Touch episode 1 ‘Pilot’ review

Heroes creator Tim Kring and 24’s Kiefer Sutherland join forces for new supernatural drama Touch, showing March 13 on Sky 1 and Sky 1 HD.

Touch pilot review
Touch Kiefer Sutherland episode 1 pilot review
Kiefer Sutherland plays single father Martin Bohm

Season: 1 Episode: 1 Network: Fox
US Air Date: 25 January 2012
UK Air Date: 13 March 2012
Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, David Mazouz, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Danny Glover
Writer: Tim Kring
Director: Francis Lawrence

It’s telling that Kiefer Sutherland is an executive producer. After nine years pistol-whipping Arabs in 24, he seems keen to distance himself from that, take on an altogether more tender role, albeit one the spins around on the same axis. As if to make the point blatantly clear that they couldn’t be any further apart, Sutherland even gets duffed up in a gas station in the first 15 minutes.

Like Jack Bauer, Touch‘s Martin Bohm (Sutherland) is a very post-9/11 protagonists. A New Yorker who lost his wife in the World Trade Center, Bohm drops in and out of his various jobs, driven by the need to protect and provide for his son – an 11 year old high functioning autistic mute, who reacts to nothing around him, seemingly engrossed instead in numbers.

The numbers are a pattern, so says Predator 2‘s Danny Glover channelling Samuel L Jackson in Unbreakable, and the whole pilot indeed has a whiff of a less pretentious M Night Shyamalan about it.

Following the numbers, Bohm and two-dimensional care worker Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tish Jones in Doctor Who ‘The Last Of The Time Lords’) are sucked into a chain of events, the numbers that young Jack Bohm (David Mazouz) interprets allowing them to unknowingly manipulate circumstances with live-changing consequences.

Simultaneously to this a subplot unfolds like some sort of contrived Nokia advert, as a lost mobile phone works its way around the globe, embroiling a set of well-worn Fox stereotypes – the sort that frequently let down otherwise enjoyable episodes of Fringe – in an engrossing, if clumsy, demonstration of cause and effect.

There’s a woman from “Dublin, Ireland” with a natural talent for music and dream of becoming world renown singer/songwriter, a pervy Japanese businessman and Japanese prostitute looking for new musicians to set up fan clubs for, an emotionally unravelling English businessman that could be Jude Law were the budget up to it, and a reluctant suicide bomber in Bagdad – amazingly not “Bagdad, Iraq” – who has aspirations of being Chris Rock, because the whole world pines for American popular culture, even in the fertile crescent where civilisation itself was born.

Touch pilot episode review
The numbers are a pattern, will Touch beat Fringe in the cryptography stakes?

The two storylines have little to connect them, save a chance encounter between Bohm and one of the players in the opening few minutes, but so meticulously is it constructed that you keep waiting for something more profound to emerge and the final piece to link up this chain, and the nature of the show leads you to wonder how much of this will be revisited four episodes or four years down the line – is anything really throwaway and irrelevant in a show that makes the connection between all things its central tenent?

Touch is emotionally powerful stuff, a drama first and genre piece second – the cod-philosophy takes a nap in the backseat while the altogether more engaging material drives. Sutherland’s performance is typically gruff and resonant, his love for his son and the restrained sadness at being unable to reach him, physically and emotionally, is heart-wrenching. Between Touch, The Walking Dead, Terra Nova and Falling Skies, network television is looking like a weepy, unshaven Parents’ Evening.

There’s some clunky, exposition-laden dialogue, but that’s the pilot curse – networks won’t let you put a shoe on screen anymore without a bit of dialogue setting up its back story. What could have been avoided however is the blaring Hallmark music that seems to reach a crescendo every six minutes, as if we the audience were so emotionally deadened that we needed cues to feel, even in the sight of Kiefer Sutherland welling up over his dead wife’s grave.

A fantastic, thoughtful opening that makes the necessary concessions and slips in the necessary Fox touchstones – 9/11, Iraq, disenfranchised former servicemen, easily identifiable relationships – in order to get these powerful ideas into as many homes as possible.

And with 12.1 million tuning in for the pilot’s US debut, it clearly worked.