TV Review: FOX’s ‘Touch’ With Kiefer Sutherland Comes With Heavy Hand
CHICAGO – With elements of “Pay It Forward,” “The Number 23,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” classic inspirational TV fare like “Touched by an Angel,” and the later seasons of “Heroes,” FOX’s new drama, “Touch,” is an absolute mess. The special preview episode airing tonight, January 25th, 2012 (nearly two months in advance of its actual series premiere), feels like it’s actually trying to set a record for heavy-handed emotional manipulation. 9/11, a single father, child illness, suicide bombing, child death, a school bus crash — if a writer came to most showrunners and said they were going to cram all of these melodramatic devices into ONE EPISODE, they would be told to go back to the drawing board. Because the result would be a disaster like “Touch.”
Television Rating: 1.0/5.0
From “Heroes” creator/writer Tim Kring, “Touch” is another piece of fiction that suggests we are all tied together in some interconnected spiritual sense. It’s not unlike “The Butterfly Effect” meets “The Secret” in the sense that it is a show for which the foundation is built on the idea that the action you take today could influence someone else on the other side of the globe. Not only do your actions create ripples but there are select people who know those ripples are coming and can essentially guide them. They don’t intervene directly (that would be too easy) but they often push people in the right direction, causing someone to be delayed so they can be in the right place to save lives, for example.
Photo credit: FOX
One such “guide” is the mentally-challenged 11-year-old Jake (David Mazouz), a young man who hasn’t spoken a word in his life (although narrates the show in some of its most heavy-handed writing) but spends hours scribbling numbers in his notebooks and collecting broken cell phones. Jake has been committing small crimes, breaking into buildings and climbing towers, all at the same time — 3:18. What does it mean? Is it a date? Something else? Total nonsense?
Photo credit: FOX
Jake’s dad Martin (Kiefer Sutherland) naturally assumes that he’s merely dealing with a troubled child and not an interconnected life guide. In fact, he’s nearly ready to give up on raising the increasingly-difficult young man, something he’s been forced to do since his wife died in the attacks on 9/11 (which are used in such a manipulative manner that one must assume that no one involved with the show even knows what the word exploitation means much less considered the fact that they were doing it). His need for help brings social worker Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) into the picture at just the right moment to realize that Jake is more than just an average case.
After meeting an expert on the interconnection espoused by “Touch,” Arthur Teller (Danny Glover), Martin realizes that it’s his job to serve as the voice for Jake, the man who can decipher his seemingly-random actions for the betterment of mankind. The premiere also globe trots and introduces viewers to a man trying to get back a phone that contains pictures of his recently-deceased daughter, a man obsessed with playing the same lottery numbers every day, a young Middle Eastern man who is tempted to become a suicide bomber so his family can get an oven, and an Irish singer hoping to break through and unexpectedly becoming popular on the other side of the globe. They will all be intertwined in a story that never ONCE feels genuine, believable, or emotionally honest.
There is manipulative melodrama and then there is “Touch,” which makes me question every time I’ve used the phrase before. It’s one thing to take a fantasy show like “Heroes” and tug at the heartstrings under the guise of what was essentially comic book fiction come to life. But “Touch” wants to be something much deeper and, therefore, feels far more disgusting in its exploitation. I’m not OK with suicide bombing being used for “Highway to Heaven” TV melodrama, much less what happened on 9/11. “Touch” takes serious subjects like emotionally damaged children, victims of 9/11, and teenagers willing to take lives to help their families, and turns it into weekday entertainment. Ewww.
The concept of “Touch” is not inherently flawed. We’d all like to believe we’re interconnected more than we might first think and I’ve often loved fiction built around this idea (most of Paul Auster’s books center on the theme and he’s one of my favorite authors). It’s the execution of “Touch” that makes it so offensively bad. This is not a touch — it’s a slap, a punch, a kick to the concept of good taste.