Though not yet the ratings juggernaut 24 was, Touch, the latest pairing of Kiefer Sutherland and the Fox network, looks to be a success. The drama, which airs on Mondays at 9 p.m. Eastern, stars Sutherland as the father of a mute autistic boy whose numerical obsessions are actually formulas for guiding suffering people into contact with those who can help them. It premiered on March 19 and maintained strong enough viewership in its second outing that the ratings tracking website TVbytheNumbers.com predicts Fox is likely to renew the show for the fall season.
The irony of Touch's setup is that while 11-year-old Jake (David Mazouz) has a supernatural ability to make sense of global-scale patterns and identify individuals who need to connect, no one in his world is able to connect with him. Physically and emotionally he is like a box his father is desperate to unlock before his erratic behavior forces a well-meaning social worker (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to place him in state care. When Martin meets a retired, seemingly crackpot therapist (Danny Glover) who has made a study of number fixation, he thinks he may finally have found the key to reaching Jake.
While creator Tim Kring clearly believes the puzzle of Jake's ability and what disasters it may avert will be the primary element keeping audiences tuning in, the most interesting thing about the show is its premise of interconnectedness. Each episode begins with Jake (in the only occasions we hear him speak) narrating some pattern of nature and relating it to humankind. For example, in the second episode he describes how fire ants survive floods by grasping on to one another to stay afloat and compares it to the way people survive emotional pain. To overcome grief, fear, anger, and disappointment, we need to cling to another for strength. In other words, we must bear one another's burdens.
It's a nice sentiment in our increasingly digital world where it's so much easier to post a Facebook message of sympathy than to offer an actual shoulder to cry on. And if the international storylines that underscore this point pull a little too-overtly on the heartstrings now and then, or if the earnestness of the show's we-are-the-world ethos causes an eye-roll or two, the acting, pacing, and production values are impressive enough, such flaws are easy to overlook. This is especially true given that, so far, Touch is one of few new dramas that contain little you wouldn't mind watching with your grandmother. No overt sex, mild fist-fighting-variety violence, and infrequent bad language.
Unfortunately, something that won't turn up in a ratings chart is the way the show sometimes relies on new-agey dialogue like, "the whole cosmic wheel of humanity comes down to just electromagnetic energy and connections," to explain its conceit. Mostly it seems like unnecessary mumbo jumbo included to gin up the sci-fi angle rather than a real attempt to present a counterfeit philosophy. But some Christian viewers might prefer to avoid it while others will accept the notion that a grand creative intelligence is directing everyone's paths on their own terms.
From a purely workmanship point of view, Touch lacks the depth and assurance the best shows in the big-picture mystery genre (like Lost and, for that matter, the early seasons of 24) boast. Instead, more like NBC's Heroes, which was also created by Kring, there's a sense that while what we're watching on-screen is engaging enough, the people in charge of the story aren't sure where they're going. And that feeling-that behind the scenes there's a lot of scrambling to connect the previous episodes' dots-keeps the show from being as satisfying as it could be.
But it's early yet, and Kring and his team could still hit their stride. If they can eventually demonstrate that they have a map and are taking us somewhere purposefully, Touch will become a much more riveting ride.