What if everyone stopped dying? This question is at the heart of Torchwood: Miracle Day.
Miracle Day is the long awaited return of Captain Jack Harkness and Gwen and Rhys Cooper. It takes a simple, if far-fetched, idea and throws action and intrigue at it in copious quantities.
The first episode is watchable free at Starz' Torchwood site.
Fans awaiting the return of thrills, mystery, and creepiness wrapped in British wit will not be disappointed. Well, maybe not.
How do you sell British sci-fi to an American audience' That's the real question. Starz, in a play at harnessing the power of the Torchwood franchise to attract an American viewership, has delivered a mash-up of across-the-pond sensibilities with good old-fashioned American ass-kicking. It's an odd mix.
On one hand, Captain Jack has dangerous, dark charm and been-there-done-that worldliness. Gwen has beautiful but non-Hollywood looks and decidedly Welsh delivery. Rhys has wide-eyed wonder, now tempered with a more assertive attitude.
On the other hand, Miracle Day bombards viewers with a multitude of formulaic Hollywood cliches that threaten to make the story rival the ridiculousness of any sci-fi film starring Keanu Reeves or Will Smith.
The biggest ones are the overwrought big screen acting of Mekhi Phifer and the plucky and predictably female FBI agent who will likely emerge as the lynchpin of the series.
The juxtaposition is uncomfortable, such as when Phifer's Rex Matheson shouts, "Wales is crazy!" to Captain Jack, detracting from a thrilling chase scene.
A number of equally B-list action film actors could have delivered the line with equal aplomb.
Phifer brings little to a Mexican standoff scene that everyone has seen played out many times.
The rest of the cast steps up to the plate, though.
Arlene Tur plays Vera Suarez, a doctor caught up in the the phenomenon. Though flummoxed, Suarez maintains her cool even when confronted by a military cadre bent on controlling an uncontrollable situation. She is the voice of empathy and humanity, embodying the spirit of a true healer. It is clear from this first episode that she will become the moral center of this story.
Bill Pullman brings life to the character of Oswald Danes, a serial killer who capitalizes on the phenomenal events and plays the system magnificently to serve his evil ends. Pullman, who shone as the American President in Independence Day, takes a more sinister acting turn, stretching his muscles as the embodiment of an evil to rival Hannibal Lechter.
His restraint and spot-on creepiness bring dimension to a promising role.
Alexa Havins shows considerable promise as Rex's partner Esther, who leads the investigation to uncover Torchwood's secrets and, ultimately, its relationship with the event that the media dubs Miracle Day.
I would not be surprised if Esther ends up on a reincarnated Torchwood team; perhaps, operating under the aegis of the American government.
Miracle Day retains many of the successful elements of the Torchwood formula. Among these are worldwide crises, covert operations, deadly pursuit of the Torchwood agents by a nameless, faceless organization. The signature Russell Davies sense of humor grounds the chaos of the event in its ultimate humanity and allows the viewer to connect to the characters in a preposterous premise.
Miracle Day is part mystery, part thrill, part creepy, and a whole lot of gross-out. You can't die. You can be hurt. You can be maimed. You can be burned. You can suffer any disease. You just can't die. The possibilities are staggering, and Miracle Day starts to delve into these possibilities to stomach-turning effect.
It's definitely entertaining so far. Can it sustain the excitement for the entire ten-episode arc' That's the most important question. The premiere of Miracle Day is off to a good start.