How Fox's 'Touch' could hurt

Fox's "Touch" makes its "worldwide premiere" tonight (9 p.m., Fox 29), which, in TV speak, means that we shouldn't actually count the episode that aired back in January as its official launch.

But I've seen tonight's episode and find I'm still pretty much of the same mind I was back when I reviewed it a couple of months ago.

Except, perhaps, a little more annoyed.

Because of all the magical thinking that went into this show from "Heroes" creator Tim Kring about a father ("24's" Kiefer Sutherland) using the coded communications of his mute son (David Mazouz) to help people all over the world, the thing about "Touch" that makes the least sense is the part in which Sutherland's character,  Martin Bohm, a single father, is being threatened with the actual loss of his son by a social worker who considers him incapable of dealing with his son Jake's serious disability. (Though great effort has been made to make the character appear to be severely autistic, it's part of the show's mythology that he's actually one of an elite group of humans with some kind of math-related superpower.)

Did I mention that Sutherland's playing a former reporter now working a series of blue-collar jobs while still living in the multimillion-dollar apartment his late wife -- who died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 -- bought for them? And that the kid, despite a tendency to walk away from school (a not uncommon problem), doesn't have a scratch on him?

Yet the social worker (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) continues to insist in tonight's episode that he needs to be in a state-run facility, all so the writers can ratchet up the tension.

I'm not saying the parents of severely disabled children couldn't use the belly laugh this will probably induce. (As the mother of a healthy and relatively high-functioning son with Down syndrome, I have little to complain of personally. And I'm grateful for the federal and state programs that over the years have helped us help him achieve what we hope will eventually be a degree of independence.)

But in a political climate where many of the same people who claim to be pro-life are also out to gut the very government programs that help families cope with the lives these people claim to value, I worry that a show like "Touch" could actually be harmful, by giving millions of people the impression that extraordinary government services are being thrust on the disabled over the wishes of their own still coping families.

The disabled face all sorts of challenges -- this simply isn't one of them.

For a real-world perspective on one of the real issues  -- cutbacks in the government funding for programs that help people manage the lives they've been given -- I invite you to check out my colleague Ronnie Polaneczky's column today.

Unlike "Touch," it's a winner.