You want to step up to the show, this is how: you get a hunch and you chase it down, no matter what.
— Detective Sam Sullivan (Miguel A. Nuñez, Jr.), “Pilot”

It is, as they say, a dark and stormy night. The camera swoops over the city, eventually revealing that, deep inside a Manhattan skyscraper, a gorgeous young underwear model is tied to a table. Okay. He’s not really an underwear model, but he looks like one, mostly because he’s played by Australian-born former Calvin Klein model Travis Fimmel, but also because he spends much of his onscreen time in the WB’s Tarzan with his shirt off and his shoulder-length hair loose and flowing.

As Tarzan, Fimmel scowls and pouts with pretty precision. There’s no question that the camera loves him, and his introduction tied onto that table only augments the lovely-vulnerable-boy vibe. The first scenes actually withhold your full look at him: you glimpse him through prison cell bars and from overhead, his face turned flawlessly, his torso slim and acutely muscled, and then he strikes (cued by thunder, because he’s such a natural guy), taking out a SWAT-looking squad. Windows break, flashlights slice through the darkness (the set design is stunning), and Tarzan escapes out a window, climbing straight up the building’s face — like King Kong so long ago, only he’s beauty, not the beast.

By the time he makes the rooftop, another squad bursts through the access door, guns drawn and head gear glinting. Again, the kid takes them all out, taking time to squat with feral grace and turn his face again, now in breathtaking medium close-up. Just when it appears he’s leaped off the building to his death, the reveal reassures: he’s hanging off the big fat stone bird that marks the ominous supremacy of Greystoke Industries. And… did I mention that his abs are glistening in the rain?

This dynamic opening — all bounding stunts, eerie lighting, and sensational camera moves — lays out the terms of Tarzan. Taking a page from the WB’s most popular superhero series (namely, Buffy, Angel, and Smallville), that is, putting sensitive, beautiful young people in jeopardy, and at the same time endowing them with the thrilling means (superpowers, undeadness, ape-trained athletic brilliance) to thwart the bad guys. This version takes it to the Big City, with an appropriately artificial NYC providing the endlessly photographable “urban jungle” backdrop, and the evil corporation providing the endlessly detestable villains.

From here, the pilot episode (which the WB has seen fit to let run an extra seven minutes and 30 seconds, thus deeming it an event of some sort) introduces Tarzan’s destiny, the equally attractive Jane (Sarah Wayne Callies). She’s no damsel waiting to be swept up by a former vine-swinger, however (at least not yet); instead, she’s a New York detective, living in a roomy apartment with her slightly punky sister Nicki (Leighton Meester). Her morning routine includes loading her gun, drinking coffee, and reading the New York Post, the headline conveniently setting up the current object of her affection, the photogenic Detective Michael Foster (Johnny Messner). Seems he’s hunting the “Inferno Killer,” a serial killer targeting homeless people, and she’s jealous: “Working a case like that,” she sighs, “imagine how great that would be.”

At the office, come to find that Jane and her partner Sam (Miguel A. Nuñez, Jr.) have caught a much less glamorous case, involving a pack of dogs ripping through municipal trash. In case you miss the nuance (dogs = wild animals = imminent encounter with Jane’s true love), Sam (also ambitious) underlines the point, advising, “Just trust your gut.” Within minutes, Jane gets her chance: spotting a young man amid the dogs tearing at garbage in a dark alley, she gives chase, going so far as to leap from roof to roof, as if she can approximate ape-boy’s feat (of course, she doesn’t know his background, so maybe from a distance, the jump looks doable… maybe).

The point is clearly to get them into a meet-cute situation. So, when Jane’s left hanging from the roof ledge by her fingertips, Tarzan reappears to grab her arm and pull her — one-handed — to safety. At this point, she gamely draws her gun and tries to arrest him, then, more or less charmingly, faints dead away. The unconscious Jane provides Tarzan with the ideal object: he caresses her face, crouches in that fancy feral pose when she twitches, and, well, he just falls in love and lust and everything else with her. You know, limp girls — always a turn-on.

Jane’s version of this process also involves watching her man go all feeble: the Greystoke SWAT guys show up in a chopper (strangely noiseless in her hazy perception of events), hit him with a spotlight, shoot him up with tranquilizer darts, and haul him away in a net. As the chopper rises above her, SWAT bodies and net dangling, it’s clear that Jane’s smitten, even if she is a little confused. Her report to Captain Archer (Gary Chalk) doesn’t exactly make sense (though Sam believes her because he’s a good friend), but she eventually detects her way to the source, Greystoke Industries.

A combination of time-saving web research and meeting with Greystoke CEO/Tarzan’s Uncle Richard (Mitch Pileggi, who gets to smile in this role, after years of not on The X-Files), explains for Jane Tarzan’s background: his parents’ research took them to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where their plane crashed and he was raised by gorillas, only to be captured and brought back by evil Richard, for as yet unclear purposes, though it has something to do with money and killing Tarzan’s ape relatives. Stolen from his African “home,” renamed (“John”), and locked in a cage (from which he repeatedly escapes, even in this first episode), Tarzan ends up here embodying the non-white, non-capitalist, exploited Other. Some day (perhaps when Blade or someone like him makes it to tv), this role will not be played by a white, superrich Same, but for now, well, Tarzan will have to represent.

Jane takes this notion seriously, and almost immediately rejects the uncle’s legal right to keep Tarzan locked up: “This isn’t about the law,” she says (and though she doesn’t stamp her foot, she might). “This is about right and wrong.” Indeed, the series’ website explains Tarzan’s function for his “girlfriend”: “Looking at society from Tarzan’s perspective, Jane begins to wonder what it really means to be ‘civilized.'” The pilot goes so far as to mark Tarzan’s Otherness when he walks around the city with Jane, to the soundtrack accompaniment of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre”; contrast this to her slow dance with Mike, set to Nora Jones (guess which man is the optimum choice). He’s briefly distracted by the sound of drums, a crew of plastic-bucket street corner players, whose rhythms remind him of the old days, presumably. (They’re also the only black characters in sight, aside from Sam; perhaps Tarzan is set in the same precinct as Friends.)

The series looks to be making use of Jane’s copness, to elicit Tarzan’s “undercover” assistance. It also looks to be conjuring all sorts of standard conflicts, between classes (Richard vs. Tarzan; and even the homeless people killer had a weird and undeveloped personal note, that his dad died in prison), and genders (Jane vs. her cocky-but-also-aggressively-insecure boyfriend). And no doubt all tensions will heat up with the upcoming introduction of Tarzan’s Aunt Kathleen (the recently cast Lucy Lawless, surefire ratings draw), a publishing magnate competing with Richard for control, over the company and the nephew. Tarzan’s own strangeness will either prove the series’ most mundane or most original thought.