This week, ABC will present broadcast television’s latest attempt at a cool genre show in ZERO HOUR. The team who run Modern Skeptic Magazine are thrown into disarray when the editor’s wife is kidnapped. As they search for her, they realize that the plot is much bigger than expected, and that the end of the world is nigh.
ZERO HOUR is a little like The DaVinci Code, but less complex. It begins with a mystery couched in Germany decades ago, which extends into the present day. There is a secret society willing to murder to protect a secret, and whom surely have an agenda to influence world events. The heroes are hopelessly noble and in over their heads, but will surely find a way to triumph in the end, against all odds.
That all sounds like it could work, but I am not super impressed by the first hour. I think the main problem is the lack of a protagonist to get behind. Hank (Anthony Edwards, ER), the editor, is sort of interesting, but he doesn’t immediately draw you in as someone to get behind. I don’t know if it’s because he’s not really relatable, or because he’s a mellow dude without the simmering complexity below the surface of the now-common TV anti-hero, but he just doesn’t provide that hook viewers look for.
Hank is supported by a pair of copy editors, Rachel Lewis (Addison Timlin, Californication) and Arron Martin (Scott Michael Foster, Greek, The River), both personally and professionally. These two lack any distinguishing personality traits in the premiere. They are loyal, sure, but also break the rules, disobeying Hank when they think they can help him another way. But that is exactly the same as every supporting character in a similar capacity in any story like this. So there isn’t anything that stands out about them.
Hank’s wife, Laila (Jacinda Barrett, Suits, Poseidon), meanwhile, is only glimpsed. She’s a beautiful, intelligent woman with an interest in fixing antique clocks and a doting husband. That’s all we know about her, and it makes it a little hard to care too much when she is taken.
The federal agent assigned to Laila’s disappearance is Rebecca Riley (Carmen Ejogo, Chaos, Kidnapped). She knows more than she lets on, having been involved in the investigation of the shady, sinister group for quite some time. But she reveals none of herself to Hank or the viewer in this pilot. She also deeply underestimates the enemy, but I guess if she were good enough to catch the bad guys, she would have done it already during her previous years working the case. so my guess is ZERO HOUR will find Hank being the primary investigator, with Rebecca serving as backup.
Rounding out the cast is White Vincent (Michael Nyqvist, the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s Mikael Blomkvist). White Vincent is the mysterious face of the group who is causing the trouble, but again, there isn’t much there to help flesh out his role in the series. We see that he is able to get around Rebecca and Hank’s efforts fairly easily, but there isn’t anything shown that tells us what kind of guy he is.
Basically, my problem with ZERO HOUR is that it is way too bland. None of the characters come fully developed and shaped, and nothing major happens. Sure, there’s a death or two in the first episode, but these are people we’ve just met, and don’t know anything about, so they don’t mean anything. Running around and not accomplishing anything is only enticing if we get to see the pathos the people involved are going through, and get to understand them. In ZERO HOUR, that second layer is absent, which makes the action feel hollow.
I admit the opening is pretty cool, where the priests pull something hidden from the water, and then are slaughtered. But a historic-set beginning that doesn’t translate in an obvious way to the main modern day story is kind of useless. There isn’t a big connecting thread yet.
At the end of the pilot, Hank and Rebecca find a Nazi submarine trapped in the ice. We don’t know how it got there, or what it means, but it’s supposed to be a big question that will drive the story and entice viewers to tune in for a second week. I’m sorry, but it’s too little, too late, and isn’t handled with enough mystique for me to care.
What ZERO HOUR should have done is spread the presented pilot into a two hour drama. That way, it could have taken the time to introduce us to Hank and the others, show us what makes them tick, and begin to build a bond between the viewer and the characters. Lacking this investment, I don’t see large numbers returning on a weekly basis.
The other thing that bothers me is how the Modern Skeptic Magazine is presented. With a title like that, one would assume it is being run by conspiracy nuts. And we get just a small taste of that sort of personality from Arron. But Hank is a level-headed, reasonable guy. How can he get behind a publication like this, and deliver what likely subscribers would want? He doesn’t seem the type.
ZERO HOUR premieres Thursday, February 14th at 8 p.m. I doubt it will run more than thirteen episodes (at the most), not being nearly as clever as ABC’s flop last spring, The River, so if you want to check it out, do it quickly.