“Patterns are hidden in plain sight. You just have to know where to look.”
You don’t have to be into numbers to enjoy Touch, but it certainly helps. Numerology deals with the mystical or divine meaning behind certain numbers. Detractors believe that people who place too much faith in such things will foolishly find significance in just about anything. Similarly, cynical TV viewers will scoff at some of the coincidences and connections in this Fox drama. Either way, it looks like your high school math teacher was right: you WILL be using some of this stuff as an adult.
Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland) is a single father whose wife died in the 9/11 attacks. (Though it’s a plot point, the show never comes close to exploiting the real-life tragedy.) He struggles to connect with his emotionally-challenged, 11-year-old son Jake (David Mazouz), who has never spoken a word and doesn’t like to be touched. When Martin discovers that Jake has the extraordinary ability to see hidden mathematical patterns everywhere, he soon realizes these patterns have the potential to connect various lives across the world.
Unfortunately, this sounds like complete nonsense to the majority of the people Martin encounters. After repeated escapes from his school, Jake is placed in a board-and-care facility headed by a hostile director (Roxanna Brusso) who does not believe Martin is fit to raise his son. Martin finds allies in Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the friendly social worker who was assigned to Jake’s case, and Arthur Teller (Danny Glover), a professor who previously worked with children who possessed Jake’s ability.
As Martin receives different numbers from Jake each episode and proceeds to track down their significance, Touch plays out like a cross between Numb3rs and Early Edition. Martin’s do-gooder deeds range from providing companionship for a suicidal cancer patient to reuniting long-lost siblings. Each episode also features globe-trotting side stories — one even took place in outer space — that are eventually connected by those same numbers.
Creator Tim Kring (Heroes) revisits many of the themes from his previous hit. (Minus the superpowers, of course.) Like Heroes, Touch operates on a global level — hope you don’t mind subtitles — and examines the seemingly random connections people unwittingly forge across the world.
This is Sutherland’s first major TV role since 24 went off the air, and the actor still hasn’t shaken his iconic Jack Bauer character. (Then again, this review is being written by someone who obsessively watched every episode of 24, so there’s a chance I simply want Sutherland to always be Jack Bauer.) When Martin unleashed two “Damn it”s within the first 10 minutes of the pilot, I thought it was a sly nod to us 24 fans. Turns out Sutherland is somewhat miscast as a well-meaning everyman. He works hard at convincing us he’s an average dad desperate to connect with his son, but he’s most believable when Martin is exasperated and Sutherland unleashes his signature curse word. Martin is a former reporter, which accounts for his resourcefulness, but it’s weird seeing Sutherland lose so many fights.
Mazouz — who is actually heard in voiceover at the beginning and end of each episode — has a tricky role. We can’t really connect with him (just like Martin can’t), but we have to care enough about him that we root for his father to go on these outlandish adventures. The young actor’s expressive face does the job. Mbatha-Raw is lovely and her character possesses all the empathy Jake lacks, but Clea is simply not that interesting. At least her softness is a pleasing counterpoint to Sutherland’s gruffness.
Meanwhile, Glover is thoroughly overqualified as the show’s exposition-bot who guides Martin on his journey. When Martin wonders, “So that’s it? From here on in my life is gonna be running down random numbers for Jake?” it’s Arthur who informs him that Jake actually feels other people’s pain when he looks at certain patterns. The upside is that when Arthur is no longer on screen, you still feel Glover’s presence as an actor.
The show’s strength lies in the way it blends its high concept with a loosely procedural formula. Every episode is the same in that Martin tracks down a different number and meets a new stranger, but the show exercises the right to bring back any of those characters at any time. (The two-part season finale was an unofficial reunion episode.) These guests included Titus Welliver (as a man with a connection to Martin’s wife) and Maria Bello (as a woman in a similar predicament to Martin). The storylines are generally engaging and cleverly (if predictably) tied together by the end of each episode.
As the season progresses, the show introduces a shadowy corporation that wants to use Jake’s gift for its own (we assume) nefarious means. This aspect of the show came off as a bit generic and half-baked, but I get the sense the writers are saving some of that development for season 2.
Touch does a really good job of mixing science and spirituality while giving equal weight to both.
Touch – The Complete First Season is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. I’ve been pretty tough on recent DVD/standard definition releases of shows that look great during their HD broadcasts. On the other hand, I’ve had glowing things to say about the video quality of recent Fox Blu-ray titles. In this instance, the Fox brand wins out.
Touch looks better than any series I’ve reviewed on DVD. There are a lot of close-ups — not just actors, but of objects Jake examines — and the detail and texture holds up quite well to scrutiny. This is a stylishly-shot series with a vivid, ever-changing color palette that’s meant to make Los Angeles look like different parts of the world. The color comes through very well, though I can’t help but wish for that high definition pop. Overall, this is a strong video presentation.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track is quite dynamic, immersing us in the various city and rural settings of each episode by utilizing all the speakers. The rears are also used to pump out the show’s lilting musical score. The dialogue comes through nice and loud, but it could’ve been a little clearer. That goes for the track as a whole.
Fate’s Equation: (8:42) This behind-the-scenes doc has the cast and crew talking about the show’s themes, with Kring tidily summarizing the premise that “our lives are not isolated. What we do affects other people.”
Touch the World: (3:47) Focuses on how Kring and pilot director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) established the show’s international flavor. Touch may have a worldwide scope, but it seeks to tell intimate stories.
Extended Pilot Episode: (50:16) Each episode clocks in at around 44 minutes, so the extended version of “Tales of the Red Thread” tacks on about six minutes of material.
Deleted Scenes: (15:06) Some of that material can be found here. There are 12 deleted scenes across the three discs in this set, most of which are extended or alternate cuts of existing material.
The second season of Touch was supposed to premiere this month, but was recently pushed to midseason. That’s bad news for fans of the show, but it’s great news if you picked this set up intending to catch up before it returns.
Kring’s previous show famously fell apart after a sterling first season. Though Touch shares some qualities with Heroes, I have higher hopes for a solid sophomore season. For one thing, the show is only a modest hit and won’t get crushed by expectations. Touch also has the advantage of being carried by the capable shoulders of Kiefer Sutherland.
In a TV landscape littered with morally-ambiguous cops, cynical lawyers and sexy doctors, Touch is an appealing, optimistic, family-friendly primetime option.