Confused? Complexities of ‘Touch,’ ‘Awake’ Present a Challenge

by | March 24, 2012 at 1:05 PM | TV News

Complicated men: Jason Isaacs (left) of NBC's "Awake" and Kiefer Sutherland in Fox's "Touch" (Photos: NBC, Fox)

Two new drama series are taxing a viewer’s capacity to understand what they’re about.

OK, that viewer happens to be me. And it could be that many who will read this are a lot smarter than I am, and are having no trouble navigating the complexities of “Touch,” the very numbers-oriented new series on Fox starring Kiefer Sutherland, and “Awake,” the NBC drama series about a police detective who coexists in two worlds — one real, the other a dream.

Sound complicated? That’s because it is. In “Awake,” Jason Isaacs stars as the aforementioned police detective, who was in a very violent car crash that killed either his wife, his son or both of them.

As a result of this traumatic experience, he lives these dual lives. In one of them, his wife is alive and his son is dead (or so it seems to me). In the other, it’s the son who’s still living. (Come to think of it, maybe both of these “lives” are dreams — who knows?)

So, with this guy leading two lives (real or imagined), you get two parallel stories in each episode. At least that was the case in last week’s episode as the detective set about trying to solve two murder cases. They were separate incidents, but some of the characters in each of them crossed over between them. (Pretty complicated, right? I never said it gets any easier!)

Anyway, these parallel “lives” (or whatever they are) require that Det. Britten (the character’s name) have different detective partners (Wilmer Valderamma in one and Steve Harris in the other) and even different shrinks (Cherry Jones and B.D. Wong). The two shrinks are supposed to help him navigate the difference between real-life and this recurring dream state, but since there are two shrinks — one apparently real and the other a dream one (possibly) — navigating this netherworld becomes very difficult indeed, especially for me.

The thing is: Over the years, I’ve always been led to believe that the best pitches for TV shows are the ones that can be communicated in just a few simple sentences. That’s why a show as complicated as “Awake” getting on the air is somewhat of a surprise. Let it be noted: I bear no ill will to “Awake” and all the fine people who work on it. I just don’t get it.

Maybe you’ll do better: You are cordially invited to watch last week’s episode of “Awake” right here:

Speaking of complications: How does a drama series with storylines centering on an extreme form of math grab you?

In a nutshell, that’s the idea behind “Touch.” Of course, if the premise of “Touch” could fit in a nutshell, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post about it.

In “Touch,” Sutherland plays a put-upon single dad — a widower — with a special-needs child, an 11-year-old son (played by David Mazmouz). The boy, Jake, has one of those rare and difficult-to-fathom forms of autism that are positioned in dramatizations such as this as a form of genius, even if the condition’s anti-social aspects make it impossible for the afflicted to live normally in society. In a way, Jake is descended from characters such as Dustin Hoffman’s in “Rain Man,” Robert De Niro’s in “Awakenings” and others.

Jake’s “gift,” as it were, is a keen ability to sense when events will happen simply by, somehow, thinking up certain numbers at random. Thus, in each episode, Jake is seen scribbling some number repeatedly, and this sets his dad in pursuit of people who might be in trouble. What happens is: The numbers somehow tell Jake how different people in diverse parts of the world might all be impacted by some event at the same time, even though they may not know each other (and, in most cases, they don’t).

Sound intriguing? Well, that’s because it is intriguing. One of the show’s best features is how each episode’s disparate threads come together in the end. The problem is: After the episode-ending “surprise” wears off, I find myself questioning the plausibility of what just happened.

From the standpoint of the show’s writers and producers, these plots are supposed to make perfect sense because, they might say, they’re based on “math” and numbers don’t lie. And then, to continue this imaginary conversation, I might say: Yes, that might be true — but how was the original number arrived at by Jake in the first place? What do the digits add up to? And is that sum meaningful? And on and on.

This show is so complicated that, at one point while watching last week’s episode, I wondered if an upcoming episode of “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS would have its resident nerd/geniuses watching “Touch” and having them try and figure it out. (I know: That wouldn’t happen except in some parallel universe.)

Do you have to be a genius to enjoy “Touch”? Here’s a smart move: Watch last week’s episode here:
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