DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
When Kiefer Sutherland ended his very long, very intense days as Jack Bauer on the Fox series "24," few people, including Sutherland himself, expected him to be starring in another TV series right away. But tonight, in a special sneak preview of a new Fox series that will begin March 19th, Sutherland returns to television.
The series is called "Touch," and Sutherland plays the father of an 11-year-old son who has some significant disabilities, and some very significant abilities, as well. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.
DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: The new Fox series "Touch" doesn't begin with Kiefer Sutherland, who plays a father - a widower - raising a withdrawn preteen son with behavioral problems. It begins, instead, with the son - Jake, played by David Mazouz - providing the narration that opens the series. By the time the opening narration is over, you already know you're watching something a little different.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW "TOUCH")
DAVID MAZOUZ: (as Jake) The ratio is always the same: 1 to 1.618 over and over and over again. The patterns, mathematical in design, are hidden in plain sight. You just have to know where to look. Things most people see as chaos actually follow subtle laws of behavior. Galaxies, plants, seashells, these patterns never lie. Only some of us can see how the pieces fit together.
(as Jake) 6,919,377,000 of us live on this tiny planet. This is the story of some of those people. There's an ancient Chinese myth about the red thread of fate. It says the gods had tied a red thread around everyone one of our ankles and attached it to all the people whose lives we're destined to touch.
(as Jake) It's all been predetermined, a mathematically probability. And it's my job to keep track of those numbers, to make the connections for those who need to find each other, the ones whose lives need to touch. I was born 3,786 days ago on October 26th, 2000. I've been alive for 10 years, 5 months, 17 days and 14 hours. And in all that time, I've never said a single word.
BIANCULLI: Jake has characteristics of being both mute and autistic, but apparently, he's something else entirely. He spends his time drawing tiny patterns of numbers, collecting cell phones, and other things that his dad has come to accept but not yet to understand. But in the opening episode of "Touch," the explanations come quickly. They may not make too much sense, at least at first, but they're intriguing.
"Touch" is created by Tim Kring, whose last TV series was NBC's "Heroes." That program also focused on seemingly ordinary people who turned out to possess extraordinary gifts - and whose gifts, in turn, tied them to some sort of important destiny. "Heroes" went downhill after its first two seasons, but was fun to watch for a while, and had an enjoyable, anything-can-happen, comic-book feel.
"Touch," though, is less like the story of Peter Parker turning into Spider-Man than Helen Keller finding a way to communicate. And the center of the story, at least at first, isn't young Jake, though with the opening narration, he gets the first word. It's his father, Martin, played by Kiefer Sutherland with all the angst and empathy that propelled him through all those adventures on "24."
Martin lost his wife to 9/11, which means he's raised his challenged and challenging son as a single parent, for almost the boy's entire life. His son won't speak, doesn't like to be touched, and is obsessed with numbers to the exclusion of almost everything else, but finally Martin finds a website for something called The Teller Institute, suggesting that youngsters like his son may be special in quite a different way.
Martin visits the institute, which turns out to be a one-man operation. The man is Arthur Dewitt. He has an explanation for Jake's numerical obsession, and he's played by Danny Glover.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TOUCH")
DANNY GLOVER: (as Arthur) Mr. Bohm, your son is one of those kids. He discovered the Fibonacci sequence on his own.
KIEFER SUTHERLAND: (as Martin) The what?
GLOVER: (as Arthur) Yeah. A mathematical sequence discovered by a 12th century mathematician named Fibonacci. The pattern's found in nature over and over again: the curve of a wave, the spiral of a shell, the segments of a pineapple. The universe is made up of precise ratios and patterns all around us. You and I, we don't see them, but if we could, life would be magical beyond our wildest dreams, a quantum entanglement of cause and effect where everything and everyone reflects on each other, every action, every breath, every conscious thought connected. Imagine the unspeakable beauty of the universe he sees. No wonder he doesn't talk.
SUTHERLAND: (as Martin) My son sees all that?
GLOVER: (as Arthur) Mr. Bohm, your son sees everything: the past, the present, the future. He sees how it's all connected.
SUTHERLAND: (as Martin) You're telling me my son can predict the future.
GLOVER: (as Arthur) No. I'm telling you it's a roadmap, and your job now, your purpose is to follow it for him. It's your fate, Mr. Bohm. It's your destiny.
BIANCULLI: Don't worry. I haven't given too much away. All this just sets up the premise of "Touch," which will have the father running around trying to find and help selected strangers, or stop certain accidents, thanks to this mystical, numerical road map. Basically, it's a variation on the new CBS series "Person of Interest," except that the stories are propelled by a human computer, not an actual one. And in the pilot, several characters are indeed changed thanks to their interactions with Martin, suggesting how this series is likely to play itself out in the future.
What remains to be seen, though, is whether future installments of "Touch" will play out as an interesting, interwoven narrative that's as satisfying as it is unusual - or, on the other hand, whether they'll just turn into some sort of metaphysical "Mission: Impossible," with new cases to solve each week, as in dozens of other adventure series.
I don't know which way "Touch" is going to go, but I'm willing to stay with it to find out. Young Jake, with his gift of seeing into the future, he may know. But he's not talking - at least not yet.
DAVIES: David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website "TV Worth Watching," and teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey.