Torchwood is a fun show that can't be taken too seriously; if you're picking apart the why of Torchwood's--the organization's--importance and its relevance to the cases it encounters, you're not gonna have a good time with it. This is not to excuse pacing, character development, or any elements of storytelling or filming that can go wrong and invite criticism. Criticise away if that's what's bugging you.
What makes me particularly forgiving of this show, of course, is its portrayal of a bisexually-normative universe, which is something I have a particular kink for and haven't seen done in a filmed medium. (Listen to me, using words like "medium." 'S a show!) Usually I gotta look to fic to find that one. I have nothing profound to say about it because that alone is profound to me. While people only superficially familiar with the show might think it's a function of being Jack Harkness-centric, that's hardly all of it. We have Owen going off for a male/male/female threesome from the first episode; in the next, Gwen's distress over making out with an alien-possessed woman has nothing to do with the gender of the individual. While I do think the show is more sexually oriented than your average family show, what with a few naked bums and a couple of on-screen orgasms, I don't imagine those created nearly as much buzz as the homosexual kisses that peppered this thing. And it's like the arguments about fic ratings--is a kiss G-rated? Is a kiss between two men higher-rated? If episode two's sex-hungry alien and the recurrence of naked bums were only cheeky (sorry) nods for humor's sake--which I think they are--then the actual sexual content of the show is quite tame. Even Owen and Diane's love scene doesn't cross any lines that LOST didn't either. (Unless we saw boobs. Did we see boobs? I don't remember.)
As far as the science fiction of it goes, I keep comparing it--more favorably--to Stargate: Atlantis, which has a couple of fun characters but whose plots feel ten years old, never going beyond storylines that have nice easy resolution by the end of the episode without any deaths. It's no Battlestar Galactica, in terms of being quality SF, and neither is Torchwood. Yet Torchwood's stories feel more like its direct predecessor's, Doctor Who, where characters (not just red shirts) do die and whose writers aren't afraid to spice up a well-used premise with irreverant humor. (That is, in fact, their "thing.") I don't think Torchwood has hit its stride yet--too many episodes that end with Jack or someone else posing angrily (but looking awkward) behind an embarassingly teensy gun, and a little feeling of emptiness as soon as you realize that the climax is not going to get bigger than this. But most episodes really got to me all the same.
I'll start with Episode 4, because that's where I started getting past the "OMG lookit the slash!" of the show and paying better attention to the plots.
Episode 4, Cyberwoman--what I really loved was the show's decision to make Ianto more than just Tea Guy, and Ianto's unswerving dedication to Lisa even when she's tearing off heads and everyone else is aiming guns at the murdering bitch. Because that is true, motherf***ers. No matter how many zombie movies you have seen, sure as shit, friends and neighbors, you WILL be the one approaching your best friend with open arms--as she shambles you-ward, chewing on the arm she's pulled from the last corpse, moaning, "Brainnnsss..."--saying, "Cindy! Don't you know me, Cindy, it's me! I know you're still in there!", as twenty other people yell what was supposed to be YOUR line, "She's not Cindy anymore! Shoot her, SHOOT her, goddammit!" 'S a given.
Episode 5, Small Worlds--Was it supposed to be profound that Jack would give up a child to protect the greater good? It didn't strike me that way; it felt obvious, necessary. And that's kinda neat, that it put me into that headspace where it seemed an easy decision, set me up to think that by the construction of the episode. Of course, I'm part of that group who would fill out that Volunteer For Chosen One form if it were available, probably like most of us here, so.
Episode 6, Countrycide--Okay, so, it's easy to catch that the grisliest episode of the season is also the one where There Are No Aliens And Man Is The Most Terrifying Threat Of All, thankyouyes. But it's still creepy as heck.
Episode 7, Greeks Bearing Gifts-- I had problems with the construction of this episode. Toshiko's so bipolar about the pendant and about Mary; good bad good bad good bad good bad--it was exhausting. By the time Mary asks to be taken to Torchwood I couldn't imagine Toshiko could even remember the damn address of the place. It's kind of hard to explain--it reminds me of one of the annoyances I had with the film Van Helsing, where they kept having to go back to the village between every damn scene, as opposed to moving on to their next destination (and bit of action) from the last place of action. On the other hand it was delightful to see a well-done example of Why You Don't Really Want To Know What People Think Of You, with all its pettiness.
Episode 8, They Keep Killing Susie-- Let me say that I dig Indira Varma, and in fact had IMDB'd her before I'd even finished watching the first episode to make sure she was a series regular--which IMDB said that she was, apparently in on the "let's not spoil everyone" joke by listing fake episode names, darn them! I think that this episode is the cleverest in terms of plot and plot twists; when they realize that everything fits together as a complex sleeper program of Suzie's, I actually had an audible, "OOOH!" Lots of applause for this one (even if it does end, again, in angry poses and teensy guns).
Episode 9, Random Shoes--Apparently I am the only one who really loved the Love and Monsters episode of Doctor Who season two; I list it among my favorites of that season. This similarly-themed episode doesn't work as well for me, though. I got hung up on figuring out what was the significance of the protagonist's dad and younger brother, which left me a bit "bzuh?" when that didn't really pan out to anything. And I still have no idea why he took photos of his friends' shoes; if you want to explain that to me, do. Nevertheless I liked the structure and wish those elements hadn't hung me up. (And I ate two eggs, ham, and chips for dinner three nights running after seeing it. I get fixed on cravings like that.)
Episode 10, Out of Time-- This one really took my breath away, because the idea's been done so much and yet I've never cared so deeply about the characters in the situation. Superficially it seems like a simple distribution of fates--one copes well, one fails to cope to the point of suicide, and one tries to go back. And yet. And yet Emma knowing she has to set out on her own and not be baby-sitted. And yet Jack able to sit with John until he dies because his immortality protects him. And yet Owen beginning his declaration of love to Diane not even knowing it's love, with the words, "I think I'm gonna have to stop doing this..." Wow. Just, wow.
Episode 12, End of Days--Structurally, the concept that everyone is being goaded into opening the Rift in order to release something great and terrible is sound. It's another of those episodes where the execution suffered because we have, what, four minutes of airtime left and suddenly there's a big Satan Godzilla lumbering about. I love how it was defeated; I'm not so satisfied with Rhys getting to live (though I can kind of no-prize it into thinking that it was one of Bilis's direct manipulations, so it gets reverted--I dunno, I admit I'm grasping), but it's one of those I find myself liking because it holds together as a narrative. (Sort of like the way I'm kind of okay with Attack of the Clones, story-wise, of all the Star Wars prequels.)
I skipped 11, Captain Jack Harkness, because that's just me squeeing over the kiss. Nuthin' clever from me there, just me going, "OMG tongue!"
Briefly, on the characters: I like Gwen; I particularly like the actress playing Gwen. The scene of her torn between eating her pizza or bawling her eyes out should get an award. I love Jack even if I don't quite buy him; then again, he is supposed to be the empty one, the one whose thoughts can't be read, who can't be tempted into the ultimate violation of duty because there's nothing he wants enough to make him shirk it. Ianto, such love for his development. Toshiko, I like her and want to see more done with her that does not require her to walk around with eyes wide all episode; one should not be able to view the top one-eighth of someone's iris all the time, thankyouverymuch. Owen is a well-developed solid character but I keep getting hung up on how facially unattractive he is; he's not even jolie laide, he's just...laide. Yes, I am that superficial.
I'm very happy there will be a second season. Mind, I would be, just for the bi-normativity.