Tag Archives: BBC America

Torchwood: Children of Earth – “Day Two”

TorchwoodTitle

“Day Two”

July 21st, 2009

If I were a regular Torchwood viewer, I may have found “Day Two” to be particularly strange. Considering that Captain Jack Harkness, who seems to be the leader of Torchwood, is almost entirely absent due to the fallout from last night’s cliffhanger, this may not have been your traditional episode of Torchwood. However, in actual fact, the episode is far more successful for Captain Jack’s absence, as in the aftermath of the explosion at the docks both Gwen and Ianto are able to take matters into their own hands.

In the show’s accelerated and almost 24-esque pacing, “Day Two” manages to do two of the most important things in serialized drama: it presents a legitimate and credible threat to the progress of our heroes, here in the form of a crafty anti-terrorist squad and a whole lot of explosive, and it creates a mysterious suspense surrounding the big picture. Some shows may have been content to do one of the two, but at this blistering speed of Torchwood things need to happen simultaneously. At the rate the show is going at, I wouldn’t be surprised if “Day Five” ends up post-apocalyptic, the world ending in the span of “Day Four.” For now, though, this is one rollercoaster ride that I’m enjoying a whole lot.

Continue reading

4 Comments

Filed under Torchwood

Torchwood: Children of Earth – “Day One”

TorchwoodTitle

“Day One”

July 20th, 2009

The trope of creepy children is not exactly new . Not only have there been numerous horror films that have utilized the form, but there have also been numerous parodies – I may have never seen Children of the Corn or Village of the Damned, for example, but I have seen The Simpsons’ parody of them when Springfield’s youth sneak into a late night showing of The Bloodening. A quick check of TV Tropes (which, if you haven’t discovered it before, is a wonderful way to waste hours of your time) indicates that this is not exactly something new, which could indicate that Torchwood: Children of Earth is at risk of being derivative.

However, like any good piece of science fiction, Children of Earth is about the reaction to a particularly strange phenomenon rather than the event itself, and where the miniseries sets itself apart is in the diversity of responses. By focusing on two very different agencies at the heart of Britain’s response to this crisis, and by introducing a combination of characters who will become more important as the series goes on as well as hints that there is more than meets the eye to this conflict, one realizes that the creepy children are an entrance point.

What emerges in “Day One” of this special Torchwood event is the way in which these creepy children are a uniting force. There’s a scene where Frobisher, a civil servant, asks a colleague whether or not he has any children of his own, and he responds that he simply didn’t have the time. However, while it may initially seem like an uncanny introduction to a broader conflict, the use of children as a central theme provides a connective thread for all of the series’ characters: all are in some way effected by children, and the result is a sense that the stakes are not only political or extraterrestrial (this is science fiction) but also personal.

With all of that out of the way, meanwhile, the show can get to blowing things up – there’s plenty of excitement to join its more subtle points of development.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Torchwood

A Television Event: Torchwood: Children of Earth Preview

TorchwoodTitle

Preview: A Television Event

July 20th, 2009

As a television-producing nation, Britain was very much at the forefront of the short-run series. While American networks tend to focus on syndication, with cable series being the one notable exception, British series like The Office and Extra (amongst others, of course) were amongst the first to eschew the “more is more” principle and embrace the concise, focused and effective season.

However, Torchwood: Children of Earth is a really intriguing little experiment. A fairly successful BBC series in its own right, the Doctor Who spinoff went from thirteen episode seasons in its first two years to a five-part, five night miniseries that aired as a week-long event a few weeks ago on the BBC, and airs this week on BBC America and Space in North America starting this evening. The miniseries is certainly more prevalent in Britain than it is in America: look at how American producers turned successful miniseries like The Eleventh Hour or State of Play into either television shows or movies as opposed to maintaining the format.

If I had to offer a theory as to why the miniseries has been predominantly ignored stateside, I’d suggest that it’s due to shifting perceptions of event television. Tracing back to the phenomenon of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (which coincidentally returns next month), the rise of reality television has shifted the concept of event television. While there are still shared television experiences that can bring people together, the simplicity of reality television has changed both the context and volume of such events. There is an event every few months, American Idol leading to America’s Got Talent leading to the next series that in its emphasis on viewer democracy creates an event. I can’t remember the last legitimately successful miniseries, and the presence of only two Miniseries in this year’s Emmy category (and the fact that Generation Kill was realistically more of a short-order series than a miniseries) would seem to indicate that the form is on its last legs.

What makes Torchwood: Children of Earth so interesting is that it was a huge hit in Great Britain, and the only thing legitimately standing in its way of being a big hit in North America is its accessibility through less than legal channels. It emerges as a piece of event television that may not be a third season in the way that some fans expected, and that certainly appeals more to fans of science fiction than to the kind of people who obsessed over Susan Boyle, but that in its deft use of plotting and sly combination of both continuity and exposition hooks the viewer in.

Children of Earth tells the story of Torchwood, an organization designed to protect Britain from extraterrestrial life forms, and in particular their response to a very strange scenario. At 8:40 in the morning, every single child around the world stops dead in their tracks, responding to no one and creating a series of accidents and more than a few red flags. The miniseries follows Torchwood’s efforts to respond to this crisis, as well as the government response. In both instances, there are a number of twists and turns more at home in a political thriller than your typical piece of science fiction, and yet at the core of everything is the unquestionable existence of extraterrestrial life.

I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice to say that despite my very minimal experience with Doctor Who and zero experience with Torchwood, I was thoroughly transfixed by tonight’s opening episode. I’ve never quite watched a piece of television that’s operated in this fashion, developing an intelligent serialized science fiction suspense thriller that in many ways offers the scripted equivalent to the game show event: by leaving you hanging at the end of the first night, desperate to discover what the uncertain future episodes will bring, and then actually delivering the following evening, it captured me in a way that a traditional series wouldn’t be able to. Children of Earth left this non-fan not only dying to move onto the next episode but also most interested in returning to the show’s first two seasons, which seems to me to be its ultimate goal.

And that’s the kind of event television that feels like a breath of fresh air during the summer television season. Torchwood: Children of Earth starts tonight on BBC America at 9/8c, and at 10pm EDT on Space Channel in Canada. I’ll be back later tonight with my thoughts on Part One; In the meantime, you can check out reviews from fellow relative Torchwood neophytes Dan Fienberg and James Poniewozik, as well as some more seasoned perspectives from Alan Sepinwall and Maureen Ryan.

Leave a comment

Filed under Torchwood

Season Finale: Skins – “Everyone”

skinstitle

“Everyone”

Season Two Finale

This summer, I stopped in to review the first two episodes of Skins, a British series which aired this Fall on BBC America. And then, promptly, I completely abandoned the series – it was not out of lack of interest, but there was something about the show that didn’t particularly make it “appointment viewing.” If I had to put a finger on what it was, it was that the show’s artistic side (unique to the genre) only occasionally felt like it was elevating this material to something beyond the teen cliche. The weird interrelationship between a really interesting visual and cinematic aesthetic and somewhat less interesting long-run storylines kept me from writing about Skins week by week, but when I did eventually finish the first season I had to appreciate it; while the overall arcs never really caught fire, individual episodes (organized to focus on a specific character) were quite strong, and going into its second season the show had a lot of questions to answer.

BBC America finishes airing the show’s first two seasons tonight, and I have to admit that the second season was perhaps better than the first. I have some issues with some of the individual characters not quite getting enough attention (Anwar, although Dev Patel may have been busy preparing for a certain likely Oscar nominated film I reviewed yesterday), getting the wrong kind of attention (Michelle, who just never clicked in either season really), or feeling like the attention they’re given doesn’t really offer us a proper sendoff (Cassie and Syd, in particular). Considering that the show is switching out its characters in favour of an Effy-led ensemble for the third season, the second season finale has a lot to handle, at least related to fixing these types of problems.

But what buoys the season is that it also does a lot of things right. In Chris and Maxxie it finds its characters most concerned for the future, both of whom don’t find it in the traditional school system due to either dreaming bigger (the West End for Maxxie) or getting expelled (Chris’ excursion into the world of real estate). Similarly, the show chooses Jal as the emotional center, the character who has always been perhaps the most logical and as a result both legitimizes Chris and eventually offers the finale’s most pivotal grounding force. And although getting hit by a bus seems a horrible fate for Tony, it in fact creates a far less obnoxious and more human Tony once he comes to terms with his memory loss and develops into someone far more comfortable in this world.

The result is a season, and a finale, that feels like the show was better organized to take advantage of its artistic side, embracing its almost dream-like state more often and with greater success. This isn’t to say that the finale is perfect, or that I think we’re ready to say goodbye to these characters, but I think it does indicate that the show and its formula has plenty of life and could work well transitioning into new characters.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Skins

Series Premiere: Skins – “Tony” and “Cassie”

“Tony” and “Cassie”

Season One, Episodes 1 & 2

It’s not abnormal for British series to be imported to the states these days: in fact, Showtime’s recently wrapped Secret Diary of a Call Girl was one example, having aired its entire first season in Britain before it started airing in North America. This presents the problem that the series is readily accessible to those who want to find it when it starts airing on a weekly basis here, and thus plenty of people who know how things turn out.

With Skins, two seasons are done before the series has stated airing, but BBC America intends on airing them back to back leading into this fall. I decided to give the show a shot since I figured there is always a place in my television rotation for a show about teenagers doing teenage things. I’m extremely excited that we’re only a week away from the return of ABC Family’s Greek, and this promised to be an edgier alternative.

And it certainly is edgy, putting Gossip Girl to shame in its frank depiction of this particular age segment. More importantly, though, it does something that neither Greek nor Gossip Girl has accomplished, viewing these characters through a lens that is actually unique and focused on character as opposed to sheer exploitation or, in Greek’s case, slightly sugar-coated ensemble plotting. The first two episodes of Skins’ first season feel almost entirely different because they are: they’re stories about two very different people, about two very different types of life which exist in this world.

So while the show is certainly not perfect, there is a definite sense that there is something to be offered here, and that this diverse group of young students exists not to offer a picture of diversity but rather to guarantee an actual diversity in narrative perspectives in the episodes to come.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Skins