Saturday, April 07, 2012

Kiefer's back in business

A few weeks back, I added the new Fox series "Touch" to my Hulu queue, but it wasn't until last night that I sat down to watch the pilot episode. "Touch" stars Fox favorite Kiefer Sutherland in a very un-Jack-Bauer-like role as Martin Bohm (shades of scientist and philosopher David Bohm, he of Wholeness and the Implicate Order fame), the father of a child, Jake, who may be afflicted with severe autism. In the opening seconds of the episode, Jake speaks to us directly in voiceover narration:

The ratio is always the same: one to one point six-one-eight, over and over and over again. Patterns 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: the patterns never lie, but only some of us can see how the pieces fit together.

Seven billion, eighty million, three hundred sixty thousand of us live on this tiny planet. This is the story of some of those people.

There is an ancient Chinese myth about the red thread of fate. It says that the gods have tied a red thread around every one of our ankles, and attached it to all the people whose lives are destined to touch. This thread may stretch, or tangle, but it will never break.

It's often predetermined by mathematical 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 four thousand one hundred and sixty-one days ago, on October 26, 2000. I've been alive for eleven years, four months, twenty-one days, and fourteen hours.

And in all that time, I've never said a single word.

NPR has a review of the pilot episode that pretty much reflects my own thoughts on the series. Read it here (a more critical review is here, and a more philosophical review is here). I found the pilot generally compelling, but perhaps a bit too hasty in introducing us to the show's premise. The appearance of Danny Glover (way lispier than I remember him from his "Lethal Weapon" days) is jarring in its suddenness, as he becomes the guy who reveals that Jake is one of a few beings blessed with a special gift: the gift of seeing the large-yet-subtle patterns that undergird our interconnectedness-- patterns related to the Divine Proportion.

One of the looming questions for me-- aside from the question of whether the fuzzy philosophical underpinnings of the show will resolve themselves into clarity-- is whether Jake will ever become more than a plot device. Danny Glover's character, Dr. Teller, says Jake is like an air-traffic controller, guiding people along these invisible patterns. Obviously, Jake is vital to the show because he has a function, like any machine. It's up to Jake's dad, then, to provide the emotional core of the show, since Jake himself is blank and affectless. Is it possible for the unchanging, impassive Jake to have a character arc? Only one character in the pilot undergoes any real change, and that's social worker Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw-- what a name!), who starts off as a doubter but converts pretty quickly to Martin and Jake's cause. What exactly that cause is will be, I imagine, the subject of the rest of the series. Right now, all we have to go on is Martin's unquestioning love for and belief in Jake, which is enough to make me wonder whether the show isn't also a parable about faith.

In the meantime, I'm left to ponder the philosophy. As I wrote above, it's fuzzy right now. The core concept for the series seems loosely based on notions of quantum entanglement, but at the anthropic level, not the quantum level. In other words, human events manifest the same patterns as do subatomic particles, plants, galaxies, and all the rest. This ontological recursiveness also calls to mind fractals or holograms. Fractals are repeating patterns that look the same no matter the level of resolution: zoom in X times, and you'll see the same configurations as when you zoom in 100X times. Holograms, when cut into pieces, still depict the same whole image: the explicate order isn't changed by any rupture of the implicate order.

All of this makes for some nifty metaphysical analogizing. Are we all parts of a cosmic fractal pattern? Are we instantiations of holomovement? Was Fibonacci, with his funky, hypnotic spirals, on to something big about the nature of the universe?

Such speculation is very mystical and picturesque, but there's something incoherent about Jake's role/mission. If these patterns are ingrained in the fabric of the universe, what need is there for an air-traffic controller? Perhaps the series will explore this question. It might go in a theistic direction and suggest that Jake, and others like him, are guardian angels of a sort. The series is too uplifting in tone to go a darker route: these air-traffic controllers won't be like William Sadler's Colonel Stuart in "Die Hard 2"-- the guy who maliciously guides a plane into the ground to prove he's become master of Dulles Airport. There will be no revelation that the universe is run by the evil demon of Descartes.

Two more episodes of "Touch" sit in my queue right now; I've got some catching-up to do. In the meantime, I wanted to offer these initial impressions of the series, and to welcome Kiefer Sutherland back to prime-time TV.


John from Daejeon said...

Sorry to be the bearer of bad Kiefer news, but I think you need to be getting ready to say good-bye to "Touch."

The important part of that link: "In episode four news (and its third original telecast in the Thursday 9 p.m. hour), lead-out drama Touch with Kiefer Sutherland slipped to a series-low 5.0/ 9. Comparably, that was down by 14 percent from one week earlier, with retention out of the 8:30 p.m. portion of American Idol (10.8/18) of just 46 percent. Three-week overnight track for Touch: 7.3/13 – 5.8/10 – 5.0/ 9."

I guess at this point he is still hoping that next year's planned "24" movie is still green lit. Well, that's if he can put his ego aside and take the single-digit millions the producers want to pay him instead of the megamillions he thinks he is worth. I'm hoping that he is touched by his "Touch" ratings and takes what in currently on the table and does the movie.

Kevin Kim said...

I've never understood TV ratings. If these fractions are to be taken literally, then

Week 2: 7.3/13 = .562

Week 3: 5.8/10 = .580

Week 4: 5.0/ 9 = .556

Are we looking at a huge variance? True: I doubt this show will prove as compelling as "24" was, so it doesn't surprise me to learn that it might be nose-diving. But is it, in fact, nose-diving?

Meh. In any case, I'll watch the other episodes in my queue and see for myself whether the show has been able to stay worthy of its lofty (if soft-headed) premise. As for Mr. Sutherland's ego, well... I think he's a fine actor, but I haven't been tracking his salary demands. I did see, however, an article about the director of "The Hunger Games" demanding higher pay to direct the sequel. Can't blame people for not wanting to get steamrollered. We can't all be Sylvester Stallone, who worked for union scale when he did "Copland."

John from Daejeon said...

Sorry, those aren't fractions but actually ratings and shares of the TV audience watching or, in this case, not watching "Touch" over the last three weeks.

The most important fact is that "Touch" is in the most desirable position in television--leading out of the number 1 show on television, "American Idol" on one of the two most heavily watched nights of the week. But losing over half of "Idol's" 10.8 rating and 16 share (5.0/9 for "Touch") is a certain death sentence. Which is why "Bones" has been renewed for an 8th season and "The Finder" (The "Bones" spin-off) is burning off episodes in the wasteland of TV timeslots (Fridays and Saturdays). "Bones" is able to keep a much greater percentage of "Idol's" audience (70%ish) while "The Finder" was pulling "Touch" numbers (sub 50%s)just a month or so ago in the same Thursday timeslot.

What makes even less sense for commercial network television is that in this day and age (dvrs and streaming), just how many viewers are even watching commercials at all anymore? I know I haven't in about 14 years other than when I watch the Super Bowl, and I'm sure that number keeps on getting larger and larger every day thanks to technology.

After working in the business for several years (and loving television all my life), I can pretty well say that Nielsen has been getting away with one hell of a Ponzi scheme for well over 60 years now as they have been the only game in town running these convoluted numbers based on a very small sampling of highly suspect viewers for all that time.

Kevin Kim said...

I wish I understood the arcana of TV ratings. Can you suggest any sources for me to read up on that topic?

John from Daejeon said...

How to understand Nielsen TV ratings.

Understanding TV ratings.

How Nielsen is bamboozling New Zealand. Nielsen is using 600 homes to measure the viewing habits of well over 4,000,000 people (same is how they do it in all countries) without getting much, if any, information from bars, dorms, prisons, or any other local where large groups of people gather together and watch TV.

Another weaselly tool used in television is the wonderful focus group made of paid, big city, out-of-work, respondents. "The Simpsons" take a swipe at focus groups in their The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show episode.

Kevin Kim said...

Very, very informative. Thanks!