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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Touched by Touch

     FOX presented a very special preview episode of Touch last night, two months before it officially joins the network lineup. In the "Pilot," widower Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland, 24) is working a low paying job, struggling to make ends meet, while caring for his autistic son, Jake (David Mazouz, Amish Grace), who, by the way, doesn't talk, nor allow even his father to touch him. When Jake repeatedly runs away from his school to climb a cell tower, social worker Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Undercovers, Doctor Who) shows up to remove Jake, at least temporarily, from the home. But soon both Martin and Clea are drawn in by the mystery of Jake's numbers, which leads to some remarkable connections. Martin follows those, and when his actions result in kids' lives being saved, he becomes a true believer.

     "A believer of what?" you might ask. Well, that's complicated. Basically, the theory set forth in Touch, and explained to Martin by the series's mysterious fourth main character, Arthur DeWitt (Danny Glover, Lethal Weapon, Brothers & Sisters), is that everything in the world is connected. Not only that, Jake is part of the next stage of human evolution. Jake can see all of these connections, and it allows him to understand what is going to happen. It's not predicting the future, but rather, having a clearer understanding of how the world works. Unfortunately, being mute is a side effect that prevents Jake from acting on this knowledge, so Martin must pick up on the clues and do the hard work for his son.

     While, in terms of realism, Touch stretches things just a bit, the emotional impact of this show cannot be overstated. Sutherland is fantastic as Martin, and other than at the beginning of the episode when Martin is informed that Jake has left the school, and dad gets upset, there are few echoes of Jack Bauer. For instance, Jack Bauer would never be afraid of heights! Viewers will really feel the affection Martin that has for his son, as well as his frustration at not being able to connect with him. Add to that, Martin's wife died on September 11th, and the whole nation will remember and feel his pain. Martin is in a nearly impossible situation, and the way in which he deals with his life is nothing short of heroic. Being given this purpose, as difficult as it may pan out to be, is kind of like a reward for all of the suffering Martin has been through, tangible proof that his efforts have paid off.

     In "Pilot," things get personal for Martin when Jake's numbers keep leading dad to run into a grumpy man (Titus Welliver, The Good Wife, Lost, Sons of Anarchy). At first, this strange guy seems to be an antagonist. But soon enough Martin learns he is a firefighter, and one who not only tried to save Martin's wife's life on that fateful day, but also pulls children from a bus. He is a hero, too, and Martin's actions lead to the latter outcome. It personalizes the mission in a way that future episodes likely won't often be able to, making for a hell of a "Pilot."

     It's wonderful that Clea gets on board with Martin so easily. Many shows would stretch out this friction to make drama, keeping Martin fighting with her. But in finding an ally for him and his son, Martin's job gets a little easier. And Martin has suffered enough, he doesn't need any further problems. Look for Clea to get more personally involved soon, cementing her role in Touch.

     There are other things going on in the "Pilot," though, that don't seem to have a lot of connection to the main plot, other than the central role of cell phones. A woman trying to make it as a singer sends videos of herself out on cell phones, aided by a friend. The video gets onto a father's, which he loses, and it also has pictures of his young, deceased daughter. The father desperately tries to get his phone back, and it ends up on a suicide bomber in the Middle East. Luckily, the bomber just needs an oven for his family, the father is a restaurant supplier, and they end up both connected to an operator, who happens to be the singer, during a crucial moment. How this connects to Jake and Martin is circumspect, but it's an inspiring, uplifting tale.

     In all, Touch really hooks viewers in with one of, if not the, the best pilots of the season, even with the few leaps people will have to make to enjoy it. The biggest worry here is that it is from Tim Kring, who also created the ill-fated Heroes. Fans of Heroes will remember how awesome the beginning of that show was, before devolving into something not worth watching, and getting canceled at the end of season four without resolution to a cliffhanger. Thus, watching Touch is recommend with some reservation, given that if Kring goes down the same path, an emotional investment might hurt quite a bit.

     Touch will return in March to FOX.

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