June 2, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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TOUCH is a show that thrives on impenetrable mysteries, so perhaps one day it will solve its own.  The show was FOX’s big midseason drama play (Terra Nova was the fall’s), by virtue of being created by Heroes writer Tim Kring and starring FOX’s own hero, Jack Bauer Kiefer Sutherland, and given the week’s plum launching pad behind Thursday’s American Idol.  It got off to a good start, but immediately started to falter, and wasn’t even able to reach a 2 rating in its later weeks (this week’s 2-hour season finale, without an Idol lead-in, managed only a 1.3).  Nevertheless, the network renewed it for 2012-13, which would have seemed like a vote of confidence… except that the expensive Touch was shoved into the network’s worst timeslot of the week, as lead-in to Fringe on Fridays at 8PM. This isn’t one of those cases where a series is 3 years in and allowed to survive an extra year because of the much greater value when it reaches a magic total of episodes (as with fellow Friday denizens Community and Fringe)–Touch has little chance of making it that far–so what’s the rationale?

A return visit to Touch for the first time since Episode 3 suggests an even worse problem for the fall:  the series has become far more serialized than it had been at first, which will make it harder to attract fresh viewers.  As it is, this account may well contain some inaccurate interpretations of scenes that assumed continuing knowledge of the narrative, for which apologies are offered in advance.

The bones of the show are intact in the season finale, written by a multitude (Hour 1 by Executive Producer Carol Barbee and Producer Robert Levine, from a story by Jonathan I. Kidd and Sonya Winton, Hour 2 by Kring and Co-Executive Producer Rob Fresco), with Hour 1 directed by Nelson McCormick and Hour 2 by Greg Beeman.  Martin Bohm (Sutherland), an ordinary guy, a widower whose wife died on 9/11, has an extraordinary son, Jake (David Mazouz).  Jake seems to have a sort of magical autism–he doesn’t communicate in words (except in voice-over at the beginning and endings of episodes) and can’t stand to be touched, but he has a fascination for numbers, fixating on them–and when those numbers are investigated, usually by Martin, they turn out to relate to, and resolve crises in the life of, seemingly unrelated people located all over the globe.  The show’s initial episodes turned on these Rube Goldberg plot contrivances that united and helped these people via their numbers, sort of Person Of Interest meets Highway To Heaven.  In the finale, these plotlines led to a Japanese tsunami survivor being reunited with the family sword that had been washed up on a beach on the other side of the world, and to a Jamaican singer estranged from his transsexual sibling in Los Angeles.

The majority of the 2 hours, though, dealt with the serialized part of the story.  Some changes in Touch over the past several months are clear.  Danny Glover’s character Arthur Teller, a scientist who, when last seen, had some special knowledge of Jake’s inscrutable condition, has been killed off.  (This leaves the series astoundingly underpopulated, with the only regular characters being Martin, Jake and sympathetic children’s counselor Clea, played by Gugu Mbutha-Raw.)  Martin no longer works at Kennedy Airport–to the extent he’s supposed to have a job, he seems to have gone back to his old profession of reporter.

Other plotlines were sketchier in the finale.  A mysterious all-powerful corporation is after Jake and his powers.  (Isn’t there always one of those?  It would be amusing if FOX allowed a crossover and named the evil company Massive Dynamics.)  A girl named Amelia who had a similar fixation with numbers, and who was also a patient of Dr. Teller, was assumed dead but has turned out not to be–her mother (guest star Maria Bello) is searching for her, and her path crossed with Martin’s and Jake’s at the conclusion of the season finale (since Bello survived her own series disaster this season, presumably she’s available for further episodes next year).  There’s some significance to a dodecahedrom (that’s a 12-sided figure) and weather patterns.  A group of Chassidic Jews seem to think Jake and Amelia are among a group of Chosen Ones, foretold 4000 years ago.

Touch remains a show with uncertain appeal.  The we-are-all-connected-by-numbers storylines tend to be sentimental to the point of hokiness, and there is no bigger cliche in fantasy thrillerdom than the evil corporation that wants to experiment on the innocent youngster who has special powers and use those powers for nefarious purposes.  (Among other places, it was an integral part of Heroes.)  Sutherland, while a strong leading actor, just isn’t an Everyman–there’s a scene in the finale where a Corporation agent takes his gun away and sneers “You’re not the kind of man who shoots people,” and you feel like yelling at the screen “Of course you are!  You’re Jack Bauer!”  Since by definition Jake can’t be a very expressive character, that leaves the show with a void where its protagonists should be.

The Touch finale left Martin, Jake and Amelia’s mother on the Santa Monica Pier–as Martin said, “as far west as you can go.”  (Well, unless you take a plane or a boat–but let’s give him that one.)  The show, too, with its Friday 8PM berth, is taking residence in the network’s last outpost of civilization.  If it can’t figure out a way to bring in a larger audience quickly, it’s hard to imagine a miraculous ratings number that can save it for very long.

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."