TOUCH 1.1: Pilot

Tim Kring, creator of the flash-in-the-pan phenomenon HEROES, is back with a new show about a kid who appears to exhibit extraordinary powers, and a father who just wants to connect with that son.

I didn’t know what to expect from TOUCH because the marketing campaign was so weak and muddled, but the ads depicted Kiefer Sutherland running and shouting a lot, so how far off the rails could it go? But it also looked like it was supposed to be real family story with emotion. And it has a Danny Glover cameo!

Martin Bohm (Sutherland) is a 9/11 widower who has an autistic son named Jacob (David Mazouz), who has never spoken a word in his life and doesn’t let anyone – including his father – touch him. He loves to disassemble cell phones and write numbers endlessly in notebooks. Then Jake becomes fixted on the numbers 3 and 18. He climbs cell phone towers at exactly 3:18 every day, scribbles 318 in his books and spots the number on school buses and in addresses. Clea (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is with child protective services and takes Jake away from his seemingly neglectful father. But even she begins to notice his faculty for numbers.

Meanwhile, kitchen-supplies salesman Simon (David de Lautour) has lost his cell phone containing photos of his late daughter. Baggage-handler Martin finds it but accidentally puts it on a plane to Ireland. In Ireland, cell-phone customer service rep Kayla (Karen Shenaz David) dreams of being a singer. A co-worker records her performance on Simon’s cell phone (which he somehow found) and then stuffs it into the luggage of a businessman bound for Tokyo. There, escort Izumi (Satomi Okuna; ex-Young Kimiko, HEROES ) mistakes Kayla for a star and has her performance projected on the Jumbotron at Shibuya Crossing.

And we haven’t even considered Reed (Titus Welliver), the retired fireman with anger and guilt issues – he failed to rescue Martin’s wife from the Twin Towers – who has been playing the same lottery numbers for 10 years. Or Iraqi kid Abdul (Shak Ghacha), who finds himself an unwilling suicide bomber because his family bakery needs money to buy a new oven. Martin and Claire become convinced that Jake’s numbers are guiding him to something important at NYC’s Grand Central Terminal at 3:18 p.m. on March 18. But what?

Whew, it was almost as exhausting to watch as it was to recap all that. What’s worse, it seemed like a very long way to go (all the way around the world!) for very little payoff. The whole 3-18 debacle at Grand Central proved to be nothing, really. Was it absolutely necessary for Martin, specifically, to provide the distraction that made Reed miss his train? Maybe he would have missed it for some other reason… after all, he was “meant” to save those kids, right?

The show hinges on seemingly random events like that; connections and “coincidences” that were somehow meant to be. But the plot gymnastics that the characters go through undercut this message. The idea that we are all “connected” to the people we are “destined” to meet does not justify having a suicide bomber answer the ringing cell phone that’s powering his explosive vest!

But TOUCH relies tremendously on people doing odd things in order to make the plot work. To wit: If Niles wanted to make Kayla a star, why not post her video on YouTube instead of hiding it in the luggage of a stranger? Why to the girls decide to start a fan club for Kayla and convince their pal to display the video and photos on the Jumbotron?

Kring has also ported over several of the tropes he loved to a fault in HEROES: The huge cast, the sappy voice-over narration and disjointed storytelling that takes a long time to meld plotlines. At least Jacob’s narration was interesting, since he was ruminating about patterns in the universe rather than lamenting what a piece of work is man. The story about the Chinese gods and the red string that connects people to everyone they’re ever going to meet was interesting and pertinent to the story.

Sutherland went to great lengths to distinguish Martin from 24’s Jack Bauer — including letting Reed take him down with one punch, and then getting beaten in the Grand Central fight. But Sutherland still does a lot of desperate running, and he’s playing a character trying to solve a big mystery with (perhaps) global implications. And he’s still (essentially) a lone voice crying in the wilderness, so there’s still a lot of Jack in this character.

It’s hard to tell where the series goes from here, because I’m not really sure what I saw here at the beginning. I don’t know how Jacob does the things he does — if he actually does anything, which is far from clear. Glover’s Dr. Teller babbled about Jake being able to see the unseen forces that bind us all, and the invisible patterns that are everywhere around us. Can Jake use this ability to make phones ring? Does he come up with phone numbers by writing endless strings of numerals in his book – making it like that idea that an infinite number of monkeys typing on infinite typewriters will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare? But if Jacob keeps writing until he gets lucky and scribbles a working phone number, how does he identify it among all his other scribbles and pick it out as, say, Clea’s mother’s home number? This character reminds me more than a little of Gary from ALPHAS – the autistic youth who can “see” and manipulate wireless communications.

Even though TOUCH was supposed to be a… er, touching program, I was strangely unmoved. I think the global scope of the plot helped to distance me from, the characters. I will try to remember to watch when the series kicks off for reals in March, but I’m not sure I’d go to Tokyo or Ireland to make sure I don’t miss it.

But, then again, I do want to know what’s up with all the orange soda. I’ve never seen so many TV characters with bottles of orange soda…

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3 thoughts on “TOUCH 1.1: Pilot

  1. Ah! You used logic to squeeze all the fun out of the plot! I actually enjoyed the idea of a smartphone bouncing around the globe being used in different ways by different people. Sure, Niles could’ve posted it to YouTube, and sending a phone around the world is an incredibly ineffective way to make someone famous, but it’s a sci-fi show about an autistic kid who can see mad interconnections in the world and (kind of) predict the future.

    So in that way, I think its fine to suspend disbelief in the small stuff as long as the overall story remains coherent. Which is something Kring struggled with in Heroes…

    And yes, wasn’t that orange soda thing a huge missed opportunity for a Fanta sponsorship?

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    • You have a point. If I’m going to watch this series, it looks I’ll have to forget about the details and just go with it. The thing is, I was very carefully watching the details in case this turned out to be another LOST — y’know, where everything means something, but not everything means something important. I guess I got caught up in that part.

      And yeah, Fanta and other brands (Is Orange Crush still around?) really missed the boat. It’s a symptom of the state of TV that when I saw the labels carefully turned away from the camera I knew they hadn’t gotten a product placement deal. But that was just a pilot. Perhaps no one wanted to commit unless it went to series? Jake and Marty might be guzzling Fanta when the show comes back in March.

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Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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