TV Review: Touch

daniel ferrer looks at the sneak premiere of the new Keifer Sutherland drama …

Wednesday saw the return of two television behemoths: the respected Kiefer Sutherland in his first major small-screen role since his iconic turn as Jack Bauer ended in 2010, and the substantially less-respected Tim Kring, who won our hearts with Heroes in 2006 before promptly eating them in front of us. His new show is Touch, and if you’re still feeling the sting from the second season of Heroes, you might want to sit this one out.

Touch is about a “emotionally challenged” child who sees the mathematical patterns in the universe and his hopelessly disconnected father who tries to make sense of it all. Technically, those are just characters. I have absolutely no idea what the show is actually about, and I don’t think Tim Kring does either. What’s clear is that this joins Pi, Knowing, and countless others in the occasionally entertaining “everything is connected” genre. How exactly is everything connected? Numbers, of course. That and the fact that everyone in the ensemble cast has an affinity for orange soda.

Photo: Brian Bowen Smith/FOX

I wouldn’t call Touch a science-fiction show as much as I would a fantasy show (a sciencey fiction, if you will). Kring seems to be in love with the mysticism behind the idea that numbers control the universe, but not half as interested in any of the actual science that exists to support the theory. Instead, he supports it by choosing a few numbers and inserting them into different points in the story along with a couple bottles of orange soda. The result is kind of like listening your stoned freshman roommate ruminate about like, stuff, man. The show is so satisfied with the idea it’s completely blowing your mind that it doesn’t take the time to listen to you explain that there’s nothing remarkable about the popularity of orange soda. There’s an excuse for this, I suppose, since today’s general audience doesn’t have the patience for slow-burning hard sci-fi, but the Kring doesn’t seem willing to admit that he’s taking the low road.

The real thrill is watching Kiefer Sutherland return to television with his talent in mint condition. I only wish it could have been for a more satisfying show. Kiefer Sutherland is a damn good character actor, and character actors have one of two options: they can go to the movies, where they get to flex their versatility but have to accept the title of “that guy,” or they can make their home at the small screen, where they get the recognition they deserve but find themselves chained to same role even after the show’s expired. Kiefer was fortunate enough to get a taste of both worlds, but I can’t shake the feeling that Jack Bauer has forced him into a corner where he gets to play “the other Bruce Willis.” I’m happy that Martin Bohm isn’t an ass-kicking defender of the Patriot Act and even happier with the emotion Kiefer brings to an emotionally sterile show, but ever since watching Dark City I’ve been dying to see him step away from the conflicted father role and give us something truly unexpected.

Touch takes a massive scope, stuffs it with a fistful of existential minutiae, and pats itself on the back before the job’s done. At the very least, there’s something superficially entertaining about watching a cellphone swap hands from New York to Baghdad, but once the episode cuts to black, it becomes apparent that there’s no real purpose beyond the impressive façade.

Also, is too much to ask for screenwriters to step away from the “super-powered autistic child” trope? If you’re going to use an overwrought and saccharine portrayal of mental illness, maybe stick with “they’re just like us” instead of “they’re warlocks!”

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