Sutherland lightens up with softer ‘Touch’
It’s easy to see why Kiefer Sutherland was attracted to his new series “Touch.’’
Fans of “24’’ watched the raspy-voiced star grimace and scowl, whisper and scream, fight and scrape, and shoot and interrogate for eight seasons as Jack Bauer saved the world, one really bad day at a time.
What they rarely saw him do was sit down. Or smile. Or laugh. Or sleep.
Sutherland does all of that and more in his intriguing new series, “Touch,’’ which has a sneak preview tonight at 9 before starting its regular run on March 19. And like finding an oasis in the desert, Sutherland laps up his emotional opportunities.
Not that all is sunshine in the life of single dad Martin Bohm. His wife died on 9/11 and he is in danger of losing his 11-year-old son, Jake (David Mazouz), to child services because he keeps escaping school to climb a cellphone tower, and always at 3:18 p.m. This is not Jake’s only quirk: He has never spoken, prefers not to be touched, and compulsively writes numbers in a journal; and neither his father nor his doctors seem to know why. (Autism is discussed early on but essentially dismissed.) Well-meaning social worker Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) tries to help but seems to cause more pain. That is, until she and Bohm realize that Jake is trying to communicate in his own special way.
Viewers, however, do get to hear Jake speak. In voiceover he tells us of his belief in the interconnectedness of the world and all the people and things in it. The numbers that he is obsessed with - writing them down on paper, laying them out in popcorn kernels on the floor, programming them into the lost cellphones his dad brings home from work as a baggage handler at JFK airport - represent that interconnectedness. “Things most people see as chaos actually follow a set of laws of behavior,’’ Jake explains at the top of tonight’s pilot.
When Martin seeks assistance outside the system, he finds a man who seems to understand all of this. In a frenetic guest-starring role, Danny Glover explains that it is part math, part science, and part mystical. “The whole cosmic wheel of humanity comes down to just electromagnetic energy, and connections. There are those among us, mostly kids, whose sole purpose is to act as air traffic controllers for the interconnectivity,’’ he says. Jake is one of those kids.
So in the main story we see the ways in which Jake and Martin are connected to the number 318, which include a firefighter, a school bus full of children, a lottery win, and Martin’s late wife.
We also follow the seemingly random stories of several people connected to a cellphone as it travels around the globe from the businessman who lost it in London, to the man who records a video of his friend singing in Dublin, to the Japanese woman who steals it and uploads its contents to YouTube, to the terrrorists in Iraq who have explosive plans for it. We see the threads connecting them that Jake does. Sort of.
How much “Touch’’ grabs you will likely depend on how much you buy into its central premise of interconnectivity, and the possibility of a superconnector like Jake existing. Creator Tim Kring (“Heroes’’) is no stranger to asking viewers to take leaps and, in the pilot anyway, he and his co-writers do some nifty wrangling to tie those threads together.
The hardest bits to swallow are not whether or not bombs get defused with seconds to spare, or the likelihood of everyone who comes in contact with a smartphone choosing to simply record things on it and pass it along. It’s the details, like the world’s most helpful cellphone customer service representative, whose unusual level of assistance is crucial in an especially tense moment.
But there is a sense of adventure and uplift in “Touch’’ that is rare in current procedurals. It might just be enough to connect it to an audience thirsty to see Sutherland save the world in quieter, smaller increments - and with the occasional smile.
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.