On the Bubble: Missing and Touch

Posted on March 21, 2012

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Last week, we watched premiers of two shows – Missing, with Ashley Judd; and Touch, with Kiefer Sutherland.

We Watched Missing

Ten years ago, while in Rome with his son, Paul Winstone (Sean Bean) was killed by terrorists. In the present day, his son, Michael Winstone (Nick Eversman), goes to Rome as an architecture student…and disappears. His mother, Rebecca Winstone (Ashley Judd) flies to Rome and begins looking for her son. She finds his apartment, and a gunman ambushes her. Not only does she know how to fight, but she has contacts in Rome to help her hide from the police. Turns out the gunman is ex-Italian secret service, and now the CIA wants to know where Rebecca is…because she used to be an agent.

On the Bubble

Before the show began, I had two doubts. Not about Ashley Judd, who’s terrific, but rather about the premise.

I chose that image from the show on purpose. This show is obviously (and insultingly) manipulative, milking a mother’s grief and rage for all that it can. So, my first doubt was that the writing would rise above shamelessly manipulative images like that one.

I must admit that at times, it did. I got caught up in the action and intrigue at several moments during the premiere.

My second doubt was about the whole missing college kid thing. This show is doomed from the start, because we all know that she can never find her son, or the show is over. Come on, writers, studios, showrunners, etc, we know Gilligan’s Island Syndrome when we hear about it. Give us a break. If Rebecca ever finds Michael, you’re out of work.

Look, there’s a better way to do this (and if I can figure it out, so could anyone working in Hollywood today). Here’s what you do: Embrace the premise fully. People get kidnapped every day. That’s why multinational corporations buy hostage insurance for employees who work overseas.

Set the show overseas, not in Rome or Paris, but in South America or Eastern Europe or the Pacific Islands. Each season, you follow a different kidnapping story. That frees you up for stunt casting in many ways. First, no movie star wants to be tied to a TV show for years. Patrick Stewart only became Captain Picard because his agent told him that Star Trek: The Next Generation wouldn’t last a full season. Single season arcs let you attract talent without long-term commitments. Second, you don’t have to shell out huge salaries if your show turns out to be a hit. Third, it reduces risk all around. If the stars turn out to dislike TV filming schedules, or you don’t like the stars, or the ratings say your audience doesn’t like a particular actor, you’re not locked in forever.

Now, to do this, you’ve got to build up a background cast. CIA station chiefs, embassy staffs, and local police investigators become the threads that tie your seasons together.

Oh, and before I forget, every season your writers get a new set of main characters with different talents and different approaches to problem solving. That sounds like manna from Heaven to me.

WTF

Okay – really? Sean Bean? He wasn’t on screen two minutes before I bet my wife $5 that he would die before the quarter hour mark. I won.

And don’t think I’m clueless Gregory Poirier et al: I caught the message in the photos. I know that Paul is still alive, and that Michael is probably with him – or will be soon. Way to give away too much in the first episode.

We Watched Touch

Eleven years ago, Jake Bohm (David Mazouz) was eleven months old when his mother died in the World Trade Center bombing. Jake has some kind of mental or physical disorder. No one is really sure what it is, although his doctors insist it’s some kind of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). His dad, Martin Bohm (Kiefer Sutherland), was a reporter for the New York Herald. Since then, he’s been a doorman, a construction worker, and a bus driver. When we meet him, he works at JFK airport.

Jake has a habit of breaking into cell towers and climbing to the top of them. He likes to take apart cell phones from the JFK lost and found. He covers notebooks in numbers. He never speaks, and he refuses to allow anyone to touch him. Apparently, he sees patterns that no one else does, connections among human beings that are critical to some pattern that only Jake sees.

Martin is at a loss. Child Services wants to take Jake away. Then, he notices that Jake predicted some winning lottery numbers and starts tracking down some of the others, looking for the patterns, and trying to find a connection of his own – with his son.

I’m not ashamed to say that the writing created a moving premiere. I came close to tears by the end.

On the Bubble

I resisted watching this show. I really did. My wife wanted to watch, though, and I went along for the ride. I resisted because of the obviously manipulative marketing and equally manipulative nature of the show. Seeing a theme this week?

First, casting Kiefer Sutherland in a show on Fox is a direct play for his audience from 24. I’m not knocking the guy. He’s a fine actor who has earned any and all acclaim that he’s got. That said, marketing should work harder than just saying “Look! Kiefer’s back on Fox!”

Second, I strongly feel that Touch uses current interest in autism to generate ratings, which isn’t fair to people with ASD, or to their families. It’s as if people with ASD are the new Magical Negroes. The show offers no insight into Jake’s condition. It doesn’t treat him like a human being. He’s just a way to generate plots.

WTF

Stunt casting of Danny Glover aside (whose role is an actual Magical Negro, by the way – look out, Will Smith, he’s horning in on your gig), Touch really has no place to go. There’s no end to the connections. They can’t ever cure Jake. I can’t imagine the firestorm of criticism from families of those with ASD, or those with ASD themselves, if they ever did that. Besides, it would end the show.

Plus, I’m not real sure how I feel about using the World Trade Center bombing as story background. I know that Touch isn’t the first to use it (Person of Interest et al), but combined with the way they’re using Kiefer Sutherland and ASD, it just feels slimy.

Thoughts?

Have you ever watched a show in spite of yourself?

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Posted in: television