Kiefer Sutherland’s return to TV and Fox is less about the actor than about series creator Tim Kring, whose “Heroes” flamed brightly before creatively imploding. With “Touch,” the writer-producer again finds an intriguing concept, but bathes the warming premise in so much emotional manipulation it has to be watched entirely with the heart, not the head. Fox is showcasing the slick, extra-long pilot well in advance of a scheduled March return, hoping to seed its own connection with viewers. And why not? With a show this heavy-handed, a promotional light touch hardly seems appropriate.
Kring actually explored similar issues of global connectivity in improbable ways on “Heroes,” but he really goes the Full Monty here, with Sutherland as Martin Bohm, the set-upon single father of an autistic 10-year-old son, Jake (David Mazouz), who is heard only in the show’s introductory voiceover. Martin lost his wife on Sept. 11 (she was in one of the towers) and has been working odd jobs since giving up his career as a “highly paid reporter” (a creature not unlike Bigfoot, but never mind) to tend to his son, who because of his condition won’t allow dad or anyone else to touch him.
Jake’s confounding behavior — repeatedly escaping the school where Martin’s placed him in order to climb a tower, always at the exact same time — has Martin at wit’s end, and he’s in danger of having the kid removed from his custody by a concerned case worker (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, of the short-lived “Undercovers”).
Gradually, unexplainable things begin to happen, suggesting Jake possesses mental abilities that make him more than he might outwardly appear. Meanwhile, throughout the premiere (written by Kring and directed by Francis Lawrence) we’re treated to sequences involving other characters — a lottery winner, a teenager in Baghdad, young girls in Japan, a businessman who lost his cellphone — with indications that all these disparate storylines will somehow connect.
The idea of autistic kids cracking elaborate codes isn’t a new one, and was featured in the movie “Mercury Rising.” Here, though, Jake’s gift rises to paranormal levels.
The pilot is interesting and handsomely mounted, so far as it goes, but the payoff isn’t equal to the buildup. And while one can appreciate the desire to explicitly lay out the premise, having guest star Danny Glover appear as a sage at a vaguely defined “institute” who explains it all to Martin — calling his son “an evolutionary step,” capable of seeing beyond normal limits — is so convenient as to be almost risible.
As for where the series goes, the signs say “Touch” is ostensibly another permutation of “Touched by an Angel” (in this case, an autistic savant), with Martin sifting through Jake’s arcane clues to help those in need.
Sutherland certainly has a loyal following, and he’s fine depicting the dad’s frustration, agony and, eventually, hope. Still, it’s hard to fathom how Kring can perpetuate this mix, and whether there’s really enough meat to sustain a do-gooder procedural in the unlikely confines of Fox.
In the broadest terms, “Touch” has its “We Are the World” heart in the right place. But like another song says, we don’t need another “Heroes.”