“Your purpose is to follow it for him. It’s your fate, Mr. Bohm. It’s your destiny.”
For those who tend against shows like Penn and Teller’s Bullshit! and prefer to dabble in the mystical, Fox’s new drama Touch will likely pull some heartstrings. Kiefer Sutherland takes the lead as Martin Bohm, a widower whose wife died in the 9/11 attacks and whose son Jake (David Mazouz) has autism and the rare ability to trace complex patterns in numbers. Like most kids with autism, Jake does not respond well to physical touch. Nor does he even talk – a choice he consciously makes, the opening credits would suggest. Instead, he uses numbers to lead his father on a journey where he meets other conflicted individuals, all so that lives can be changed.
Among the characters appearing in the pilot are a man desperate to find a cell phone containing his late daughter’s picture, a young Iraqi looking to buy an oven and help his family out of poverty, a man who strikes big in the lottery and a couple of video-ready Japanese girls. Danny Glover makes an appearance as Martin’s oracle, the aptly named Arthur Teller, and the go-to love interest for Martin is a social worker named Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who dutifully demands Jake be held in Child Services until she too starts to see his preternatural abilities. The acting of the recurring cast is unquestionably solid, with Kiefer channeling a likable if not ever-exasperated hero whose primary concern is the well-being of his son. But some scenes in the second episode, specifically the few between a flight attendant and a man travelling from India to take his deceased father’s ashes to a baseball stadium, are cringe-worthy at best.
“Your son sees everything – the past, the future. He sees how it’s all connected.”
And it’s not like the subject matter hasn’t been tackled before. Babel, The Number 23 and the recent Extremely Loud Incredibly Close all come to mind as predecessors. But at least Babel was humble in its worldview. Written by Guillermo Arriaga and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, it allots equal time to all its plot threads, showing deeply human qualities in characters struggling to survive in a complex world. Though Touch seems to pull this off, the depth simply isn’t there. How could it be when characters have their emotional needs satisfied by fate and then disappear faster than suspects in a CSI:Miami episode?
Despite an attempt to be worldly, the writers seem to think of America as the centre of the universe; foreigners are all depicted wanting to go there to bask in the glory of Yankee culture. When a Russian girl likens her friend’s mafioso father to a well-known criminal, who else would it be than Tony Soprano? Not that this is necessarily problematic, but it’s a thin layer of self-congratulation that hampers the spirited theme of the show. At times, we might as well be watching Fourth of July fireworks.
In the end, Touch fails to be intellectual fodder for skeptics. Some of the metaphysical elements are thought-provoking – what would it be like to look at the lives of everyone who read the same newspaper? Have we ever been heartbeats away from meeting a person who might change our lives? How might our lives be different if that proverbial butterfly didn’t flap its wings? The deeper question of fate, however, is assumed rather than explored, and the coincidences that guide the plot are too ridiculous to comfortably suspend disbelief. Audiences, the writers reason, are likely thankful enough that the show keeps its themes spiritual and all-inclusive. That seems to be a winning strategy for scripts in modern times.
Whether or not the ratings will be high enough to warrant a second season – or even the remainder of the first – has yet to be seen. Fox will just have to cross their fingers, and like Jake, pay scrutinizing attention to the numbers.
Touch – Season 1 Episodes 1 and 2 – 3/5