Usually the proposition that past TV series can be weights around the necks of entertainment figures rings false. Actors play various roles in their careers; TV writers move from show to show. But with Fox's "Touch," which has a sneak preview tonight at 9 on WPGH, it's almost impossible to ignore the previous TV series of star Kiefer Sutherland ("24") and writer Tim Kring ("Heroes") because "Touch" goes out of its way to offer reminders.
"Heroes" often got bogged down in narration about connections and there's a lot of highfalutin narration about connections in "Touch," only this time it comes from a mute 10-year-old.
In recent months viewers watched as Kelsey Grammer shed his Frasier Crane character to play a corrupt, terminally ill Chicago mayor on "Boss" and he quickly erased all memories of the radio psychologist (having a tabloid-ready personal life may also have helped). But it may be that Mr. Sutherland's Jack Bauer was such an iconic character that it's a greater challenge, particularly since so little time has passed since "24" ended in May 2010.
That Mr. Sutherland's new character, Martin Bohm, gets beaten up in the premiere episode, which also features a ticking bomb, only serves to more easily dredge up those Jack Bauer memories.
That's not deadly to "Touch," but it is a problem, as is the show's whole concept. The premiere episode introduces Martin and son Jake (David Mazouz), who hasn't spoken his entire life. Martin's wife died in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks of 9/11 and he's gone from star newspaper reporter to airport baggage handler.
His most important job is caring for Jake, whom some doctors diagnose as autistic. Jake is a handful. Most recently he's been climbing up cell phone towers at 3:18 p.m. Jake's world is all about numbers and "Touch" makes it an article of faith that where most folks would see coincidences, this show sees purposeful attempts at connection. This requires a massive suspension of disbelief on the part of viewers.
By the end of the show's first hour, Jake's numbers have come to mean different things to different people all around the globe.
The episode pretty easily introduces these periphery characters who see some sort of improvement in their lives -- a father who wants to see a photo of his daughter; an Iraqi teen who wants to help his parents; a guilt-stricken firefighter who wins the lottery. It is ultimately a feel-good show, and while it tries to be deep and meaningful about destiny, entanglements and "reflecting on each other," ultimately "Touch" feels like a New Age, more edgy "Touched by an Angel."
Yes, there's the ongoing story of Martin's attempts to connect with Jake and the role of a social worker (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, "Undercover") and an evolutionist (Danny Glover, "Lethal Weapon") in their lives, but the story engine each week appears to be Jake and his numbers that ultimately bring disparate people together. It's hard to imagine how that won't get old. "Touch" feels like yet another series -- last week it was "Alcatraz" -- that seemed like a better idea for a one-shot movie than a weekly TV series.
But we'll see. Perhaps Mr. Kring has notions on how to sustain "Touch" in ways he was unable to keep "Heroes" afloat after its first year. Viewers will get a better sense of that when "Touch" episodes begin airing weekly at 9 p.m. Monday starting March 19.
A version of this story first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published January 25, 2012 5:00 AM