Friday, 27 January 2012

Review: TOUCH, 1.1 – "Pilot"

Friday, 27 January 2012

Fox's new sci-fi drama magpies things from many nests; most notably its creator Tim Kring's own cancelled series Heroes, the interconnected narrative of the movie Babel, and elements familiar from Knowing. Touch concerns NYC luggage handler Martin Brohm (Kiefer Sutherland), a former journalist who lost his wife in the 9/11 tragedy, meaning he's had to raise their mute/autistic son Jake (David Mazouz) by himself. As is fictional tradition, Jake's neural disorder is really just the side effect of an incredible gift: he's able to see and cleverly predict the ebb and flow of life's design. And as we discover over the course of this pilot, that means Jake is basically a superior, human version of the supercomputer from Person Of Interest—able to divine the future, which in turn allows his father to use that foresight to help strangers.

This was a very decent pilot, although it didn't really offer anything unique. Kring appears to be a writer who, intentionally or not, recycles ideas that have been done many times before and merely gives them a little twist and shake of his own. There wasn't much that didn't remind me of something else I've seen or read, with similar premises or intentions, but it was a good redoing of those ideas with good performances driving it along.

Kring's essentially chosen one "super power" he might have explored on Heroes, and used it as the basis for an entire show. To be fair, it's a good foundation for a continuing drama, as it will undoubtedly be fun seeing each episode's disparate stories come together in satisfying, emotional, conclusive ways. The main reason you're left with positive feelings about Touch is how the storylines gradually knitted together here; some in surprisingly emotional ways, others less so. It helps that Sutherland treats everything so seriously, although I'm concerned about his casting as a loving father because, frankly, while he's brilliant at looking committed and passionate about his son's welfare, he looks awkward and unnatural doing scenes calling for genuine tenderness. Maybe so many years spent playing Jack Bauer has hardened him too much, but I suspect Sutherland just isn't a cuddly kind of guy, and copes much better when asked to look frantic, concerned, anxious, scared, angry or confused.

Looking ahead, you have to wonder if Touch will keep audiences hooked, because it feels like it's going to be very episodic and, obviously, extremely dependent on formula. Or maybe a few characters/plots will be weaved through multiple episodes, leading to a big finale? Time will tell. Unfortunately, Kring brings baggage with him from his days showrunning Heroes; a show that started brilliantly, flagged two-thirds through its freshman season, ended on a disappointing finale, and then proceeded to shed its audiences year on year until a fourth season cancellation. Has he learned lessons about how to develop a show over the course of many episodes and seasons? I sure hope so. Maybe that's why Touch has a far smaller regular cast than Heroes' ensemble—with the only support coming from social worker Clea (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and child psychologist Professor DeWitt (Danny Glover)—although he can still indulge his global interests on an episodic level. I just hope any international ambitions Kring has for this show are carefully thought through, because his track record with handling a complex with multiple characters isn't very good.

In terms of production, this pilot was nicely directed by Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend) and resembled a fairly expensive TV Movie. It looked great and the various storylines set around the world felt believably staged, from Ireland to Japan and Baghdad. Considering the unusual broadcast schedule of Touch (this pilot has "previewed" a few months before the show truly starts in March), part of me wonders if audiences will spend weeks desperate to see the next episode, or if they'll just be puzzled it's not on next week and suspect it was indeed a TV Movie! This gap between pilot and full season is something Fox had great success with when Glee debuted three years ago, but that previewed during the quiet summer and it was a clever idea to build hype before kids went back to school. I'm not sure what the thinking is here, because I don't imagine word-of-mouth is going to be particularly strong until March. It was a good pilot that showed potential as an ongoing series, but you need to see more before deciding if this is something to get your friends watching.

Overall, Sutherland's big return to television after a decade chasing terrorist is far from a disappointment, and what it lacks in originality it makes up for with style and heart-string pulling. I'll be watching more, most definitely, but the pitfalls are obvious and I'm not confident Kring can avoid them given how he presided over the unnecessary demise of a phenomenon like Heroes. Maybe with its more intimate cast, together with a disciplined format, Touch will allow Kring to flourish by crafting weekly dramas that don't lose sight of the plot.


  • You may recognise British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw from JJ Abrams' spy show misfire Undercovers and the infamously terrible Bonekickers. Let's hope she's picked a better project here. You may also have noticed Titus Welliver here, from Lost and The Good Wife.
  • Amusing to see that Kring still loves pretentious voice-overs, with David Mazouz narrating the series despite his character being mute. Other hallmarks familiar to fans of Heroes included a Japanese setting (including a Hiro-esque cubicle office), a mention of a character called "Ando", and the general idea of unconnected people from around the world coming together in strange ways. I wonder if Touch takes place in the Heroes universe, too... maybe Mohinder will find Jake in season 2?
written by Tim Kring / directed by Francis Lawrence / 25 January 2012 / Fox