Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pilot Review: Zero Hour

Zero Hour (Thursdays at 8:00 on ABC; Premieres February 14)

Zero Hour is the latest attempt by one of the broadcast networks to create a deeply mythologized, supernatural hyper-serialized series a la Lost. The more they try, the more convinced I become that Lost was a success that never should have been, because all the subsequent attempts at capturing its lighting in a bottle have been lackluster at best. Zero Hour has a bit more promise, but it has a long way to go to fulfill that promise.

There's so much going on in Zero Hour's first pilot that I'm not entirely sure how arrange the events into a coherent storyline; even the episode itself doesn't try to make complete sense. I know that the episode opens in a Catholic church pre-WWII, in which a secret order of mystics, the Rosicrucians, are making clocks. Suddenly Nazis invade, and the clockmakers (there are twelve, obviously) drag something up from the sewers beneath the church which holds the power to stop the end of days... or something like that. Meanwhile, nearby a baby with whited-out demon eyes is born. Cut to the present, where Hank Galliston (Anthony Edwards, ER) and his wife Laila (Jacinda Barrett, The Real World) are flea market shopping. Laila repairs clocks (what are the odds?!) and finds an old one she wants to work on. Hank returns to the office of his magazine, Modern Skeptic (what are the odds?!), and soon learns his wife has been kidnapped. He soon figures out that it's because of the clock she bought, which houses a diamond etched with a map. Once the FBI gets involved, since apparently Laila's kidnapper is the notorious White Vincent (Michael Nyqvist, star of the Swedish films based on the Millennium trilogy of novels), Hank, the world's worst Fed (Carmen Ejogo, Kidnapped) and his office assistants are off on an international quest to follow the map and get back his wife.

It's a breakneck race against time and logic with Zero Hour. There are so many disparate elements which come together in the central conspiracy, which has something to do with the Rosicrucians hiding twelve clocks all over the globe, the Holy Apostles, Nazis, and the Apocalypse. It sounds utterly ridiculous, and it kind of is, but it's strangely engrossing. Somewhere between the white-eyed baby and the pilot's final reveal, I found myself genuinely interested in what was coming next. This probably has more to do with my wanting to make sense of a nonsensical plot, but it's interest nonetheless. However, I can't get past how silly the whole thing is. Zero Hour comes across like a desperate hodgepodge of National Treasure, The Da Vinci Code, and FlashForward. The mystery of the conspiracy is stupid when you break it down to its different elements, and the fact that within its first hour the story has already spanned four countries is exhausting. Creator Paul Scheuring (Prison Break) has taken a page from Dan Brown's book by keeping the story constantly and rapidly moving in different directions, to the point where it becomes disorienting. That type of manic storytelling is going to get old before the series has run its thirteen-episode course.

Then there's the problem of laziness. Scheuring has gone for the obvious in almost every case. Hank is the one who must solve the mystery and confront a past he seemingly doesn't know he had, but of course he's a skeptic. You can tell where the white-eyed baby storyline is going when we learn the kidnapper's name is White Vincent. The FBI agent's personal story is nearly identical to Hank's, so despite the fact that he is not an investigator, policeman, or agent, she allows him to investigate a case of international kidnapping. It's clear that the Nazi-clock conspiracy was dreamt up first, and the rest of the pieces were filled in later. Zero Hour doesn't have a sense of cohesion that would suggest anything different. That lack of cohesion extends to the cast; Anthony Edwards is, expectedly, an authoritative and sympathetic lead, but his supporting cast is weak. Ejogo is laughably bad, Nyqvist is imposing but not menacing, and Scott Michael Foster (Greek) and Addison Timlin (Californication) are strangely cartoonish as Hank's assistants, kind of like live action versions of Fred and Daphne from Scooby Doo. Actually, that's a really good way to think of Zero Hour, with White Vincent as the monster who will inevitably unmasked and stopped by the bumbling but somehow genius Mystery Squad... just on a much bigger scale than Scooby ever had. But that mix of camp and coolness is what defines Zero Hour, so make of that what you will in deciding if it's a show for you.

But it's up against The Big Bang Theory and American Idol, so just don't expect it to be around for too long.

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