Public Service Announcement 16 of 2013: Touch

It’s doomed, but Touch is bravely battling on, and returns in the UK this week for a second (and almost certainly final) season. The stand-alone season 1 finale was broadcast here a couple of weeks ago, and apart from adding a bit of backstory really added nothing either to the mythology or to the probable direction of the show in the future. The episode did suggest, though, that as with 24 the writers of Touch seem to be more comfortable showing Kiefer Sutherland as someone with a romantic past, rather than as someone with a love interest in the present. Whether that’s coincidence, or speaks to Sutherland’s perceived strengths as an actor, I have no idea.

Anyway, the likelihood is that Touch will remain worth watching for Sutherland’s bruised and touching defiance as the parent of gifted but mute Jake, and for the occasional episode in which the execution meets the ambition (Sky 1, Tuesday 2 April, 8pm).

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Touch s1 ep 12

It’s quite often claimed, of some TV show or other, that it’s worth watching for one of the acting performances alone. It tends to be said of programmes that in reality have lots to commend them – you could, if you wanted, justify watching Mad Men for Jon Hamm’s performance alone, for example, but there are plenty of other reasons on top of that.

For once, though, it might actually be true: Touch is worth watching for Kiefer Sutherland’s performance alone. CJ gave episode 1 a good kicking and stopped watching (I believe). I kept going, but every now and again I’d find my attachment to the show difficult to rationalise. It is, of course, total nonsense, even if there’s something perversely admirable about the way in which showrunner Tim Kring sticks to the guns which eventually brought Heroes down – a portentous voiceover, a big conspiracy with an evil corporation, some blather about interconnectedness, evolution and “the select”.

But it’s anchored by a performance of mesmerising intensity from Sutherland as Martin, the father of mute savant Jake; he’s taken the vulnerability of his later performances in 24, amplified it, and turned it into a genuine parental yearning to protect, and connect with, his apparently unreachable son. Not that he’s left 24 entirely behind – I’m guessing that his contract guarantees him at least one “Dammit!” per episode, and he even managed to snap “Copy that!” into a walkie-talkie a couple of weeks ago.

The final episode of the season had Martin and Jake on the run from the big conspiracy, with Martin trying to work out who he could trust. Meantime another of the show’s arcs, the whereabouts of presumed-dead-but-probably-alive Amelia, moved front and centre, as her mother Lucy followed cryptic clues (nothing is ever straightforward on Touch) as to her whereabouts. The final scene, with Martin, Jake, and Lucy staring at the ocean, was nicely judged, and I’m not ashamed to say that I found the final shot very moving.

Despite plummeting ratings in America Touch has been renewed for a second season, and I’ll be watching.

Touch ep 1

“Only connect” said EM Forster – long before it became a quiz show – and Tim Kring has taken that very basic of human desires and run with it as the basis for this new series; Touch is all about connecting.

The central conceit is that we’re all inextricably linked and if you can see the connections, you can see everything – what has been, what is and what will be.  All at once.   Unfortunately, if you can see everything, you can’t speak to anyone about it, because you’re far too advanced a human being to bother with an “evolutionary speed bump” like talking.  (Yes, the characters actually talk like this.)

Widower Jack Bauer’s Martin Bohm’s young, mute, autistic son, Jake, is one of these chosen few.  Martin is desperate to bond with him but doesn’t realise that Jake’s obsession with numbers and cell phone masts and the like is actually the boy trying to connect with him too – because it’s the numbers that connect everyone and everything, everywhere.  Cue a huge cast of characters spread all over the world, each with interlinked stories and intertwined fates.

You might think you’d come across these ideas before.  You’d be right.

Of course, as we’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with using an old idea if you find a way to make it entertaining again.  Touch has not done this, though.  New-age, pseudo-scientific, navel-gazing gibberish, bathed in warm golden tones, the show is well-meaning but trite nonsense, which suffers principally from trying too hard to be a combination of the shows that went before it: it wants to be a weird sort of procedural and Heroes and Lost (as well as the numbers and the connections, even the Man In Black turned up!), all at the same time.  Unfortunately, in doing so, it manages to completely ignore the qualities of those shows (both of which I loved) in favour of super-sizing the flaws instead – Touch is schmaltzy, over-earnest rubbish, masquerading as something a lot deeper than it actually is.

Worse than that, though, it’s also stupendously boring.  From the very first second, with that opening voiceover which Mohinder must have left lying around, the tedium is overwhelming and not even Kiefer Sutherland’s gravelly tones or a quest appearance from Danny Glover can save the show from sucking. I stuck with Heroes for 4 seasons, but one episode of Touch was more than enough for me. I won’t be watching again.