The trouble with attaching “Heroes” creator Tim Kring to any television project is that there is no way to predict its true potential. His newest creation, “Touch” proves what we already knew: Kring can make a decent pilot. Here’s hoping he has learned from the sad decline of “Heroes” and can keep it together this time around.
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In what may be his signature style, Kring’s new show cobbles together successful elements of previous media: cosmically significant numbers (“Lost”), a precocious child (“Once Upon A Time”), star-crossed strangers (“Babel”) and the inexhaustible questions of destiny and fate. There’s also the novelty of watching Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, “24”) punch the Man In Black (Titus Welliver, “Lost”).
The main characters in “Touch” are Martin Bohm (Sutherland) and his 11-year-old son, Jake (newcomer David Mazouz). Martin’s wife was a stock broker who worked in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and he’s still trying to piece together a life without her. Jake is what the pilot calls a “9/11 baby,” a child who lost a parent in the attack but never even knew her. Jake is also on the autism spectrum, and as a result, he hates to be touched — even to be hugged by his father — and hasn’t spoken a word out loud in his life.
The only time Jake’s voice is heard is during opening and closing monologues, in which he reveals that he can see patterns and ratios in nature that others cannot. He cites an ancient Chinese proverb that claims threads connect people to everyone their lives will touch — his job is to make those connections happen.
The strained relationship between Martin and Jake is the greatest victory of the pilot. Martin never stops trying, and never lets himself get upset that his son chooses tinkering with misplaced cellphones over human interaction. When those cellphones ring simultaneously with a call from the same number, Martin becomes aware of his son’s remarkable insight into the very fabric of humanity. He embraces it and seeks to help his son make sense of the endless sequences of numbers he writes down.
Meanwhile, Jake is surprisingly passive for someone who takes the responsibility of an entire planet’s well-being upon himself. However, Mazouz’s performance provides insight into the nature of autism and is a necessary exercise in patience for the audience. When he finally hugs his father at the end of the pilot, it’s vaguely heartwarming but more powerfully trite. But when he pulls back, swiping his dad’s cellphone for Mysterious Math Magic, we’re interested again.
There are far too many characters in the pilot to delve into. Of note is Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “Undercovers”), a social service worker who quickly oversteps her bounds by proposing that Jake be taken to a children’s institute and Martin spend their two weeks of separation getting his life together. She too witnesses Jake’s uncanny abilities when he arranges popcorn kernels to make her mother’s phone number, and she joins with Martin to figure out the purpose of this boy’s gift.
The rest of the pilot includes absurd scenarios that it’s a little too soon for, like aspiring singer Kayla Graham’s (Karen David, “Pixelface”) voice going viral through a video in a misplaced phone, thanks to some frighteningly enthusiastic Japanese call girls.
The plot becomes even more complex through the addition of a Kuwaiti teenager struggling to get an oven for his family. While working in a call center, Kayla places a call to the very lost mobile phone that carries her video — which happens to be strapped to the terrified teen by a group of terrorists (Middle Eastern terrorists! Good one!) to trigger a bomb. She is ludicrously calm in her exchange with the dying boy and eventually gets him to disable the phone.
The storytelling needs to be refined, but the story itself could hold viewers’ interest, so long as we aren’t just handed numbers and instructed to believe that they matter. In shedding some light on Byzantine configuration of the universe and one complex father-son dynamic within it, the show may just touch audiences.