It is with great sadness that I have to report a negative review of a new series on FOX which stars one of my favorite television actors, Kiefer Sutherland, who was the star of one of my most beloved television series of all time, 24. Yes, Sutherland’s new series, Touch, does not hold a candle to the suspense and addiction that 24 provided viewers for eight seasons, because it simply is not that compelling a show to begin with. I can hear the detractors now saying I need to bide my time, let the show develop, let its plot flesh out to comprehensibility, but I completely object! A pilot episode should at least give us a sense of purpose and provide viewers with some direction as to where the show is heading. Touch is simply a sappy post-9/11 drama series that attempts on multiple occasions to pull heartstrings, but you are more likely be tortured by its blatant manipulation. After the jump, I will delve into why Touch may be one of the most disappointing premieres in quite some time.
Touch is a series revolving around a mute boy whose mother died in one of the Twin Towers during the September 11th attacks. Her widower, played with overarching emotional reach by Sutherland, tries to understand and take care of his son but to little avail. In fact, I cannot remember a father with so much patience and understanding for a kid who refuses to speak, much less communicate altogether. The son, Jake, is constantly breaking rules and endangering himself. The pilot begins with school authorities phoning Sutherland’s character, Martin Bohm, that his son has once again climbed to the top of the phone tower. Authorities politely warn Bohm that they have no choice but to call child services in regards to Jake’s behavior, suggesting Bohm is an unfit parent. Instead of protesting, Martin nods in silent understanding, giving up all hope of a way to ever be able to communicate with his son or change his behavior that befits an unstable mind, not a carefree child. In a prologue narration of Jake speaking, he goes on a monologue about how the world is completely interconnected like numbers in an algorithm. These numbers, used literally in the plot, connect one individual’s fate to another. Although it’s never mentioned, Jake’s heightened awareness of the connectivity between individuals is what allows him to see the future.
The plot of the show is overly-confusing, and is pretentious in believing it’s a show with some great purpose by showing us a deeply profound way that humans can connect. The sense of emotional gravitas resonates because of the 9/11 back-story, but I could not get emotionally invested in this show even if I tried. I do better with shows that show rather than tell, that do not have to rely on sappy music or poetic narration to get an emotional rise out of me. More so than being a semi-supernatural/human drama series, this show wants to also portray itself as a future Crash and Babel. I just would like to start off by saying this: I am a huge fan of both Crash and Babel. Call them over-the-top, convoluted, and manipulative, but I bought into them hook, line, and sinker. I love stories where the character’s lives interconnect, strung along by one overarching theme that ties everyone’s destines together. It’s all about execution, which Paul Haggis and Alejandro González Iñárritu were able to do effortlessly. These filmmakers were able to make their characters compelling and real enough for the audience to invest interest, and when character’s sub-plots collided, you felt as if the pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together. Emotion was escalated for the viewer and the sense of an overarching purpose and theme were clearly understood from the director. This is the opposite of Touch. The separate stories are absent of emotion, so that when they do cross one another it feels rushed and disingenuous. In the last five minutes, the show tries to wrap things up nice and neat so that viewers at home can have that “aha” moment of seeing the characters across the globe interact with one another due to the events set in motion by Jake. Touch even takes two young girls from Tokyo as one of the links that connect each character together, seemingly ripping off a sub-plot location in Iñárritu’s Babel. One other character’s story is set in Baghdad, where the pressures of terrorism and poverty threaten to boil over into chaos.
The show deals a heavy hand in trying to make the story more important by extending it across the globe, but it just seems like an amateur cliche of a plot device. Everything you see in Touch is something you have seen in other films, whether it be The Sixth Sense, Babel, Crash, and even Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The frustration is that the show has this aura of entitlement that it believes itself to be so original and emotionally powerful that it presumes we are invested in the plot and characters before diving deeply into them. Jake is more aggravating a character than interesting, Sutherland’s Martin is far too calm, collected, and believing than one should be about such extraordinary events that surround his child, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays a child services agent, is as dull as she is unbelievable in her role. The one good thing about the pilot was Danny Glover’s brief scene where he explains Jake’s prophetic powers and vision that sees the world as it really is. Uh oh, I think we have another plot device borrowed — The Matrix! Danny’s gruff and serious tone does add the tiniest twinge of importance, but his role is so small that it is almost insignificant if not for the fact that he may be the only character who can teach Martin ways to communicate with his mute son.
All in all, the show is a disaster. I do give points for production value and technical merit. Some of the scenes of the global locales like Tokyo, New York, and Baghdad are beautifully shot. The show also has one of the best television opening credits I have seen in awhile. It is very Tree of Life-like if I could best describe it, with imagery interconnecting with one another in a fast and digitized manner. As much as I wanted to like this show, Touch never intended to grab my attention. It basically asks us to be in an emotional state before we even watch the the first frame of the pilot episode. Events are given larger weight before we can even fully comprehend the plot or become acquainted with the characters, whom by the way have little-to-no depth. I wish I could report better news for everyone, but unlike Alcatraz, which gave us a clear sense of direction alongside intriguing characters, Touch loses touch with reality. If Touch wants to pull the wool over our eyes into believing its something more compelling and tear-jerking than it is, I’d suggest finding writers who can execute these types of intertwining stories with some credence of believability. There is a huge difference between suspending disbelief and feeling blatantly manipulated. Unfortunately, Touch falls into the latter camp. This may not be the worst show ever produced, but it is certainly one of the most disappointing considering Sutherland’s reputation. For a show whose title is all about connection, I find this series ironically detached in its delivery.