WIDOWED FATHER Martin (Kiefer Sutherland) tries to understand his son… (Richard Foreman / Fox )
"Touch," which brings Kiefer Sutherland back to television and Fox after not so very long a time, is a well-dressed work of solemn, sentimental nonsense whose undeniably appealing theme is that there is an order to the universe, a mystical, mathematical intention that is working to heal our wounds, protect our children and fulfill our dreams. The aggressive claims its more than myriad coincidences and remote yet trickily interdependent story lines make on one's suspended disbelief will in itself be taken by some as a sign that it is on the side of the angels. But I am going to have to stand with the apes here.
The pilot airs Wednesday as a post-"American Idol" "preview event," before the series takes up its regular Monday night slot in March, when it will premiere in more than 100 countries nearly simultaneously — if nothing else, a sign of the star's international appeal. It is, without question, handsomely made, and Sutherland, who managed to keep Jack Bauer something akin to likable through eight seasons of "24," is appealing and should grow more so if the scripts let him relax a little; he is an overwound mainspring when we meet.
Sutherland plays Martin Bohm, formerly a "highly paid reporter" who, since the death of his stockbroker wife on 9/11, has been spiraling through a series of lesser jobs; he is now a baggage handler at JFK. Meanwhile, he has failed to establish any meaningful contact with his presumably autistic son, Jake (David Mazouz), past knowing that he can calm him down with orange soda and that he likes cellphones, which Martin brings home by the pound from the airport lost-and-found.
Jake doesn't speak, hates to be touched, compulsively scribbles lines of numbers and has begun climbing radio towers, a habit that will bring into his life a social worker (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), representing practical reason, and the familiar Old Person With Mystic Knowledge (Danny Glover, in a bathrobe). It is Glover's character who tells Martin what Jake, in an opening voice-over, has already told the audience: that there is a pattern to everything, and he can see it: "It's all been predetermined by mathematical probabilities, and it's my job to keep track of these numbers, to make the connection for those who need to find each other." In the pilot, these folks are flung far across the globe, or knocking up blindly against one another at close quarters, but in either case they are joined in a Rube Goldberg narrative whose multiple purpose is to help them all.
Creator Tim Kring's previous series, "Heroes," was also bound up with matters of destiny, higher consciousness and evolving humankind. Like that show (and like "Lost," which also got mileage out of spookily recurring numbers), "Touch" is a quasi-religious drama decorated with bits of "science": Quantum entanglement, string theory, Fibonacci numbers, golden sections and electromagnetic waves all make their way onto the stage. (No one has mentioned fractals yet; it's early.) But there is also talk of "the red thread of fate" and the "cosmic wheel of humanity."
The hour reaches a conclusion that is the dramatic equivalent of a table-clearing trick shot in billiards. Ironically, given a show that so clearly wants to touch its audience — from that weighty one-word title on down — we have met, apart from Martin, hardly a single character who incorporates more than the hint of an actual person. They are numbers themselves, algebraic values in a complicated equation that seems no more convincing for the pretty way it resolves.
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday
Rating: TV-PG-DLV (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence)