Touch – season one, episode one – Pilot review – Danny Glover, David Mazouz and Kiefer Sutherland shine!

by Matt D

It’s fair to say that two of the biggest US TV series that came out in the last decade were Heroes and 24. Both built up cult followings but both ultimately ended in a disappointing fashion. Now Heroes creator Tim Kring and 24’s lead actor Kiefer Sutherland have come together to create Touch , a new show centred around the patterns in the universe that connect us all.

The opening monologue is delivered by eleven year old Jake, who explains to us that his job is to keep track of the numbers and make sure that people who need to touch do so. However this speech ends on a revelation that in all his eleven years Jake has never spoken one word aloud. This is a bit of a problem for his father Martin (Kiefer Sutherland) who attributes some of his silence to the fact that his mother died in the 9/11 attacks, before Jake could speak.

Martin, a former journalist, has been working menial jobs since his wife’s death in order to pay for his son’s special school but even they can’t keep Jake from running away. Jake is constantly running up phone towers at exactly 3:18, trying to alert those around him to the importance of these numbers but obviously the way he does it causes concern and it’s not long before child protective services are called. Enter social worker Clea Hopkins, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw best known over here as Martha Jones’ sister in Doctor Who, someone who sees Jake’s behaviour as a reflection of his living environment and after a five minute observation packs him off to a local care facility. However she herself is soon baffled by Jake as he arranges popcorn kernels into rows to represent Clea’s mother’s phone number and then runs off once again, which surely calls into question the security surrounding this institution?

With Jake away, Martin has a bit of time on his hands so researches his son’s condition and comes across the Teller Institute which is in fact just a house where Danny Glover lives. Surprisingly Glover plays the wise old gent who knows the secrets of everything and in his one scene explains to Martin what Jake told the rest of us at the beginning of the episode before telling him that he needs to follow the road map that his son has given him. Even though Martin Baum is generally a softer character than the one Kiefer played in 24, it’s not long before he’s in full Jack Bauer mode shouting his way around Grand Central Station trying to find a bomb of some kind. Eventually the mystery of 318 is solved and father and son are reunited after Clea realises that Jake is actually well cared for by Martin. The final scene is fairly poignant as for the first time in his life Jake allows his father to touch him before scampering off once again, allowing his dad to follow another road map.

As if this weren’t all enough, the theme of interconnectivity is also explored in a stand alone story involving a phone being passed around the globe, after bereaved English kitchen supplies salesman Simon Plimpton leaves it in Heathrow.

When Martin finds it at the airport in which he works, it makes its way to Dublin where aspiring singer Kayla Graham has one of her pub gigs filmed by a co-worker, then onto Tokyo where some teenage geisha girls decide to start a Kayla fan club, before landing in Baghdad where it gets used as part of a bomb to be strapped to a young lad, who just wants to be a stand-up comic.

For anybody who saw Heroes they know that Tim Kring isn’t the best when it comes to portraying different cultures in a realistic and sensitive way. Here it is the Japanese who get it the worst, as they are either obsessed fan-girls who go completely potty over anybody who can sing or they are sex workers who steal from their clients. Kring also seems to have a problem with the Irish as after those ludicrous scenes in the second series of Heroes here we have Kayla Graham a bit of a drippy pub singer who goes on to stop a minor tragedy occurring. With a show featuring Kiefer Sutherland, I also wasn’t surprised to see a subplot involving some Middle Eastern characters who try to orchestrate a suicide bombing. Despite all these clichés this secondary story does a good job of illustrating the central premise that the smallest thing, in this case a mobile phone, can connect many people and change their lives in certain ways.

The main story does have some potential but I’m not sure exactly sure how it can be sustained across the twelve episodes of this first season. This opening episode was mainly to establish Martin’s understanding of his son’s gifts and why he does the odd things he does. To his credit Kiefer, Sutherland does a good job as a man who is still ridden with grief over his wife’s passing and is struggling to cope with a son who he doesn’t understand.

The one thing I could’ve done without though is Kiefer’s shouting, as it is far too reminiscent of the performance he used to give in 24 something that shouldn’t be alluded to at all. I also think David Mazouz did an excellent job making Jake into a believable character, he was able to communicate without the ability of speech and made Jake’s motivation convincing throughout this first episode. The one character I didn’t gel with was Clea who I found fairy harsh for a social worker and someone who went too quickly from cold authority figure to ally in Jake and Martin’s quest. My other fear is that throughout the weeks a romantic storyline could develop between Clea and Martin something that I feel would make no sense whatsoever but something that also seems inevitable if only to attract a certain demographic.

Overall Touch has an interesting concept which has its basis in mathematics but also has been given a human element by a father and son who have trouble communicating. The story going forward seems to be for Martin to figure out what Jake is trying to tell him while at the same time using Danny Glover’s wise old Arthur Teller to explain to him why Jake is behaving in this way. Based on this first episode I would certainly be interested to watch episode two but at the same time I can’t say I’m exactly hooked in the same way I was after watching the debut of both 24 and Heroes. While this isn’t the instant hit that both Kring and Sutherland probably both hoped it would be this is certainly a promising start which, as long as it doesn’t lapse into repetitiveness, could grow into quite a clever, interesting and well-acted show.

Touch starts tonight at 8PM on Sky 1. Will you be tuning in? Leave your comments, thoughts and opinions below….