Touch premieres in Dallas on Fox 4 on Monday, March 19th at 8c.
Keifer Sutherland is bringing the acting chops he developed so furiously on his hit show 24 back to Fox. This go-round, Sutherland is Martin Bohm, the father of Jacob, a boy with a special gift: the gift of connection. Jacob Bohm sees connections between people that no one else can, and the show illustrates the inevitable and sometimes surprising ways we are all connected to one another. The flipside of this giftedness: Jacob is non-verbal, his only communication given in long series of numbers, and he has severe sensory issues.
Martin Bohm, wrung out from years of caring for his son alone after being widowed on 9/11, is desperate to keep Social Services from taking Jacob away. While both the producers and the pilot itself state that the boy is not autistic, well if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it's a duck. Obviously, this boy has supernatural giftings, but his disorder meets all the clinical criteria for ASD. Lack of eye contact, inability to communicate verbally, meltdowns when he receives any physical contact, lack of typical fear response, obsession with patterns and numbers, social isolation, etc., all jive with the symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Touch perpetrates the "sacred child" myth so often associated with ASD and related disorders in movies and television. In the last few years autism has become a very trendy plot device, popping up in episodes of shows as disparate as Eli Stone, CSI, Grey's Anatomy, Bones, House, Flashforward, Parenthood, and Community. In most of these treatments, we see the "sacred child" myth perpetrated. The person with ASD is the posessor of some sacred knowledge that no one else can see, they are gifted beyond what is thought possible, and they are working on a higher plane than the rest of us. This is definitely the tack taken by Touch.
It's a good and a bad thing. While I tend to lean more towards the belief that those on the spectrum are acutely in touch with the world around them because of their highly attuned senses and the way their brains are wired, and dismiss the long-perpetuated theory that everyone on the spectrum is intellectually disabled, there is a fine line between deification of these people and a healthy awareness and respect for their gifts, especially when it is used as a gimmick in a TV show.
On the flip side, the sacrifice, love, desperation, and deep connection a parent with a child on the spectrum must have is communicated by Touch perfectly. This is the part of the show that I think is positive for those in the autism community. I could definitely relate to Matin Bohm. I, too, have been judged because of the actions of my child by someone who has no clue about the spectrum. I, too, have stood at the bottom of a high tower and coaxed my child down, hoping they don't misstep. The exhaustion, frustration, and ache to be able to know what your child is thinking is something I believe is common to all people with loved ones on the spectrum. It is a lot of work, but there are also moments of pure wonder that can eclipse that work. In that sense, Touch is note-perfect.
While it isn't exactly clear how Jacob's special gift works, the concept, acting, and story definitely have potential. I look forward to seeing where exactly this whole thing goes, and will continue to review the show as it progresses. Follow the show and comment below with your thoughts on how TV effects the perception our society has of Autism.