Touch: Series Premiere

As someone who watched Heroes two seasons past its creative expiration date, one goes into the next Tim Kring-helmed series with a certain level of trepidation. In an ideal world, the failures of a past projectshouldn’t reflect on a new television venture. (Just as every post-24 Kiefer Sutherland project shouldn’t judge him by a Jack Bauer standard. Yeah right.) But we genre geeks are a once bitten, we-will-hold-this-grudge-forever bunch. So a joint venture between Kring and Fox—the Grim Reaper of nerd shows—seems a particularly hazardous undertaking.

The unveiling of Touch (this week’s episode was a special preview; the show actually premieres in March) makes it clear it probably isn’t going to be cancelled, at least not before its initial 13-episode order. The show isn’t nearly weird enough, or edgy enough, to end up on the Fox sci-fi killing field quite so early. One episode deep into a season is a bit early to be passing judgment on an entire series, but what I’m picking up from Touch is that we’re in for a mild ride.

The premise of the series is that we’re all connected by a mystical cord of fate—a universal game of 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, if you will—and that everything is made up of connective universal patterns.

Some people, children especially, are able to see these patterns, causing them to witness past, present and future events. (Somehow. It’s all very mystical and mathematical.) One such person is Jake (David Mazouz), an 11-year-old autistic boy (or is he?) who has never spoken and hates to be touched. His father Martin (Sutherland), a former journalist who gave up his career to take care of Jake after his wife’s death, struggles to connect with his son. When Jake becomes obsessed with a particular set of numbers, Martin realizes his son is trying to communicate through them… as well as warn him of a pending tragedy.

My Delphic instincts, limited though they may be, tell me to worry about the future of Touch. Will it be a paranormal procedural, where every episode Sutherland and his cherubic clairvoyant try to save the world one soul at a time? Or will it expand from the weekly routine, and take the risk of collapsing under its own übermythology? (Hello there, Heroes.)

Formulas are death for good genre shows. Repetitiveness must be carefully weaved with a bigger picture in mind. The show does hint at a deeper core with the brief introduction of Danny Glover as Arthur Teller, an eccentric scholar who studies the predictive phenomenon. He looks to be Touch’s exposition mouthpiece and resident hermit as he explains the show’s thesis to Martin in less than three minutes. In order to keep the plot moving, Martin doesn’t think any of it sounds cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs at all.

Aside from its fluff factor and collective rah-rahness, there’s one particular section of Touch’s pilot that’s bothersome. In the first few minutes of the episode, Martin receives a call telling him that Jake has run away from school and has been found atop a cell tower—the third time this has happened in the past few weeks. After this incident, child protective services swoop in, threatening to institutionalize Jake because of Martin’s apparent subpar care. We don’t know the circumstances of the past events, granted, and I’m no expert in the bylaws of social work, but how exactly is a father to blame when his severally autistic child escapes from his school? Did Martin teach his son how to Parkour himself off the roof? No. Did a teacher probably leave a door open? Yes. Worse, the social worker sent to evaluate Jake, Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), has the audacity to criticize Martin — a 9/11 widower — for not having a mother figure in the household. She is terrible. The end.

What if Martin, who is clearly struggling, sought such help himself? It doesn’t turn him into a bad father. Instead we’re supposed to believe that Martin (in his luxurious loft, with his well-fed, well-groomed, physically healthy-if-not-quite-all-there child) is the epitome of bad parenting. Has Clea ever watched an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras? Martin looks like the Gandhi of parenthood next to that. 

So far, Touch seems fairly harmless. Optimistic, even, as you watch a group of people from Ireland to Iraq all play global hot potato with some poor schlub’s cell phone, ultimately finding themselves united by happenstance. It’s poignant, even if you know you’re being played by a big fat metaphorical fiddle. Sutherland is the right amount of earnest, though maybe not quite frazzled enough, as a dad dealing with a special needs child. And Mazouz, all curly hair and freckles, doesn’t overdo Jake’s disabilities.

With an ambitious premise but a fairly tame infrastructure, Touch will either transform itself into an interesting study of the ways in which humanity relates, or spend its time spewing cloying platitudes about the human condition. Such prophetic gooiness makes for digestible television, sure; but it will need a little salt in its veins to really succeed.