DRAMA PREVIEW "Touch"
WHEN | WHERE Tomorrow at 9 p.m. on Fox/5; moves into regular Monday-at-9 p.m. time slot on March 19
REASON TO WATCH Kiefer Sutherland's back on Fox.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Martin Bohm (Sutherland) is a beset single father whose wife was killed in the World Trade Center attacks of 2001. His 10-year-old son, Jake (David Mazouz), can't speak and may be autistic.
Jake is obsessed with numbers, scribbling endless strings of them on paper; their meaning is obscure, although they seem to be part of a "Fibonacci sequence," the mathematical basis for whirling patterns in things like pineapples and galaxies. In the opener, Jake runs away from his special-needs school, and Martin, working as a baggage handler at JFK, finds him atop a steel tower in a remote industrial site. Child protective services are called, and a social worker, Clea Hopkins (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), gets involved.
MY SAY This brief rundown doesn't even begin to crack the plot code of "Touch." Cellphones also assume a starring role, as do concurrent story lines in Iraq, Japan, the U.K. and Ireland (sure signs Fox has sold this internationally, which it has).
Danny Glover has a memorable role as the doctor who explains, "The whole cosmic field of humanity comes down to electromagnetic energy and connections." (Uh-huh. Noted.) Meanwhile, Tim Kring, mastermind of "Heroes," created this packed world, which explains a bit more.
Jake is almost like a new "hero" and "Touch" an imaginative -- in some ways, ingenious -- extension of that NBC series. But Kring has stripped the comic book sensibility by grounding it in the real world, and by turning Jake and his father into plausible real-world people, filled with grief, sorrow, worry and, in Jake's case, the tragic impenetrability of autism. There are some tragicomic brush strokes to remind us that we're not in "24" anymore. Martin, for example, won't climb a tower because he admits that he's afraid of heights. His wife also died at the World Trade Center.
BOTTOM LINE A bit melodramatic, a lot manipulative, "Touch" is still one of the best pilots of the 2011-12 season to date. But this is a pilot -- which feels more like a short novel, or a movie treatment -- and how this turns into a weekly series for now remains a mystery nearly as deep as Jake's gift.