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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
(written by Tim Kring; directed by Francis Lawrence; TRT: 50:58)
The network's description: "TOUCH is a distinct and colorful drama in which science and spirituality intersect with the hopeful premise that we are all interconnected, tied in invisible ways to those whose lives we are destined to alter and impact. At the center of TOUCH is MARTIN BOHM (Kiefer Sutherland), a widower and single father, haunted by an inability to connect to his mute 11-year-old son, JAKE (David Mazouz). After multiple failed attempts at keeping Jake in school, Martin is visited by CLEA HOPKINS (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a social worker sent to evaluate Jake's well-being. Everything changes when Martin discovers that Jake possesses the gift of staggering genius - the ability to see things that no one else can and the patterns that connect seemingly unrelated events. Jake is indeed communicating. But it's not with words, it's with numbers. Martin meets ARTHUR DEWITT (Danny Glover), a professor and an expert on children who possess special gifts when it comes to numbers. Now, it's up to Martin to decipher the meaning and connect the numbers to the cast of characters whose lives they affect."
What did they leave out? The pilot runs about seven minutes over the standard hour-long premiere.
The plot in a nutshell: "Patterns - mathematical in design - are hidden in plain sight, you just have to know where to look," 10-year-old Jake Bohm (David Mazouz) explains in the opening narration over a collection of faces we'll come to know in the ensuing hour. "Only some of us can see how the pieces fit together, to make the connections for those who need to find each other, the one's whose lives need a touch." And with that we meet Jake's father, Martin (Kiefer Sutherland) - a former crusading journalist who has slowly been ground down by his wife's death during 9/11 and the increasing demands of Jake's care.
You see, Jake is what many would call autistic - always lost in his own world, never speaking and never wanting to be touched. His only means of communication comes in the form of the labyrinthine books he fills with endless strings of numbers. That and his new dangerous habit of climbing a nearby cell tower, always at the same time: 3:18 PM. Meanwhile, the lives of an assortment of strangers progress in a way that will unknowingly see all of them intersect: Simon (David de Lautour), an English businessman valiantly trying to find his lost cell phone; Abdul (Shak Ghacha), an Iraqi boy with dreams of being a comedian; Kayla (Karen David), an Irish singer trapped in a menial job; Miyoko (May Miyata), a mischievous Tokyo girl; and Randy (Titus Welliver), a distraught New Yorker who's become obsessed with playing a particular set of lotto numbers.
It's when Jake runs into Randy at a convenience store that said events are set in motion, events which Martin slowly starts to realize are actually related to Jake's numbers. Martin's quest then to understand his son's talents leads him to Arthur DeWitt (Danny Glover), a controversial professor who suggests Jake isn't autistic but rather the next step in human evolution, someone who sees the patterns in nature and can interpret them. Also along for the ride is Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a social worker who finds she can't deny Jake's abilities either. Together they'll have to go down the path Jake has laid out for them and unravel the connections ahead.
What works: It's a big, ambitious, swing for the fences type show - one that you'll likely either dismiss as pedantic psychobabble or embrace as a solemnly beautiful study of the human condition. I actually found myself alternating between camps as "Touch," just when it starts to get to you, pushes a little too far on the believability index for my tastes, even for an inherently high concept show. That being said, it's nice to see Sutherland play someone so open and vulnerable. The world broke his character's spirit a long time ago and his inability to connect with Jake is drowning what little is left. Watching Sutherland's Martin find a way to tread water again leads to some nice moments not to mention helps cover up some of the show's shaggier elements.
What doesn't: And shaggy is probably an understatement. All of the various B-stories - and ultimately the A story as a result - hinge on you buying into the nesting doll of coincidences that will eventually tip the scales of fate, most of which involve characters either doing ridiculous things or not acknowledging the pitfalls any rational human being would. It's a little hard to dissect them here (it's not neighborly to spoil stuff not seen in promos or the network's own description) but suffice it to say nary an act passes without a token "really???" moment. Not helping matters is the show unabashedly wraps itself in a blanket of philosophical gobbledygook which presumes itself immune to such lapses in judgment.
After all, what's an oversight here or a questionable decision there when "Touch" posits a world in which we're all connected via invisible strings of fate - it's supposed to be that way. Shows like this in general require a "big bet" of some sort, I just wish it had a few more chips to play with. Suggesting a world in which destiny binds us all is one thing but having its occupants comprised of fools is another. Ultimately, much like Wes Bentley's character watching a bag blowing in the wind in "American Beauty" (a scene which "Touch" inadvertently cribs at one point), you'll probably either be mesmerized by a thoughtful commentary on how we can see the world around us or be annoyed by some self-righteous dude yammering on about a piece of plastic.
The bottom line: I want to believe in "Touch," I just can't quite yet.