I have a guilty confession: over the past couple days, I’ve indulged myself in four—count ‘em—episodes of Touch, the new Fox series starring Kiefer Sutherland, whose character’s autistic son remarkably recognizes and predicts every twist and turn of the cosmos, through a supernaturally precocious blend of mathematical genius and metaphysical insight.
When the show first aired, The New York Times billed the pilot as spiritually “New Agey” and “quasi-Asian,” while critiquing its treatment of the 21st human experience as “sentimental escapism.” It’s clear that Mike Hale, the post’s author, found in Touch a good-hearted but ultimately lightweight attempt to explain human tragedy and complexity through oversimplified, phantasmagorical storytelling worthy of an audience not much older than the show’s protagonist: eleven, to be exact.
I can’t say I disagree with all of the author’s criticisms. I don’t find strong philosophical sympathy with (or see any evidence of) the argument that the behaviorally or cognitively impaired children of my generation—as an ADHDer, I would fall into this category—represent a new, evolutionary step for humanity. Yes, I’m technically one of those “Indigo children,” but I find it neither helpful nor particularly responsible to claim that my incessant distractedness in class signified some kind of leap for humankind.
But to wholly critique the show as mere naive idealism, or unforgivable Hollywood sentimentalism, would, in my opinion, miss a major point. Yes, to say that autistic kids can understand every intricacy of quantum entanglement as it relates to the human experience may qualify as both unrealistic and reductionistic, but at least Touch is trying to do something—and, with a second-season renewal, doing so with some degree of success (even though they’re down from their opening numbers, 4.6 million people, as they say, can’t be wrong).
But there’s something about Touch that I like. A lot. Unlike many shows, every episode ends on a note in which the characters find themselves more connected to one another, and more deeply, than at the start. And a show that employs the Buddhist principle of dependent origination—the notion that everything depends upon everything else to exist, and, therefore, everything is intrinsically and inextricably interconnected—as its philosophical premise does more good than harm to its viewers.
Plus, I cried. Several times. In every episode. Each ending uplifted me. And the opening and closing monologues—like those of creator Tim Kring’s previous (and philosophically related) show, Heroes—strive to explore real philosophical principles, the kinds that our greatest minds have struggled with and debated throughout the ages.
Will I watch the entire season of Touch? Probably. Do I think the show reduces the complexity of the human experience, choosing instead a metaphysically magical interpretation of often inexplicable phenomena? Yes.
But I do empathize with Kring’s desire to make our media make meaning out of our lives. And I wish there were more shows like it—shows that deal less with the superficial behaviors and emotions of homo sapiens, and more with explorations of the deeper cosmological questions that bind and plague us all.
You can, however, decide for yourself. All you need is the internet. Watch the pilot below, and the next two episodes for free on Hulu (international readers, check your local listings):
After you do, let me know what you think in the comments.