By the Numbers: A Review of Touch
- Tuesday, March 27, 2012
There's a scene in the Charlie Sheen comedy Hot Shots that takes place in an air force barracks. The haughty pilot, Kent Gregory, refuses to shake Topper Harley's hand:
Kent: The man your father's recklessness killed...was my father.
Wash Out: This is an incredible coincidence...but the hunter who mistakenly killed your father [shows family photo] was my father, Henry Pfaffenbach.
Kowalski: Henry Pfaffenbach was your father? My mother was a Pfaffenbach!
Squadron Member: Not Doreen Pfaffenbach? From Minnesota? Then we're cousins. We used to spend our summers in Eagle River!
Whole Squadron: Eagle River!?
I flashed back on this scene—a send-up of script contrivance--as I watched the climax of the second episode of Fox's new series, Touch. The idea that we're all groping for the ties that bind us together has often been parodied. My big worry about Touch is how close it skates to the edge of self-caricature in this regard. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The principals are an autistic eleven-year-old named Jake (David Mazouz ) and his widowed father, Martin Bohm (Keifer Sutherland). Jake, who's never spoken, is obsessed with numbers. Somehow, he's able to see in those numbers the patterns of life's myriad connections. As an old professor (Danny Glover) explains, Jake sees the deviations in these patterns, a "cosmic pain that has to be healed." His father Martin becomes the mute boy's instrument of intervention and healing.
How does this work? [Warning: Spoilers ahead.] In the second episode, Jake's numerology leads his dad to a pawn shop owner who's in some unnamed trouble. Meanwhile, a dog bound for Russia escapes its airline crate and runs away. Fearing for her job, a female airline employee goes off in search of the dog. She meets a young Indian who has trekked thousands of miles with his deceased father's ashes to scatter them in a ballpark. The woman accompanies him to the ballpark, but abandons him to chase the dog which appears there.
Meanwhile, Martin has stopped a robber from killing the pawn shop owner. The robber is in deep hock to a Russian gangster. What the robber doesn't realize, however, is that the gangster is a family man who's sent a dog to his beloved son. Having learned to his horror that his father is reported to be a bad man, the boy calls his dad--just as Pop is about to pop the man in hock.
Meanwhile (there are lots of "meanwhiles" in this series), over on Suicide Bridge, Martin is struggling to keep the pawn shop owner from throwing himself into the river. Nobody cares whether he lives or dies. At that moment, what should show up but the dog...followed by the woman, who, lo and behold, turns out to be the old man's estranged daughter!
It was at this point that I rolled my eyes and thought of Charlie Sheen in better days. I'm sure that was not the intent of the producer, Tim Kring, who also wrote this episode (Pop culture fans will immediately recognize the name of the father of that phenomenon-turned-shipwreck, Heroes). Indeed, the aims of the show are high. In a day when the world seems increasingly shattered, fraught with alienation and filled with people starving for meaningful human contact, Kring's series should create frisson in viewers.
The emotional anchor of Touch, who keeps the show from looking like a mere string of contrivances, is Keifer Sutherland. Nobody plays "driven" better than the former Jack Bauer of 24. Bauer, though wounded and scarred in the service of his country, nevertheless seemed superhuman at times. As Martin Bohm, who lost his wife in the 9/11 attack, a former journalist reduced to handling baggage at an airport, whose mute son can't bear to be touched, Sutherland is more Everyman than Superman.
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