Sporting gadgets, secrets and the whiff of romance, the new British series "Torchwood" (8 p.m. today, BBC America) has the makings of a cult hit. An expensive-looking pastiche of American and British influences, "Torchwood" combines the high-concept mysteries of "The X-Files" and "Men in Black" with the well-grounded humor and insight of blue-collar British police procedurals.
Set in Cardiff, Wales, "Torchwood" kicks off when a police officer, Gwen (Eve Myles), spies furtive agents hovering near a homicide she's investigating. Curiosity gets the best of her and she stumbles upon Torchwood, a super secret agency dedicated to capturing aliens and exploiting their technology. Sometimes the young members of Torchwood put the gizmos to work for their own benefits, to both comic and tragic effect.
Written and created by Russell T. Davies (a writer for the new "Doctor Who"), "Torchwood" features "Who" guest star John Barrowman as the mysterious Capt. Jack Harkness, the leader of Torchwood who appears to take a shine to the curious cop as he shows off their high-tech lair. In an odd touch, Barrowman appears to be doing an extended imitation of Tom Cruise.
If "Torchwood" proves half as addictive as I suspect it will, look for a Hollywood studio or network to churn out an Americanized version.
¢ Much of the publicity surrounding the new series "Tell Me You Love Me" (8 p.m. Sunday, HBO) will involve its frank depictions of human sexuality. I am sure that words like "daring" and "honest" will be bandied about. But after having watched the first episode with some discomfort, I was left with the distinct impression that "Tell Me" had to be the most bleak, boring and unsatisfying TV drama ever broadcast. If this is pushing the envelope, then I say, bring back the envelope!
"Tell Me" involves three couples in therapy for sex and intimacy issues. An attractive couple can't have a baby. An engaged couple can't handle the notion of faithful monogamy. A husband and wife with two young kids give up on sex.
None of these people has a sense of humor and all go about their business (in all senses of that word) with the grim determination of tax auditors. The no-sex couple is the most interesting of the bunch. They at least have other things besides their curdled libidos to discuss. In one early scene, they even smile.
"Tell Me" depicts carnal acts with a frankness that should inspire a "Wow, I didn't think they could show that on TV" reaction from most viewers. But in the absence of plot, and with precious little character development, these erotic episodes take on the sad quality of surveillance footage.
The makers of "Tell Me" seem to have forgotten that to make great entertainment you have to make us care about the characters and provide a backstory to flesh out their humanity. If an interesting character has sex, or doesn't have sex, that's part of what makes him or her interesting.
¢ NASCAR racing (6:30 p.m., ABC).
¢ U.S. Open tennis coverage (7 p.m., CBS).
¢ Miranda Cosgrove stars in the "Drake & Josh" spin-off "iCarly" (7 p.m., Nickelodeon).
¢ Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (6 p.m., CBS): dust at Ground Zero; geek culture; a savant's experience.
¢ The Cowboys host the Giants on "Sunday Night Football" (7 p.m., NBC).
¢ Timbaland serves as maestro for the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards (8 p.m., MTV)
¢ Cheryl adopts a family displaced by a hurricane on the season 6 premiere of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (9 p.m., HBO).
¢ James Gandolfini interviews wounded survivors of the Iraq war in the documentary "Alive Day Memories" (9:30 p.m., HBO).