Science fiction television typically presents one of two worlds: our fight against an invading force, such as aliens or a virus, or an adventure where we boldly alienate and/or befriend English-speaking humanoids. Eureka presents a different world, one that creates the technology that allows those other two to exist.

Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) is the sheriff in Eureka, a secret town harboring the United States’ brightest minds. At Global Dynamics, they work to advance technology, weaponry, and just about every other aspect of contemporary life. Being something of an Average Joe, Carter’s ability to deal with high-tech crises — invisible villains or time-warping killers — has been shaky at best.

As the series entered its third season on 29 July, it seemed ready to move on from that fish-out-of-water storyline. As Jack is now fairly acclimated to the unusual occurrences in this town full of geniuses, the show brought in a new player to be befuddled and dazzled. Eva Thorne (Frances Fisher), known as “The Fixer,” was brought in by the Department of Defense to clean up the messes, trim the budgets, and downsize the operation. Initially, her arrival made it appear as though Eureka was entering the business world of Dirty Sexy Money, but it was soon revealed that Thorne has sci-fi secrets of her own, specifically a mysterious liquid sealed up in a vial.

Thorne’s introduction into the show’s ensemble already looks questionable. Eureka‘s charm has been based in the blossoming relationships between the “regular” folk like Carter, his daughter Zoe (Jordan Hinson), and his deputy, Jo (Erica Cerra), and the geniuses — town fix-it-all Henry (Joe Morton), Global Dynamics head Allison (Salli Richardson), Allison’s ex Nathan (Ed Quinn), and boy wonder Fargo (Neil Grayston). Thorne was an immediate distraction, especially from the budding love triangle of Carter, Allison, and Nathan.

Most sci-fi TV shows focus on the mission at hand: save the planet, find new planets, stop the intruders. This means characters’ personal lives take a back seat, though fan favorites often merit backstories or plots of their own. What sets Eureka apart is its exploration of the humanity behind the technology. Parent-child tensions, secret crushes, lost and new loves, and old animosities are as important as whatever technology has gone haywire and threatened the safety of the town, country, or planet. Of special note is Carter’s relationship with Zoe, one of the more positive portrayals of single fatherhood on TV. Here he looked more at ease while dealing with themes raised last season, including his feelings for Allison, jealousy of his Zoe’s relationship with his ex, and his doubts about Henry’s friendship.

For all the emotional exploration, however, the tech remains key. This season’s premiere set Carter and Jo against an out-of-control flying drone that looked like a miniature Stealth Bomber. Used to test new military defense systems, the drone, named “Martha,” took on its own mission, attacking the town in order to liberate its sister drones. Though Carter learned Martha had been repeatedly tampered with, it was Zoe, also yearning for independence, who was able to talk the drone down, literally and figuratively.

The resolution to the crisis was far-fetched, but in Eureka, the most improbable explanation is the most likely. The fun is not the puzzle-solving per se (the day is always saved in Eureka), but watching the characters stumble towards the conclusion. Their wit and humor are infectious, as they sometimes sound as if they know that they aren’t really going to die no matter what gizmo is about to explode. And, given the competing tendencies of TV to dumb down or ratchet up the tech-talk, it’s refreshing to hear the mumbo-jumbo followed by a good joke.

Still, Eureka must be admonished for the most shameless product placement since Smallville embraced Stride gum. Degree deodorant built an entire ad campaign around the show, claiming a new antiperspirant was developed by the geniuses of Eureka. To add insult to injury, Thorne hired Degree as Eureka’s first corporate sponsor, in an effort to make the town financially solvent. By episode’s end, cases of Degree were flying across the set with greater frequency than Martha and her fellow drones.

Blatant promotion aside, Eureka is enjoyable. If it’s not destined for TV’s Hall of Fame, it’s a pleasant diversion for anyone seeking something other than law dramas and reality shows that have overtaken the summer’s schedule.

RATING 6 / 10