Apparently, all-knowing elderly black people (sorry, Morgan Freeman) have gone the way of wisecracking over-muscled cops (sorry, Arnold Schwarzenegger) and crazy bearded prospectors (sorry, Gabby Hayes). Hollywood’s favorite manufactured stereotype is now, officially, the super-powered autistic kid.
FOX jumps right on this bandwagon with its feel-good, scientific-mystical thingamajigger “Touch.” The hour-long drama—which aired its pilot in January and finally premieres on Thursday—stars Kiefer Sutherland as a single father struggling to raise a “special” kid. Jake isn’t special because he’s (probably) autistic and (definitely) mute. (Also, he freaks out if you touch him.) No, Jake’s special because he can see the future. Or the present. Or something.
See, scruffy-haired young Jake Bohm (David Mazouz) is obsessed with numbers. He sees them everywhere and scribbles them endlessly in his notebooks. Although he lacks the ability to communicate directly with anyone, dad Martin miraculously intuits that sonny boy has been given some sort of messianic gift to save the world. Each week, much like the computer on CBS’ “Person of Interest,” Jake spits out a number. The number relates to a bunch of different, seemingly unrelated things: A cell phone, an airline flight, a license plate. Over the course of each show, we get to meet a random assortment of people from all over the globe whose various stories would seem to have nothing in common. But as the brainy college professor played by Danny Glover sagely explains, “The world is made up of ratios and patterns.” (Huh. Apparently all the all-knowing elderly black people aren’t out of work.)
Somehow, as in Magnolia or Babel, these disparate stories really are connected. And only Jake knows how. So it’s up to Martin to race around and ... do stuff to stop terrorists, make people fall in love, help folks win the lottery, whatever. Sutherland gets a pretty good workout on this show. Sadly, though, he doesn’t get to jam a pen knife into anybody’s knee—which would really cut down on the schmaltz level here.
Show creator Tim Kring—the alternately inventive and slipshod man behind “Heroes”—does his best to drown audiences in sappy nonsense. Jake’s mom, for example, died on 9/11. Doesn’t that just make you double sad? Also, there’s a mean but well-meaning Department of Social Services woman trying to take Jake away every episode. Also, it turns out that everybody in the world—even Middle Eastern terrorists and Russian loan sharks—are really nice people.
So are Jake’s powers magical or mathematical? “Touch” takes us down the New Age route, lumping it all into the same “everything is connected” vibe as What The BLEEP Do We Know!? There are no coincidences, people—which is a pretty cheap way to throw just about any scrap of plot the writers have lying around their desks into the mix.
Honestly, the show is very well made and undeniably sincere. Those looking for feel-good drama outside the confines of CBS will certainly be happy. I just hope the rickety plotline doesn’t plunge down the same storytelling abyss that swallowed “Heroes.”