Although it doesn't officially bow until March 19, FOX gave us an early look at the Kiefer Sutherland-led Touch tonight, and it was a glimpse at a series that could be something fantastic.
At face value, Martin Bohm couldn't be more different than Jack Bauer. He's an average, working-class guy interrupted from his work at JFK Airport so that he can get his mute son Jake down from a cell tower. Soon afterward, the number 318 starts popping up, whether it's on the back of a school bus, or on the knuckles of a random man in a convenience store (Titus Welliver, looking totally different from his recurring role on The Good Wife) who's been playing the same lottery numbers forever and a day: 87 ,1, 9, 20, 31, 11. Lucky for him, those numbers finally hit.
The stress of being a single-parent to a special needs child wears on Martin, particularly when social worker Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw from Undercovers) shows up. Through her, we learn that he used to be a successful reporter and lost his stockbroker wife in the World Trade Center on September 11. It's been a bit downhill from there. Clea takes Jake for a two-week evaluation, while Martin meets Arthur DeWitt (Danny Glover), who tells him that his son is a gifted child, one of a select few functioning as metaphorical "air traffic controllers" for the patterns and sequences of the universe. Here I laugh just a bit because Kiefer Sutherland once played an air traffic controller, and did so really well.
Martin realizes one of the number sequences Jake has written down is a phone number at Grand Central Station, and Clea notices that 318 corresponds to that day's date. Martin believes something is going to go down at the station at exactly 3:18 and sets off to find the pay phone to which the phone number is assigned. What he finds is the random guy from the convenience station, and the two get into a fistfight. After being detained by the cops, Martin wakes up at home, only to catch a new story about the guy, who turns out to be a fireman. Not just any fireman, but the fireman that found Martin's wife in the World Trade Center and who just saved a ton of kids...on that same school bus we saw earlier in the episode. He tells a news reporter that if he hadn't missed his train (presumably because Martin screwed him up), he wouldn't have been there to be the hero. Jake has predicted everything...but Clea tells Martin that Jake has gone missing. He's on top of the cell tower again, and Martin braves his fear of heights to retrieve his son, finding his next clue: a complete stranger's phone number.
There are other stories in play, too: in Baghdad, a young man has dreams of saving his family from their difficult lives, and ends up becoming an involuntary suicide bomber. Said bomb is being activated by the phone swiped from a British guy named Simon, who missed his (sadly deceased) daughter's birthday because of business, but at least gets to see photos of her on giant video boards in Japan. A call center worker that Simon calls in the UK to find his phone is able to talk the kid in Baghdad out of blowing himself up in exchange for the oven his family needs to survive. And a girl from Dublin with dreams of being a pop star sees herself end up on YouTube.
Touch is an ambitious concept for a series - not surprising given that it was created by Tim Kring, who's best known for Heroes. The idea that everything is interconnected might be tough for some to swallow and a little too much for others to be bothered to keep up with. Yet for those of us who like our TV to poke at our brains, this has the potential to be a really intriguing series. What I love about the show so far is its message of hope - the idea that Martin and Jake can change the future. We have so many shows that are dark, violent, and/or depressing, so it's nice to see something that leaves me with a warm, fuzzy feeling.
When I heard that Kiefer Sutherland was attached to this, I wondered what about it would make him want to come back to TV so quickly after having spent eight years on 24, on which he worked incredibly hard both in front of and behind the camera. What would make him want to commit to doing another TV series for potentially years? Having seen the pilot, I now grasp why he'd make that decision. I remember reading what attracted him to Jack Bauer, and I can see some of those same qualities in Martin Bohm. Those of us who came to care so deeply for Jack Bauer ought to feel something for Martin, too. At the same time, Martin's not going to be saving the world - he's working hard enough to save himself and what remains of his family. That's an entirely different journey to play, and I look forward to him infusing it with the heart he brought to 24.
I'm biting my tongue somewhat because this is just one episode, but judging from this pilot, Touch might just heal the wound left on FOX's Mondays after the cancellation of The Chicago Code. They're two entirely different shows, of course, but I think that they could both end up being brilliant.
Touch officially premieres on FOX on Monday, March 19. In case you missed it: check out my interview with Kiefer Sutherland about his return to television.
(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.