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Touch: TV Review

Touch Promo Cast behind glass of numbers - H 2012
Brian Bowen Smith/FOX

The Bottom Line

Tim Kring’s drama comes with a "social benefit," making it worth a look.

Airdate

9 p.m. Jan. 25 (Fox)

Creator

Tim Kring

Cast

Kiefer Sutherland, David Mazouz, Danny Glover, Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Tim Kring’s drama comes with a "social benefit," making it worth a look.

There are all kinds of intriguing elements, in front of and behind the camera, that make Fox’s Touch, starring Kiefer Sutherland, particularly interesting.
 
Sutherland, who famously brought anti-terrorist superhero Jack Bauer to the network’s 24, was determined to stay away from television as long as he could but said he could not resist Heroes creator Tim Kring’s vision for Touch.
 
Sutherland plays Martin Bohm, a New Yorker whose wife was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, leaving him to raise their now 11-year-old son, Jake (David Mazouz), who hasn’t spoken a word since he was born and can’t be touched (you’ll have to peel him off the ceiling, his father tells strangers). At first glance, the audience is led to believe that Jake is autistic. He has an amazing capacity for numbers and patterns and, even though he can’t communicate, he’s clearly up to something — and could be very subtly trying to make this point to his father (though Kring never even hints that Sutherland’s character is on to something or that he should be more curious about the numbers and patterns).

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The pilot for Touch is quite good and rather thought-provoking (it was the only episode given to critics), and Kring’s and Sutherland’s comments at the recent Television Critics Association press tour clarified some aspects of the series going forward. Kring was adamant that Jake is not autistic. He’s been misdiagnosed, as explained by the introduction of Danny Glover as a professor named Arthur Teller who believes certain children possess special gifts to sort out patterns that connect people and events across the world  — and that, in a Heroes-esque way, is how the pilot goes (the myriad negative associations with Heroes should not scare you from Touch, at least not initially).
 
Sutherland’s character, Martin, is struggling. He’s been through a number of jobs and is now a baggage handler at the airport. However, thanks to his deceased wife’s high-paying job, he and Jake are able to live in a pretty swank downtown condo.
 
When we meet Jake, he’s been getting into trouble consistently, climbing up cell towers and ditching class. Social worker Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) appears on a mission to get Jake into a specialized school and take him from his father. But Jake, using some popcorn kernels, gives her a numeric sign — one of many to come — that gets her thinking: Jake is more than special.
 
But what Touch is trying to sell viewers, in the words of Kring, is “social benefit storytelling.” Now, that’s different. What he means is that Touch will mostly (but not always) be infused with hope — that the interconnectivity of people in the universe can be used for good, that it can produce positive results (as the pilot clearly proves through a series of international, interconnected storylines set off by Jake’s numbers).
 
The is why the notion of a kid, say one with autism, seeing patterns in nature and the universe would make a lot of sense and why Kring mostly disavowing that in favor of Touch being “more of a mystical or spiritual idea” that also taps into both science and randomness is both an intriguing new tack and one that could cause some worries in the storytelling. Why? Because there will be no concrete rules, no storytelling bible (at least Kring didn’t say there would be one) whereby viewers know exactly what Jake can and can’t do.

Each week, Kring said, there will be a new stand-alone story involving Martin and Jake (and presumably Clea) that spirals out into the world and affects others elsewhere.

And while the pilot was compelling — emotional, mature and hopeful — not every week can end with a “social benefit,” Kring noted. “It can’t always be tied up in a nice, neat bow,” he said. “There have to be times when there’s a ‘you missed it by this much’ kind of thing or when doing something positive results in something negative happening in somebody else’s story; that there is sometimes a bittersweet ending to these stories so that it’s not always completely wrapped in a bow.”
 
Given that reassurance, viewers should try to connect with Touch. There’s something intriguing about it. Let’s see where in the world it ends up.

Airdate 9 p.m. Jan. 25 (Fox)
Creator Tim Kring
Cast Kiefer Sutherland, David Mazouz, Danny Glover, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
 

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com.