Sunday, April 15, 2012

about to drop "Touch"

I've now seen four episodes of "Touch," and I'm about to drop the series altogether. It's not the acting; it's not the editing; it's not the dialogue or the music or even the screenwriting. The problem is that the show's premise-- that even the most random-seeming occurrences are evidence of a larger, inextricable, cosmic interconnection-- leaves me with no reason to feel any suspense. The show's desired message is that everything works out in the end, but the real message seems to be that everything works out with ruthless, clockwork efficiency in the end. There's nothing organic or human about a rigidly Pythagorean world of numbers; and because it seems that little Jake (the perhaps-autistic child acting as an "air-traffic controller" to guide people to their proper ends) can never be wrong, there's no reason for me to be emotionally invested in any of the characters. Everything's going to be OK... ho-hum.

The show's approach leaves it open to the same sort of critique that philosophers aim at theists. There are questions of theodicy here: why is Jake sensitive to the respective plights of these people but not those people? Where's the fairness in that? Why, if Jake and other "air-traffic controllers" exist, is there any suffering at all in the world? How is suffering even possible if the numbers are guiding us all along our individual-yet-interwoven flight paths?

Upshot: I've pretty much lost patience with the show, whose writers have demonstrated no desire to create a truly fascinating mystery and sustain it. So on second thought, I take back what I wrote above: the screenwriting is a problem. Watching "Touch" is a lot like watching a happy-joy version of "Final Destination": there's no escaping the dual pressures of causality and fate; if you veer off your flight path, some force will put you back on it.

Ways to make the episodes more interesting and compelling:

1. Harlan Ellison showed us the way when he wrote the magnificent "Star Trek" episode, "City on the Edge of Forever." In that episode, Kirk's love interest must die for history's continuity to be preserved. In that spirit, it might be nice to see that Jake has to guide some people to a grisly end in order to save even more people. This would, of course, put "Touch" into the same ethical territory as "24," which trafficked rather heavily in harrowing moral dilemmas. But that might be a good thing. Right now, "Touch," which shares traits with do-gooder shows like "Touched by an Angel" and "Highway to Heaven," seems to have been designed for a milquetoast audience, not the younger, bloodthirstier audiences that Fox shows typically attract. The show needs to be edgier.

2. Let's see what happens to Jake when his actions put his long-suffering father in a coma. Right now, Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland) is the articulation of Jake's will. Jake doesn't talk, but Martin is getting better at reading Jake's intent. What if Jake demands something of Martin that Martin simply can't do-- that brings Martin to harm? This would be a welcome contradiction of Martin's line in the first episode, in which he parrots the old saw about God never giving us more than we can handle. (Tell that to the quarter million dead in Indonesia, or the earthquake victims in Japan.) What will Jake do if ol' Dad is in the hospital, unable to carry out his son's will? Will Jake finally come out of his shell and try to speak to his dad?

3. Make Jake fallible! If Jake remains infallible-- if we never see that he's just a kid-- then to my mind he's basically a divinity of some sort, the show's quantum pseudoscience be damned. Divinities generally make for flat, boring characters, which is why they're used sparingly in dramas and comedies. "Bruce Almighty" is mostly about Bruce, not God. The theistic force in "Battlestar Galactica" is a deus absconditus, not a constant, visible presence. The movie "Troy" dispenses entirely with literal polytheism. When a god is portrayed as the main character-- as in the 1980s classic "Oh, God!" starring George Burns and John Denver-- he's usually fallible. Thus far, alas, Jake seems even less capable of error than the Pope, and he's also front and center in the show. That's a bad combination.

I'll watch another episode or two of "Touch" to see whether any of the above happens. I'm not hopeful, though. "Touch" seems to be following its own predetermined flight path right into the ground. Is there a Jake-like being who can save the show from self-destructing?



patikakes said...

Hi there! Lot's of us Kiefer fans have problems with Touch-too many storylines is a big part of my concerns-that being said, all these ep's were filmed last summer. Please keep watching and give them a chance to do some changing because I love watching Kiefer every Thursday. He has been fantastic-now the writers must have read some of the blogs, give them time to make those changes. :-)

Kevin Kim said...

Well, I'll watch a few more, but at this point, I feel I know the show's basic formula:

1. Jake keeps writing a set of numbers over and over. We can think of this as the Number Set of the Week.

2. Martin says, "What're you trying to tell me, Jake?" Then he's off and running after his boy. Clea Hopkins pipes up with, "If you keep following your son around, you'll burn out!" Duly noted, Clea, but my son's about to walk in front of a car.

3. The rest of the episode, Martin's dialogue is reduced to, "Wait, Jake!" and, when he meets the people he's supposed to help: "I know this sounds crazy, but..."

4. International plotlines coalesce in perfect harmony by the end of the episode.

I'm sorry, but there's just no suspense in that. I'm watching the series on Hulu, so I'm probably a few weeks behind the rest of the world, but the episodes I've seen up to now simply aren't cutting it. As I mentioned above, I'll watch a few more eps, but I'm probably going to be dropping the show unless I see some radical departures from what has gone before.

None of this is to impugn Kiefer Sutherland's acting or producing ability. He's undeniably talented, and his performance is the main draw for me. I just don't think this is the right vehicle for him, although I'm not sure what I'd replace "Touch" with.