In the soaringly earnest but effective Touch, Kiefer Sutherland barks so many of his lines with the strained desperation of an exhausted man who’s just barely keeping it together. He’s shouldering a tremendous weight and no one around him is sensitive to his plight. But then, he doesn’t really expect them to be. Best known as badass Jack Bauer, here, a more vulnerable Sutherland is Martin Bohm, widowed father of a mute, emotionally challenged boy and the nucleus of this ambitious Fox drama by Heroes creator Tim Kring.
Jake (David Mazouz), Martin’s son, won’t allow anyone to touch him and spends his days obsessively scribbling numbers in a notebook or fiddling with discarded cell phones, while his father spends the majority of his time trying to find a way – any way at all – to communicate with him. When a social worker decides that Jake should be placed in a facility (he’s been climbing cell phone towers), Martin becomes so fiercely determined to understand his son, that he googles “mutism + cell phones.” (Is this really the first time that he’s done this?) His “research” brings him to Arthur Teller (Danny Glover), an expert on kids who have the ability to perceive seemingly hidden patterns in numbers.
Apparently, Jake can see all of the ratios and numerical strings that tether every life on the planet together. He understands the link between the past, present, and future, essentially giving him the ability to predict events. Teller tells Martin that Jake is trying to connect people and that, as the boy’s father, it’s his job, “his fate, his destiny” to help. In the first episode, or “preview event” as it was dubbed by the hype men over at Fox (the show’s first season won’t actually begin until March), the lives of a Londoner, a young boy from Baghdad, an Irish singer, and a Japanese woman all become entwined.
Touch is like Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel but without any of the subtlety. The show’s message – we’re all interconnected and can impact each other’s lives in powerful ways – is right there on the surface. In fact, it’s explicitly stated several times. Touch’s most glaring fault is that it isn’t as imaginative as it should be. Kring is so concerned with the scope of the series – developing this poignant, wide-reaching narrative – that he seems to have forgotten to create believable, multi-dimensional characters. Obviously the disparate people from around the globe being brought together by Jake’s beautiful mind, aren’t supposed to be totally fleshed out but, at least in this first episode, their stories aren’t just abridged, they’re oversimplified and stereotypical. Yup, the Japanese woman, a prostitute, does wear a school girl outfit. Even Teller, who will be a recurring character, is flat. He walks around his cluttered house in a robe, he has a cat and an unkempt yard, he says things like “Fibonacci sequence.” He’s one of those eccentric guys, operating on the fringes of academia, that we, as people who watch movies and TV, instinctively know have all the answers. When Martin goes to see him he says, “let me guess, your kid keeps climbing a cell tower,” and really drives home that trope.
Fortunately, Touch works better when it focuses on Martin and Jake. We are supposed to be touched by the way that this boy who doesn’t like to be touched is touching the lives of people who need to be touched (and I will admit that that drama did stir up some emotions for me, albeit in a superficial, Hallmark greeting card commercial way), but what’s actually touch – err…moving about this series is the relationship between its two protagonists. When Martin, who has clearly devoted his entire life to his son, is forced to temporarily relinquish custody of Jake, his desperation, his helplessness is palpable – this is the core of the show and what makes it worth watching.