blowfish alien shows just how weird the show is willing to be.
"Hey kids, did you miss me?" Capt. Jack says upon his return. As much as the team gets annoyed with his secrecy and unwillingness to share details of his life (who he really is, what time period he's from, why he can't die), they agree, their jobs are more fun when he's around.
The episode really gets rolling when Capt. John Hart (Marsters) trips through a time rift and meets up with Harkness in a bar for one of the most passionate fight/snog scenes ever filmed. These guys have a past and the details of their one-time relationship are not completely filled in by the end of the episode. Capt. Jack remains an enigma, as always.
Next week's "Torchwood" episode lacks the verve of this week's installment, but there are still some moments of humor in an otherwise darker episode. I hope the season two premiere was used as the template for the tone of episodes to come.
First Published January 24, 2008 5:00 AM