Think of 9/11, coupled with terrorism and poverty in Baghdad. Then, in a partially-separated story thread, think about a parent desperately hunting down the digital photos of their deceased child. And then, consider the odds of someone actually winning the lottery; a singer/customer service rep who hits it big overnight by people watching a video on a cellphone that's traveled the globe; and a tormented ex-fireman in the right place and the right time to save children from a burning bus. Gather all of that together, and imagine it's connected by the number 318, discovered and catalyzed by an autistic eleven-year-old boy who can "read the universe" and the patterns of its causal formula. That level of forced artificiality might be enough to drive certain viewers away from Touch, the new series from Heroes creator Tim Kring, even had it been stretched out across a full season. All of that happens, however, in just the first episode. The idea of everything being linked is a powerful and philosophical one, but let's not push it.
To its credit, the show isn't entirely about following threads to elaborate coincidences. Touch's heart lies in the troubled relationship between Jake Bohm (David Mazouz), the gifted but mute young boy who sees the world differently, and his ex-reporter father, Martin (Kiefer Sutherland), whose life was turned upside-down when his wife died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. After Jake pulls one of his disappearing acts, one of many in a short time-frame, a social worker named Clea (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is called to investigate the situation and, with earnest intentions, introduces the idea of putting Jake in a special care facility for children with his needs. This comes at a bad time: while he can't communicate any of this through words, Jake's behavior -- and the writings in his books -- suggests that significant things will happen that relate to the number 318, presumably on that day and at that time. And happen they do.
Skeptical but desperate to improve the situation with his son, Martin follows these numerical currents while doing his own investigation into the possibility that there might be more to Jake than mere autism. That sets the overarching tone for Touch: Jake focuses on a number, and he and his father scurry around in a fashion not unlike the time-clutched rhythm of 24 to figure out their meaning, and what or who it'll help. When focusing purely on their interaction, charting paths with the numbers to better people's lives, and Jake's significance on a broader scale, Kring's series sporadically holds attention and doesn't appear too dubious; the associations and the convenience with which the numbers recur often frustrate, but the forward motion of each mystery establishes an interesting-enough path to earn a pass. Part of it comes from Martin's frustration and desperation to understand what his mute, cryptic son wants to express with his fixations, coupled with how Kiefer Sutherland conveys the character's panic towards having his child taken away.
The connections discovered from the sleuthing in Touch, no matter how polished or cleverly dreamed-up the strand-following appears from a distance, come across as too contrived and heavy-handed as the episodes progress. Creator Tim King's fingerprints are observable across this series about an unassuming "hero" with a gift, sporting similarities to the bluster and absence of restraint that led Heroes into troubled territory, where barefaced emotion and noble creative intentions get lost in a blur of excess. This premise intrigues me, a fantasy-mystery focused on the "grand design" of cycles and the Fibonacci sequence, but the elements of the human condition it forces together -- ruthless mob bosses in a moment of awakening, poor families in South Africa, winning the lottery, natural disasters -- becomes a chore when processing how unnatural their associations snap together into such a small world. The emotion rings especially false when focused on grieving the loss of someone during 9/11 or when terrorism reemerges, as genuine depth gets whitewashed by forced plotting.
Eventually, Kring and his crew slightly reshape and ground some of the series' outrageousness: these wide-sprawling associations shrink in scope a bit and surrender to the central thrust behind Jake's importance, as well as how he factors into the agenda of Prof. Arthur Teller (Danny Glover), a researcher with experience in his "condition". With that, Touch also allows its underlying spiritual themes, namely the belief in predetermination and a greater power dictating it, to become more dominant and observable as a plot device, though it doesn't preach its validity or try to point-blank convince the audience of its ideology. Impractical grandness and unpersuasive developments still propel the series, but the focus mindfully shifts its sights to connecting the threads around Jake's "clairvoyance" and the lengths Martin goes to keep his child. This doesn't change the series' trajectory, all the way through a scheme-heavy season finale that underscores this paradigm, but at least it understood how to focus and bolster its more earnest intentions into something attention-grabbing.
Video and Audio:
Eleven(-ish) episodes comprise the first season of Touch, with four episodes (twelve when including the two-part finale) taking up space on each of the three discs in Fox's's presentation. Considering the amount of material on each, the 1.78:1-framed 16x9 transfers get the job done extremely well, with some occasional digital roughness preventing it from getting to a higher tier. The photography here is pretty standard for a televised suspense show: constant movement tests the threshold of contrast and image stability, both of which the disc preserves quite well, while the still-focused close-ups during conversations convey ample skin tones and facial textures. Some blocking occurs during intense motion and in darker-contrast sequences, though, while noise can be spotted intermittently. Otherwise, it's a fine treatment.
There's not a lot that distinguishes the 5-channel Dolby Digital tracks from a 2-channel treatment, outside of a few musical flourishes and rare atmosphere effects, but the sound elements available here suit the production's tone. The music offers most of the sound's more ample glimmers of interest, rhythmically hovering around a robust mid-range balance, while the slamming of doors, the beeping of alarms, and the crash of heavy objects on glass push the envelope during higher elements without any distortion. Mostly, though, it's pretty standard material in terms of the balance between dialogue, music, and ambient effects -- all audible, all suitable, none terribly distinctive.
Not much in the way of supplements have been made available here. Aside from a series of Deleted Scenes (16x9) available on each disc for the pertaining episodes and the Extended Pilot Episode being used on the first disc, we've got: a press-kit caliber snippet called Fate's Equation (8:35, 16x9), which features show creator Tim Kring discussing the plot's skeleton, the philosophy and religious backbone to the show's concept, and the effectiveness of the actors in their roles; and an even briefer Touch the World (3:47, 16x9) piece that retreads the same message about everybody, everything, and everywhere being connected, featuring further interviews with the cast.
Creativity and noble intentions can be found in Touch, Tim Kring's newest creation about the suspenseful drama built around an autistic boy in-tune with the universe's synchronicity. The degree of synchronicity, coupled with the forcefulness of the drama and its topical heartstring-pulling, limit the potential of that idea, though. There's a forward-moving essence about the series that's reminiscent of another Kiefer Sutherland thriller, and relishing that with the drama created around a father comprehending his son's almost magical gift and tough-to-handle social issues make this first season interesting enough to keep following along. Rent It, but be prepared for the implausible.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site