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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Touch’ of glory, hint of decay

Published: February 10, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

NBC’s “Heroes” began well but truly fizzled out by its second season. Despite this, Fox is giving producer Tim Kring another chance with his new show “Touch,” which had an early premiere last month. “Touch” focuses on Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland), a man struggling to make ends meet and to connect with his seemingly autistic son, Jake (David Mazouz). While that sounds like an incredibly boring show—to me at least—“Touch” is in fact a science fiction program in which it turns out (in the first episode, so no spoilers) that Jake is not actually autistic, but merely experiences the world differently and is able to see all the connections and sound waves and who-knows-what-else that normal people cannot see.

The first episode centers on Jake telling Martin through signs and scribbled numbers—Jake is mute—that Martin needs to be in a certain place at a certain time to prevent something bad from happening. Sound familiar? Here’s a hint: “Save the cheerleader.” Anyways, despite the familiar and somewhat dry plot of the pilot episode, “Touch” shows a lot of promise.

One of the show’s greatest assets is its actors. Kiefer Sutherland is very good and convincingly portrays the single father struggling with a challenged child—so much so, in fact, that it was at times difficult to watch. His obvious grief at his wife’s premature death on 9/11 and his anger at his son’s disabilities were palpable and a little too real. While I was looking for a fun, sci-fi show to watch, I instead got a sad family drama—not that I am complaining. Although Jake is not in fact autistic, it was difficult to watch Martin’s struggles because we know that all too many people face those struggles in real life but without the easy out of “Your child’s not autistic, he’s gifted!”

There is not much to say about David Mazouz’s Jake because the show focuses on Sutherland and Mazouz very much seems to be a prop. The actor has no lines and, due to his inability to connect with those around him, displays a blank face for most of his screen-time. It was more interesting to watch the other actors act around him than actually to focus on Mazouz at any point.

The amazing Danny Glover co-stars in this series and, although he was not in the pilot very much, I look forward to seeing him again in later episodes. Glover plays Arthur Teller, the man with the answers; Teller informs Martin that his son is not autistic but is instead hyperaware of his surroundings. This character can either be a great source of information or become excessively annoying—no one likes a know-it-all.

Also co-starring is Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Clea Hopkins, a social worker sent to the Bohm’s home to evaluate Jake’s situation. Mbatha-Raw is a breath of fresh air. She complements Sutherland nicely and there may even be a chance of some romance between their characters later in the series. In the beginning of the pilot episode, she appeared to be a cold social worker whose only purpose was to destroy what Martin Bohm has attempted to create but, as the episode wore on, we saw more sides to her character and, as she comes to believe that Jake is indeed special, she warms up a bit.

Also, her American accent is spot-on. Sci-fi fans will recognize Mbatha-Raw as Martha Jones’ sister Tish from “Doctor Who.” While her subtle New York accent is entirely believable despite growing up in the United Kingdom, Sutherland’s is less convincing—which is weird because he has lived in the United States for about 20 years. I don’t know why, but whenever Sutherland is doing his “everyman American” accent, he just sounds off. In “A Few Good Men,” he did a Southern accent as Lt. Jonathan Kendrick and nailed it. Yet here, there is just something unreal about his accent. I honestly cannot put my finger on what it is but I have noticed it in some of his other roles, such as Nelson in “Flatliners” and General W.R. Monger in “Monsters vs. Aliens.”

Nevertheless, this pilot episode was certainly intriguing and definitely piqued my curiosity. Although the plot was a bit too complicated with too many pieces, this is Kring’s specialty and perhaps the few wrinkles will be smoothed out as the series progresses.

My main concern for this show is that it will either turn into a “movie of the week” series, with each episode standing alone and focusing on a specific person with a specific problem that is resolved by the end of the episode, or it will become “Heroes,” with a story arc so long, convoluted and confusing that if you miss one episode, you’ll have missed something vital and will be unable to continue watching. It looks like it is leaning toward taking the “Heroes” route. Tim Kring, do not do that! Find a balance.

“Touch” will begin airing regularly on March 19 on Fox. Tune in with me and see if this will be a visionary show or another visionary show cum train-wreck. Either way, it should be a fun journey.