Fox’s ‘Touch’: Extremely clouded and incredibly lachrymose

March 21, 2012

“Touch,” a super-serious new Fox drama starring “24’s” Kiefer Sutherland as the father of a numbers-obsessed son, is suited to people who aren’t sure what to believe. Maybe there’s a God, but maybe the universe’s secrets rest in the magic of math — the curve of the nautilus equals the spin of the galaxies, and all that.

The show goes in for intelligent design without name-checking the designer. A former reporter named Martin Bohm (Sutherland) must translate his mute son Jake’s cryptic arrangement of digits and use the information to redeem lives or prevent tragedies. The narrative rests in eerie coinkydinks that congeal into quasi-spiritual mood lighting.

“Touch,” which officially premieres Thursday night (the first episode aired in January as an appetizer) is handsomely made hokum that borrows knowingly from many sources, including, but not limited to, “A Beautiful Mind,” “Babel,” “Minority Report,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and even “Early Edition,” that show from years back where a guy got the newspaper a day ahead of everyone else and was therefore able to cancel out bad news before it happened.

In some parts, “Touch” is pleasantly moving and even tightly woven, until it becomes too blunt in its purposeful yanking of heartstrings. Whatever message it wants to convey is clouded by tears.

As Jake Bohm, 11-year-old David Mazouz is spookily intense but mostly in the manner of Hollywood’s usual clairvoyant kids. He can’t speak and violently recoils from any human touch. To lay it on a tad more thick, we learn that Jake’s mother died in the World Trade Center attack, which is meant to lend topical symmetry to “Touch’s” primary fixation — that we are all connected through random equations — but winds up seeming like a gratuitous 9/11 reference.


Martin, played by Kiefer Sutherland, tries to connect with his son, Jake, played by David Mazouz. (Richard Foreman/Fox)

Sutherland’s gruff, one-note intensity as an actor comported so well with Jack Bauer’s annual mad dash through code-red terror alerts, but it falls flat here, making it difficult to believe him as a father desperate to get through to his child. When Jake keeps escaping school to climb cellphone towers and doodle number sequences in his ever-
present notebook (Martin coaxes him down with the promise of a cardboard box full of discarded cellphones), a child-welfare agent, Clea (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), takes steps to remove Jake from Martin’s custody.

“Touch” is naturally focused on how Martin unravels the mystery of his son’s numerical language, all but skipping over the day-to-day struggles of raising a nonverbal child. Jake suffers from a sanitary and imaginary TV version of profound autism, meeting his own care-and-feeding needs; the only muss and fuss comes with having to solve the puzzle that Jake has assembled this episode. It’s almost like watching Lassie bark out a Timmy alert. For all its elegant styling and brotherhood-of-man undertones, “Touch” is just one more show in which someone with special abilities solves crime and puts out the fires.

Touch

(one hour) airs Thursday at 9 p.m. on Fox.

Hank Stuever has been The Post's TV critic since 2009. He joined the paper in 1999 as a writer for the Style section, where he has covered an array of popular (and unpopular) culture across the nation.
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