January 30, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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TOUCH:  Mondays 9PM on FOX, starting March 19 – Change the Channel
FOX’s new series TOUCH got off to a very good start in the ratings with a “preview” episode last week (having American Idol as a lead-in didn’t hurt), and certainly indications are that it could be a solid hit when it makes its series debut on Mondays next month after Alcatraz is done for the season.  To these eyes, though, it looked to be as boneheaded a TV series as any in recent memory.

Touch was created by Tim Kring, who gave us Heroes, which became a very odd network TV phenomenon:  the hit that never really was.  Heroes started off like gangbusters, and visions of spin-offs, merchandising bonanzas and feature films danced in NBC’s desperate head.  Then the show came back for a disastrous second season (remember the medieval Japanese storyline?  the multiple versions of just about every major character who kept turning up?), and it never recovered; Heroes limped along for another couple of seasons, but its downward trend was irreversible.  Touch doesn’t feature super-powers per see, but it already shows clear signs of the kind of confusion and soft-minded preference for mysticism over plot logic that doomed Heroes.  
Touch brings Kiefer Sutherland back to TV, this time playing Martin Bohm, a baggage handler at JFK who manages to be as ineffably grim and determined as Jack Bauer used to be.  Martin’s wife died on 9/11, and he’s raising son Jake (David Mazouz) on his own.  (One of the pilot’s weirder conceits is that although Martin can barely make ends meet, he and Jake live in a multi-million dollar 3-bedroom Manhattan loft because his stockbroker wife left it in trust for Jake–hopefully that included funds for yearly maintenance and property taxes.)  Jake is really the show’s focal point, a magical autistic who sees the hidden, mysterious patterns in the universe but who can’t or won’t speak or otherwise directly communicate with other human beings–including, generally, by touch.  (He does, however, narrate the series, although mercifully not with the voice of Helen Mirren a la Glee.)   As Martin is told several times in the course of the pilot, it’s his job to protect Jake and decipher the meanings of the patterns Jake finds, so as to save whoever is due for rescue that week.
To call the plot of Touch convoluted and contrived is less an insult than a factual description.  In the pilot, Jake fixates on numbers that reveal a trail to 9/11 and the fireman who discovered his mother in the World Trade Center, a winning lottery ticket, a phone booth in Grand Central Station, a missed train, a school bus crash, and the miraculous saving of its passengers.  A B/C story that doesn’t seem directly related to Jake similarly unites the British parents of a dead child, a Baghdad boy who aspires to be Chris Rock but whose search to find a pizza oven for his father forces him to become an unwilling suicide bomber, an Irish amateur singer who’s also a helpful cell phone carrier employee, and Japanese prostitutes.  Note:  I didn’t make any of that up.
Touch is sort of an Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu movie (Babel, 21 Grams) for dummies–intercontinental strands of story forced into unconvincing connections.  All Touch has is plot, because with Jake not communicating and Martin mostly spitting out intense pronouncements through gritted teeth, there’s nothing in the way of characterization.  The only other substantial regular character is Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Jake’s social worker, who’s briefly officious but who, by the time the pilot is over, has already acknowledged and embraced Jake’s strange powers.  (Since Danny Glover is listed as a regular, one assume that in future episodes, his single scene as a sort-of scientist who appreciates Jake’s abilities will be expanded.) 
The Touch pilot was directed by Francis Lawrence, whose feature films include I Am Legend and Water For Elephants, so it’s certainly slick enough, but it has no substance beyond its glib New Agey everything-is-connected message.  Perhaps the Highway to Heaven-plus-autism formula will connect to audiences for years to come; for some of us, though, the overblown daffiness of the enterprise severs the connection from the start.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."