As I was starting this review, a commercial for CBS' "Person of Interest" came on, a nice coincidence since like "Touch" (9 tonight, Fox), it too has a post-9/11 perspective.
"Person of Interest" sees the world post-9/11 through darkened lens; Big Brother is watching, we need a crusader to work against a machine that knows when our number is up, and yet the future is murky. "Touch" takes a more soulful view. It suggests that what's been lost in the last decade is what binds us. It is a show about our need to connect, a near desperate need, and the ways we can and we do, whether we are aware or not. Unfortunately, while I can get behind that idea, I can't throw my full support behind "Touch."
The story is told through the lives of Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland), a widower made a single father when his wife is killed during 9/11. His life has fallen apart; he was a high-living journalist but now works as a baggage handler at the airport. (Yeah, that cut a little close.)
His biggest challenge is his 11-year-old son Jake (David Mazouz), who has autism, has never spoken a word and doesn't like to be touched. He also has a propensity for running away from school and climbing up a cell tower.
When Jake goes up the cell tower again, a social worker (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is (kind of inexplicably) sent to the Bohm home, to make dad feel incapable and to put Jake in a facility where he'd be better off.
But before that, a British man loses his cellphone, which is found by an Irish man who records his friend who needs a break in her quest to become a singer, and is then passed to some Japanese good-time girls, and then ends up in the hands of a terrorist cell in Baghdad. Oh, and there's another guy obsessed with playing the lottery who punches Martin in the stomach after an encounter with Martin and Jake.
Yeah, it's a lot; the show is structured like "Crash" or "Traffic" with some lives interacting, and all of the characters connected by numbers. Honestly I think it's easier to understand if you just go with the basic idea that we are all connected then trying to comprehend all the stuff (explained by the always welcome Danny Glover) about patterns and numbers and blah blah blah.
Sutherland is solid; even as Jack Bauer in "24" he had a vulnerability that made him sympathetic while he was kicking butt. Here, he's a regular guy and a single father, making him even more vulnerable. But he'll still get to be a hero. He also has to do a lot of work; Mazouz not only doesn't talk, he doesn't emote either.
Indeed, the show did a good job at conveying the pain of loving a child like Jake. His inability to accept touch or connect made me uncomfortable. And yet, there's a scene that offers an out to that discomfort. I'm not sure if it was a relief or a cop-out by the writers. I can't decide how I feel about the portrayal of autism as some sort of magical higher state either. I appreciate that it speaks to the idea of these children having minds that work differently rather than 'defectively.' But it also feels like magical thinking.
This pilot of "Touch" wasn't a knockout, but part of that might be because it had to spend a lot of time explaining a pretty convoluted premise. Here's hoping they can clear away some of the clutter and give the show... a lighter touch.