David Mazouz, Kiefer Sutherland David Mazouz, Kiefer Sutherland

Anyone who thinks TV isn't trying hard enough to raise the bar this midseason should check out tonight's most distinctive shows. With the official series launch of Fox's fantastical Touch (9/8c) and another fascinating episode of NBC's mystifying Awake (10/9c), I imagine some will maintain that they may be trying a little too hard.

It's probably fair to wonder if Fox is touched in the head for going forward with a show as out-there as Touch. This hasn't been an easy time for truly offbeat shows to gain traction, as risk-takers including Smash, The River and Awake have struggled in the ratings, with critics eager to point out their obvious flaws while often undervaluing the ambition it took to put them on in the first place.

Touch could buck that trend. The dazzling pilot episode was sampled by an impressive 12 million viewers in a January sneak peek. And with an American Idol lead-in on Thursdays, this emotionally uplifting and cosmically manipulative drama could defy skeptics as it unravels a weekly crazy quilt of seemingly random connections and miraculous global coincidences that percolate within an 11-year-old's preternaturally fecund mind.

"Sense? Is that what you're looking for?" scoffs a visionary guru (Danny Glover) as he counsels the boy's desperate father, Martin (Kiefer Sutherland in an affecting everyman about-face from 24's Jack Bauer). This single dad wants nothing more than to communicate with and make sense of his son Jake (David Mazouz), a mathematical savant who obsesses on numbers, refusing to speak and screaming when touched.

Jake's condition is a mask for a gift allowing him to divine mathematical patterns that predict threads of interconnectedness around the world. It's Martin's job and destiny to follow Jake's bizarre leads and make these numbers add up, hoping along the way to break through the boy's shell. (In next week's episode, Martin encounters a grown man who shares Jake's gift, and it's very poignant.) The more I watch, the more Jake reminds me of The Machine in Person of Interest. He's a device as much as a character, and while we may never truly understand how it all works, we're curious to see where it all leads.

There's a wondrously hypnotic quality to Touch's magical unrealism as we watch disparate stories converge each week, often with unashamedly sentimental results. Tonight's threads tie together a runaway dog, a prized baseball and a smattering of characters with serious father-child issues (not unlike Martin and Jake). Sometimes the reveals induce gasps, other times groans. But even when the mind goes "puh-leeze," the heart often finds itself touched and moved.

Want more TV news and reviews? Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!