John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness; Mekhi Phifer as CIA...

John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness; Mekhi Phifer as CIA agent Rex Matheson in "Torchwood: Miracle Day" Credit: Starz /Courtesy of Starz

DRAMA SERIES "Torchwood: Miracle Day"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Friday night at 10 p.m. on Starz

REASON TO WATCH Awesome story idea: What happens to our planet and its people when, around the globe, nobody dies anymore?

WHAT IT'S ABOUT That concept is such a killer (sorry) that you know the planet protectors of Torchwood are on the case. John Barrowman's swaggering immortal Captain Jack Harkness pops up in America to help save the day, just as plucky Welsh colleague Gwen (Eve Myles) arrives from her remote seaside sanctuary.

They spring into action with a couple of CIA renegades, including Mekhi Phifer's agent recently killed-but-not in a car crash. His continued pain has him gobbling drugs produced by one suspicious pharmaceutical company, represented by the perkily ubiquitous Lauren Ambrose.

Though on the run from both officialdom and evildoers, the Torchwood team still finds time for assignations -- now much more frankly portrayed (thanks, premium cable!).

MY SAY "Torchwood" followed its two fun BBC seasons by turning our worst nightmares into chilling reality in 2009's "Children of Earth" miniseries. This grown-up saga made us think, really think, about astounding, impossible, catastrophic social upheaval (the loss of every child on the planet). We felt the shock and sorrow every step of the way. So creator Russell T. Davies' new concept seemed a no-brainer. Just bring that Torchwood team to America, and let 'em loose.

Instead, they're constricted. Worse, they're submerged. Barrowman's ambisexual charm and humor seem marginalized as "Miracle Day" spends time with Phifer, colleague Alexa Havins and Bill Pullman's creepy pedophile killer still living after lethal injection. By the third episode, their story threads are only beginning to come together with the deliciously crafty Ambrose.

Something feels a bit "off" about this American-shot season through those first three hours. It plays procedural and choppy, in addition to being (ironically) overpopulated by characters rendered more as plot conveniences than compelling people. For such a vast and important story, "Torchwood: Miracle Day" feels strangely confined and artificial.

BOTTOM LINE Here's hoping for more by Episode 4.


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