Kiefer Sutherland Calls Touch an 'Unabashedly Emotional' Procedural With One Jack Bauer Tie-In

Rare is the television show that defies simple summation, but Fox’s Touch may be one of them.

On the surface, the drama (previewing Jan. 25, before officially bowing March 19) stars 24 vet Kiefer Sutherland as Martin Bohm, a widowed dad who struggles to communicate with his son Jake, an 11-year-old who lives with severe autism.

So difficult is it for Martin to get through to Jake – who is mute and won’t let anyone, his father included, touch him – that it calls into question whether the state should intervene. And just as they do, Jake’s inexplicable obsession with the number 318, in this instance, begins to manifest itself in strange ways, involving several people around the globe.

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For example, Martin’s altercation with a man (Lost‘s Titus Welliver) who is using a payphone that he himself needs to be on at 3:18 pm ultimately leads to the stranger saving kids from a crashed school bus that was numbered 318. Another thread to that story shows how a British man’s lost cell phone touches on a young boy in Iraq as well as a wannabe singer in Ireland.

The pacing of the Touch pilot is unhurried — in fact, for a stretch there many will wonder where it’s all possibly leading. But as the disparate pieces of narrative weave together and build to a payoff, the show strikes a chord of “global unity” that hasn’t been seen since, say, Heroes – not surprising since Tim Kring, the man who sired that superheroes saga, created Touch.

Explaining the project’s inspirational tone, Sutherland says he and Kring “both felt very strongly that one of the things missing from television — and I feel from films, as well — is being unabashedly emotional.”

First Look Video: Kiefer Sutherland’s Touch

Touch raises questions about how Jake latched onto 318 and saw patterns involving the number that no naked eye could have. And while that might seem to point toward the show having an ongoing mythology, that is not the case.

“Some characters will be woven over [multi-episode] arcs,” says Sutherland, “but Tim and I both learned – he from Heroes and me from 24 — that there is great value in a procedural drama. So every week there will be a set of circumstances set about by Jake that will put Martin in a situation to deal with someone new, and that situation will be resolved. There will be a beginning, a middle and an end, in theory, to every episode.”

Sutherland admits that at first he “really didn’t want to” take on Touch for his return to TV. But thanks to nudging by some people close to him, he revisited the project and saw both a “really beautiful” father/son relationship as well as a trait shared by Martin and one Jack Bauer.

“What I was drawn to [with] Jack Bauer was that he was never going to win,” says his portrayer. “He would have small victories, but overall it was impossible to win.” Martin, similarly, “is never going to win” as a father because he can’t communicate with his son the way he’d like to. “There’s something wonderful about trying to find hope in someone who is just never going to completely win.”

While Sutherland and David Mazouz (as Jake) are the only series regulars, Touch‘s recurring players at the start include Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Undercovers) as the social worker assigned to assess Jake’s home situation, and Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon) as a professor who sees in Jake evidence that autism is not a disability but a heightened ability. [UPDATE: Mbatha-Raw confirms for TVLine that she has since been upgraded to series regular status.]

“The Danny Glover character is interesting,” says Sutherland. “He believes that we have misdiagnosed a group of people that actually are at a much more advanced form of communication, but because we don’t understand it we’ve diagnosed them with what we can best understand.”

That exploration of what autism is and could be was born of the fact that Kring has a son who lives with the condition; as such, he’s taking care to see that Touch‘s fictional aspects are founded in scientific fact.

“Tim feels very responsible to stay true to [autism] in that regard,” says Sutherland, “so we’re not go to be making stuff up to explain stuff. We’re going to deal with the medicine and what doctors know.”

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  1. transcender123 says:

    wasn’t this a movie. Called Mercury Rising?

    • Brendan says:

      Right, there was a movie called Mercury Rising with Bruce Willis as a disgraced FBI agent protecting an autistic boy who cracks the government’s new, seemingly unbreakable code. This show is probably a reminder of that movie.

      • Josh says:

        What do you mean Tim Kring writing something unoriginal? That’s unheard of. It wasn’t like Heroes copied Watchmen and X-Men…Oh wait it did..

        That would all be okay if Kring would only admit he used them as inspire, instead he would say “Well I never read those..”

      • Michael says:

        One of the actors in Mercury rising is the agent working with Alec Baldwin, is the same person who plays the Hasidic Jew on Touch. Coincedance?? who knows.

  2. glassdragon416 says:

    I’m fairly certain Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s character is supposed to be a series regular on the show, not just recurring…

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      That may have changed/be changing, but as of a few weeks ago, Kiefer maintained, “I don’t even know if there are three [regulars]. Right now, there really is the boy and I. Danny Glover’s character certainly is going to be there for a while. And I think [Gugu] will be there for a while, too, but that’s not etched in stone.” (I will of course update if new information becomes available today at Fox’s TCA sessions.)

  3. Alex says:

    Cautiously optimistic about this one…I can see it going several ways, but I want to like it, especially since I enjoyed early Heroes.

  4. lipsticksocialism says:

    I have enjoyed Kring’s work since Crossing Jordan. I love his storytelling, and Heroes’ first season was epic. I will definitely be giving this a shot. I miss Kiefer, and I’m looking forward to autism based on reality.

  5. sammyfinbar says:

    um…autism isn’t a disease. It’s a disorder

    • Matt Webb Mitovich says:

      True, Kiefer probably misspoke. An edit has been made.

    • Celeste122 says:

      From my experience, no one knows what autism is or ultimately all the factors that cause it or bring it about. That is the problem. Thus making it difficult to treat.

  6. Tim says:

    Giving this a shot because I like S1 of Heroes and 24 was my favorite show ever.

    The plot is “okay”, not superb.

  7. pv says:

    Will give it a shot.

    Though I’m quite pleased with the increase on tv of characters with autism. I hope the trend continues.

  8. Jason says:

    I feel like they’re taking the easy way out by making this a procedural. This has so much potential to be a great serialized show. I’m disappointed they aren’t going in that direction. Because of this, I’ll probably skip it.

  9. Jason says:

    I was excited about this until I found out this is going to be a procedural, with no real ongoing mythology. Why are writers, creators etc so scared to make the great series that you can actual follow and be excited to tune in for the following weeks show, to see where the story goes next and so on? I’m sick of procedurals and reality tv. It’s why I gave up on persons unknown, no reason seemingly to keep tuning in.

  10. Eileen says:

    Jason, i gree, I think there are too few of us interested in serials that they just aren’t successful enough for the network to take the risk.

  11. Nancy says:

    Way too interesting to pass up just because it is being initialized as a procedural…refreshing that they are willing to give something this innovative a chance btw can’t stand reality tv

  12. Saracen Riggins says:

    Count me as one who highly prefers serials over procedurals. That’s why I stopped watching House, CSI, etc. It’s just the same thing every week. While I enjoy those occasionally, it’s nothing I care to keep up with on a week-to-week basis.

    With that said, it sounds as though this might be a bit in-between the two, so I’d like to give it a chance – as I loved the first season of Heroes (…until the finale) and 24.

  13. Dietcoke says:

    I’m really looking forward to it. Glad Chloe will be in it!

  14. Tara says:

    I am being very sincere when I say this seems like a show that could be beneficial to you and many others. So many people are so quick to judge, when we should all be more quick to be helpful, and happier. In my opinion, at least 90% of what is on television right now is so draining. We need more of a variety; therefore, Touch seems like the perfect show to get submersed in. Instead of the ten thousand reality shows that flood our televisions now. I enjoy being happy!

  15. jen says:

    I completely agree..I hate procedurals. I was excited to check this out but it won’t make my list now..pass.

  16. Lori says:

    Yet “Revenge” was just renewed for another season! A story that has no end every week,keeps you guessing,has great opening and closing quotes and ironic twists. TV needs way more like!

  17. Jane says:

    This whole business on Touch with the English guys lost cell phone going around the world.. It goes to Ireland, Japan then to a suicide bomber then back to the same girls in Japan who leave it with girl in the red dress? Wah?

  18. This is the most creative show I have seen in decades –come to think of it –so was “24”. I suspect it won’t appeal to the nerds who want to watch Fox’s idiotic — stupid – cartoon — can’t even think of the name of the family. I hope this show Touch lasts — can’t wait till it’s available on DVD as complete running seasons. Comment by KC – May 10th