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The Season for Sci-Fi

By Belinda Acosta, July 17, 2009, Screens

I'm not sure why, but sci-fi, supernatural, and fantasy series seem to go with summer like paletas and a swelteringly hot day. I'm not talking series with the apocalyptic seriousness of Fringe or Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – which I love – but lighter, slightly quirkier fare such as Eureka and Warehouse 13 (both on the newly rechristened SyFy channel) and NBC's Merlin, with the marvelous Anthony Head (aka Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame). Apparently, BBC America thinks summer and sci-fi are a perfect match, as well: To inaugurate BBC America HD, the network has scheduled a special week featuring several new and returning sci-fi series.

Kicking off BBC America's sci-fi week is the return of Torchwood: Children of Earth. The series will air five consecutive nights starting Monday, July 20, reuniting Captain Jack (John Barrowman), Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), and Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) as they protect the human race from evil forces while coming to terms with the death of two of their teammates. Airtime is 8pm on BBC America.

The U.S. premiere of the first of the last four Doctor Who specials begins Sunday, July 26, at 7pm. David Tennant stars as the 10th Time Lord in Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead. In this special, Doctor Who joins forces with a mysterious woman when a London bus is detoured into an alien world that has terrifying secrets which threaten mankind.

The third season of one of my favorite BBC America sci-fi offerings comes to a close Saturday, July 25, at 7pm. Primeval stars Douglas Henshall as Nick Cutter, a scientist who leads a secret team whose main job is to contain "anomalies," creatures from the past (T. rex, Mammoth, Giganotosaurus) that make their way into the present through mysterious weak spots that allow the creatures to travel through time and wreak havoc. In the season finale, the once-evil Helen (Juliet Aubrey) travels back in time to thwart efforts to prevent the evolution of humans. Brought to you by the creators of Walking With Dinosaurs, Primeval is great fun, with great special effects and always high action. According to the BBC America site, a full-length feature film is in the works for release in 2010 (yes!).

And finally, for those of you who want to get in on the sci-fi fun from the get-go, check out the U.S. premiere of Being Human, Saturday, July 25, at 8pm. This look at three twentysomething roommates has a wildly intriguing twist: The roommates are a werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost. George (Russell Tovey) is the awkward, shy guy who lives in anxious anticipation of turning into a bloodthirsty predator every full moon. His more confident and laid-back roommate, Mitchell (Aidan Turner), is a 118-year-old vampire, battling his addiction to human blood and trying to avoid involvement in the vampire underworld. (The local constable, and evil vampire, is planning a "mass conversion" of the human-run world into a vampire-ruled world.) George and Mitchell move into their modest apartment, seeking to blend in while marking time in their unremarkable hospital aide jobs. But soon after moving in, they discover they are not alone. Annie (Lenora Crichlow) "lives" in their apartment, too. Killed in the apartment, she spends her time longing for her life with her former fiancé, the apartment landlord who comes by from time to time.

Blending soap opera, comedy, and horror, overlaid with werewolf-vampire-ghost lore, is no easy task. Purists will balk at how the series bends rules (Mitchell the vampire travels in daylight; Annie the ghost leaves the house). But you miss the point if you get stuck on those infractions. The real treat of the series comes in contemplating the question, what does it mean to be human? The central idea – that each of these characters is trying to be the best person he or she can be, given his or her limitations, faults, and secret desires – is not only smartly done; it's amusing and sometimes surprisingly touching.

As always, stay tuned.

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