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Kiefer Sutherland (left) in a scene from an episode of "Touch" (Richard Foreman/Fox)
Kiefer Sutherland (left) in a scene from an episode of "Touch" (Richard Foreman/Fox)

John Doyle: Television

Kiefer Sutherland's 'Touch' full of confusing connections Add to ...

There are three weird things about the new Fox drama Touch, which is all about connectivity.

First, the show (sneak preview on Jan. 25, starts in March) stars Kiefer Sutherland and it’s still impossible not to think of him as Jack Bauer from 24. Second, it makes an ambiguous connection between autism and mystical powers. Third, it is yet another show that dwells on the impact of 9/11.

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Kiefer Sutherland faced 10 questions about Jack Bauer in the course of 30 minutes on Sunday. He wasn’t annoyed. He was here to talk about Touch, but he’s not letting go of Bauer, the guy who saved the United States from terrorism for eight seasons. In fact, he let it slip that the 24 movie will start shooting in late April or May.

In Touch, he plays the father of a silent, autistic boy, Jake, whose ability to see connections and patterns seems to allow him to predict the future.

Sutherland said he was on Broadway doing That Championship Season when he was asked to read the Touch script. “I said, ‘You know what, I’m not ready to do that yet.’ I wanted to set some time apart from the amazing experience I had in 24,” he said. But he did read it and committed to doing it. He said he liked Touch because “it was just so beautifully written.”

In truth, Touch is dorky and manipulative, but the kind of beautifully made, highfalutin hokum that can succeed with aplomb on network TV. Creator Tim Kring ( Heroes) actually talked about his intention “to use archetypal narrative to create and promote a positive energy in the world.”

Sutherland tried to steer the conversation to his role as a single dad of an autistic child in Touch, and even mentioned that he is now a grandfather who takes parenting very seriously. But Jack Bauer kept butting in. “The character [of Martin Bohm in Touch]was so vastly different, and the tone of the piece was so vastly different that that was part of its appeal,” the actor said. “I had to reread it a second time to make sure that all of the emotional components that I was reacting to so strongly were actually integral to me, as opposed to this perspective that I was trying to navigate away from 24.”

In the matter of autism, the show seems deeply conflicted. Jake (David Mazouz) hates to be touched and spends his existence writing down patterns of numbers. At first, he is plainly presented as an autistic child and later it appears he has mystical powers.

It was suggested to Kring that parents of autistic children might be confused by the creation of a mythology surrounding autism.

“The show does not attempt to talk about autism,” he said. “It’s not a show about autism. In fact, just to give you a little background on why the character is the way he is: I sort of backed into what Jake’s character was, by having just the idea of a character who had this gift to see how we were all connected. By backing into some of those ideas, we ended up with a child who, by the outside world, would be labelled or diagnosed as autistic. But in the pilot, we have a character, who is a professor, who states kind of right up front that there is a misdiagnosis going on.

“And, as storytellers, we want to sort of reserve the right to say that there is some other idea floating above it, something perhaps supernatural or spiritual floating above this [autism]that allows us to tell the stories that we want to tell, without having to be grounded in such reality.”

This might make sense to someone creating a TV series, but it is certainly going to confuse parents.

The 9/11 theme is also built on ambiguity. The wife of the Sutherland character died while working in the World Trade Center. He visits her grave and hears from a firefighter who tried to save her. There is a vague suggestion that Jake can rescue the world from some of the horrors of the post-9/11 world.

First, Kring denied that 9/11 is a “conscious metaphor.” But then he said, “The idea of 9/11 was really just as a backdrop to Martin’s character and the fact that they live in New York, and he’s now a single parent with a child that’s very complicated. But I think the consciousness change – if there was a consciousness shift in the country after 9/11 – was this awareness that what happens ‘there’ does affect us and that, you know, people from 10,000 miles away would fly planes into our building was as a result of this globally connected world. And so, in a sense, maybe 9/11 does act as a metaphor for that consciousness.”

Confused? Well the show is confusing, but, at the start, gorgeously so. It throbs with grand ambitions to explain the connectivity of the world. It remains to be seen if the action and mess of ideas actually connect with viewers.

As for Sutherland, there is connectivity too. Asked how his own family supports him, he said: “I’ve been really fortunate. I grew up with my mother, and I have a very, very close relationship with my father now. My grandfather, my mother’s father.…” Here, Sutherland was interrupted by the critic saying, “Your grandfather was amazing!”

He smiled and continued, “Tommy Douglas was someone I was very, very close to. I have a twin sister, who has helped me through a lot of stuff. And, oddly enough, my youngest daughter is 24. My oldest one is in her 30s. They have come around the other side and been unbelievable support systems too.”

Being connected to Tommy Douglas and Donald Sutherland actually trumps anything broached in Touch. But that’s a Canadian thing, right?

Truth

Talk of a Glee spinoff is dead. Truth is, the show’s average ratings are down 19 per cent this season. Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly said, “There will not be a Glee spinoff, but those characters will graduate and it’s led to a really interesting idea that I think is going to give us something really cool to dig into next season.”

Hype

Former movie actor Christian Slater made a rough transition to TV. He starred in the quickly cancelled My Own Worst Enemy for NBC and the failure The Forgotten for ABC. Then he joined the Fox comedy Breaking In, which has now been renewed. Slater, struggling to summarize his rough TV career, said he “felt like Goldilocks trying on different networks instead of different beds.” Of the Fox experience, worrying about Breaking In being cancelled, he said: “It’s like when Tinker Bell was dying and Peter Pan was saying, ‘Do you believe in fairies?’ It’s like, ‘I do believe; I do believe!’ ”

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