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Primal Screen

Fox's 'Touch' = A smoldering Sutherland, pseudo-religious hokum, and a 'magical Negro'

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Touch (8pm Thu, Fox)

TV networks have always had a weakness for mysticism, from The Twilight Zone to The X-Files to Lost. The trick is to keep the audience from laughing at you — a trick that this new show hasn’t quite mastered. Oh, I admit that the story of a mute boy (David Mazouz) with special powers is watchable, thanks to Kiefer Sutherland’s intense performance as his beleaguered dad. But Touch takes its own mumbo-jumbo so seriously that it’s hard to get through an hour without a few giggles.

The boy is a mathematical genius, and somehow that gives him a supernatural insight into human destiny. He predicts the future and brings together far-flung individuals who “need” to be brought together.

Sutherland is as confused as the viewing audience, so Danny Glover shows up to explain it all. (He’s the series’ “magical Negro,” recently I.D.’d as a preposterous Hollywood type by Saturday Night Live.) Meanwhile, the filmmakers throw in 9/11, Islamic terrorists, a dead child, and any other cheap elements they can think of to raise the stakes.

“Patterns, mathematical in design, are hanging in plain sight,” the boy says in voiceover. “Only a few of us can see the connections.”

The only pattern I perceive is one of TV networks periodically throwing this kind of pseudo-religious hokum against the wall to see if it sticks.

Duck Dynasty (9pm Wed, A&E)

Cable networks are desperately seeking colorful families who pursue unusual livelihoods — exterminators, wild boar hunters, and other eccentrics who can cheaply fill a half-hour of reality TV. In Duck Dynasty, it’s the backwoods Robertson clan, who’ve struck gold by selling their handmade duck calls. Son Willie, the only family member who has obtained a bit of education and dedicated himself to modern business principles, runs the company. The others are unreconstructed hillbillies more interested in hunting frogs than in turning out the duck calls on a tight schedule. Even Willie’s Pappy scoffs at his industriousness. “Willie went off and bought a suit,” he drawls, as if recounting a family tragedy. “He’s a suit man now.”

Pappy seems to have a different notion of “suit” than the rest of us. Willie looks just like the rest of the Robertson men: a huge bushy beard, long stringy hair that’s never seen the inside of a barbershop, and camouflage duds. Nevertheless, the family regards him as a sellout, particularly during a nighttime frog hunt in the swamps. When a huge snake drops from a tree into their boat, Willie jumps into the water to escape.

Pappy can only shake his head in shame. “Too many days in a subdivision. Snakes fall out of trees, you go a-runnin’.”

If I know my American TV audience, I predict they’ll come a-runnin’ to Duck Dynasty. The only people unlikely to be amused are barbers.

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