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Laughable 'Zero Hour' mistakes complexity for vague and confusing themes

ABC

By Radhika Menon, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 20, 2013

What do you get when you mix magical Christians, a Nazi conspiracy, an evil, white-eyed man and ticking clocks? No, it’s not “The Da Vinci Code.” It’s ABC’s lowest-rated drama ever (and for good reason), “Zero Hour.”

Ever since “Lost” proved that science fiction, mythology and conspiracy story-telling could sell to mass audiences, the networks have been frantically searching for a show that excites viewers in the same way. There was the short-lived “FlashForward” and the even shorter “The River,” both of which were canceled within the first season. “Zero Hour” tries desperately to fill the void of the powerhouse “Lost,” breaking the one rule of television: Never try to imitate one of the greats.

To put it frankly, “Zero Hour” is batshit crazy. Hank Galliston (Anthony Edwards, “ER”) — the owner of Modern Skeptic, a suspiciously successful paranormal magazine — is thrown into a decades-old conspiracy when that evil, white-eyed guy abducts his wife Laila (Jacinda Barrett, “Poseidon”). What follows is a wild goose chase across New York City and into the arctic tundra of northern Canada, with swastikas and Nazis, treasure maps etched into tiny diamonds and a plethora of clocks (have I lost you yet?).

The many swirling variables in “Zero Hour” lack clarity, hindering any chance of audience engagement. Simply put, there’s too much going on, and the execution makes it difficult to follow. Not enough time is spent characterizing and outlining the background of the conspiracy or the characters, and too much time is wasted in forcing the pieces together. The term “Zero Hour” is defined vaguely at the end of the episode — for a monologue that is supposed to solidify the premise, it instead confuses the viewers and leaves them unmotivated to tune in again.

While the acting is OK, Edwards’s portrayal of Hank lacks sparks. For a main character, Hank is unsympathetic and bland. His two minions at the newspaper are obviously in place to bring sexual tension into the fold, but the pair doesn’t have enough chemistry to pull it off. Scott Michael Foster of “Greek” fame still boasts the shaggy skater hair and nonchalant attitude, which begs the question of whether Cappie was transplanted straight from Cyprus Rhodes to Modern Skeptic.

The silver lining here is that the plot and characters are so terrible that it’s mildly entertaining. While the conspiracy involving Nazis, churches and clocks is confusing at best, the hilarity of it all is undeniable. The big reveals don’t pack the punch that the writers might have hoped for and are instead both predictable and boring. Being so awful, “Zero Hour” ’s main downfall is that it doesn’t fully commit to the weird — the oddities just hang around cautiously in the background, instead of being embraced and incorporated throughout.

“Zero Hour” would have fit better circa 2006, when “The Da Vinci Code” ’s type of genre was still big. But today, this type of conspiracy plot feels outdated and weak. It’s high time that networks stop trying to fill the hole that “Lost” has left behind and begin focusing on more fresh and original premises. Let’s reset the clock on “Zero Hour” and pretend that we didn’t waste our time with this.