Touch (Mondays at 9:00 on Fox, beginning March 19)
I have a lot to say about Fox's newest endeavor, Touch, not all of which will be touched upon here. One thing I have to mention is the confusing launch: this pilot is being screened nearly two months before the series will assume a regular timeslot. Why? I can only hope that it's not only to garner initial interest but to receive feedback on what needs improvement, because there's a lot of room for it.
Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland) is a single father living in New York City with his mute, completely aloof eleven-year old son, Jake (David Mazouz). His wife was killed in 9/11, when their son was less than two, and Martin has had a hard go of it since; he was once a successful reporter but has taken lately to odd jobs, the most recent being a baggage-handler at JFK Airport. Jake has never spoken a word and is obsessed with numbers and patterns. Doctors have diagnosed him as autistic, though the label has never been entirely appropriate. Beginning on March 18, a huge series of patterns/coincidences begins to unfold, and Jake seemingly has predicted the entire thing, from the day's winning lottery numbers to when a social worker's phone will ring.
Touch was created and written by Tim Kring, the man behind NBC's Heroes. This is the first show Kring has worked on since Heroes fizzled out following a strong first season, and he's already ripped himself off. The former series explored global connectivity in a world under threat, and Touch does exactly the same thing. Where Heroes was more successful was in its metaphorical superhero base line, while Touch is attempting to be something closer to reality. It's based around patterns in nature, every action being explained through numbers (the Fibonacci sequence turns up here, as it seemingly has in every single mystery since The Da Vinci Code was released almost a decade ago). But it's too outrageous to truly make sense, whereas if it contained some supernatural element it would've been more easily swallowed. But Kring isn't just ripping off his previous creation, he's also introduced very obvious elements of Lost (the entire mystery of "The Numbers" is repeated almost exactly in this episode) and even of Sutherland's former series 24 (with the race against the clock in the pilot's third act). Kring took pieces of successful, both creatively and commercially, series and applied them with lesser effect to Touch.
This would be forgivable if these elements were put to good use, but nothing about Touch feels all that fresh. It's got a typical globe-spanning story of interconnectivity, a concept that's been done to death on television and in film (Babel, Crash, etc.), showcasing sequences in Dublin, Tokyo and Baghdad. (It should be noted that the writing and acting of these international sequences are utterly atrocious and uninteresting.) It's all totally heavy-handed, with subplots involving terrorism, prostitution, and the social services system. Touch feels almost like it's trying to change the world, even though it doesn't have a very firm grasp on what the world is really like. It all builds into an emotionally manipulative finale devoid of much real thought; it reduces the tragedy and death of one woman on 9/11 (By the way, when did 9/11 become something we just use as a plot device to make people cry in movies and TV shows? Between this and the film Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, I'm beginning to wonder how tasteful it really is...) to another man's good fortune, and the death of a young girl to nothing more than an impetus for tears. It sure tugs at the heart strings, but it doesn't make much sense.
Aside from the problematic script, the style of Touch is actually quite appealing. It feels like it's always going somewhere, and the pilot contains some great visuals of patterns in nature. Whenever the show is in New York, it's engrossing; but as soon as it moves abroad, it drags. Kiefer Sutherland starts off the episode a little rough around the edges, playing up the melodrama of his son's condition and his wife's death without much real emotion. He seems more comfortable once the action kicks in about halfway through and finishes up with a nice dramatic moment at the episode's "big reveal" in the finale. Danny Glover makes an ultimately pointless appearance in one scene as... someone... a doctor? Who knows... as someone who knows about Jake's condition and has come into contact with others just like him. He spews out some exposition (which, by the way, the audience already knows via an introductory voiceover by Jake) to Martin and is never mentioned again. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Undercovers) is Jake's case worker, and she is ultimately forgettable as well. This is an ensemble show, in a way, but not on the level of Heroes, as Sutherland is very obviously the star, playing the only character with any real depth and dimension. The series will sink or swim on the basis of his show-carrying abilities and Kring's development of the concept.
When it comes down to it, Touch is entertaining on its own. It has a lot of issues, but strictly as entertainment it succeeds, for the most part. Were this concept developed into a film, it would be a decent summer flick. But anyone with any interest in film will tell you that summer releases are hardly the most artistically rewarding for an audience.