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Zero Hour: TV Review

Zero Hour Pilot Episodic - H 2012
Phillippe Bosse/ABC

The Bottom Line

Despite a mystical storyline with potential for over-the-top silliness, this is a rare network drama that takes risks and therefore is worthy of viewers' attention.

Airdate

8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14 (ABC)

Cast

Anthony Edwards, Jacinda Barrett

Lots of twists and turns involving Nazis, Rosicrucians and clocks make this crazy ABC drama starring Anthony Edwards worth the ride.

Maybe it’s sheer exhaustion at how many shows have failed lately that even with its rather large leap, I’m hoping Zero Hour works. And by works I mean makes sense first, gets an audience second and keeps it third.

Because who doesn’t like a show about Nazis and Rosicrucians and clocks and science-lab babies and fate and clocks? Did I mention there are clocks?

Zero Hour, from ABC Studios, is a thriller, a conspiracy and one of those historic/religious/Old World-type of tales that so enthralls Dan Brown/The Da Vinci Code fans. Whether it works as a television series is another matter, because it’s definitely going to be complex and serialized and there are large portions of the pilot that are a little flat, plus a presumption that the viewer will want to take a tumble down the rabbit hole of mystical religious orders.

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Anthony Edwards plays Hank Galliston, editor-in-chief of Modern Skeptic magazine, which is quite handy given where we’re going with this. He recently married Laila (Jacinda Barrett), who co-edits the magazine and runs an antique-clock shop. Out looking for bargains, Laila comes across an old clock, and sure enough, it causes trouble. Her store is ransacked, and she’s kidnapped by “White Vincent” (Michael Nyqvist), the most-wanted terrorist on the FBI watch list.

This is the part where Zero Hour delves into its mythology and mystery and viewers are just going to have to jump on for the ride. The story reaches back to 1938 Nazi Germany and the Rosicrucians -- a secret society, allegedly nonreligious but played as religious here, that first appeared in 17th century Germany and is concerned with applying ancient truths to modern life -- who are making a last-ditch effort to save the world. I’m not sure how far the show will go with the Rosicrucian angle because the group remains active, but the facts about them have been debated for centuries, leaving room for writers to get creative and build drama.

For the purposes of Zero Hour, the writers are focusing on the period when the Rosicrucians were protecting something sacred. If it fell into the wrong hands -- those of the Nazis -- the world would be in an awful mess. Of course we have no idea what this secret is.

OK, let’s pause right here for a second. On the one hand, you’ve got a show that’s able to dabble in all kinds of interesting mythology and take hooked viewers on quite a voyage. On the other hand, the one episode sent for review is not proof enough that the writers know what to do with this. Remember, there was only one Lost, but tons of Lost imitators that failed spectacularly.

Zero Hour has lots of twists and turns that could be worth following. It also has the DNA to be laughably bad. It takes decently big risks with religion -- a no-no on most series -- as the show’s Rosicrucians posit that there were 12 apostles, 12 numbers on a clock and 12 men left to save the world. Those 12 men, in 1938, were the “new apostles,” and they knew “a secret that could bring about the end of the world,” so they protected it. When priests in the mystical order realize the Nazis have created a human in a laboratory, one exclaims: “The prophecies are true. The end times are here.” Cue scary music.

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Now, this is your opt-in or opt-out moment. For me, I’m in. Broadcast television is a graveyard right now; so few shows make it that have originality or take chances. Hell, few series have tried to rattle the establishment like ABC’s own Last Resort -- a submarine with nukes, the White House in disarray, a rogue leader, etc. -- and that was rather quickly canceled. They fired nukes in the pilot! Still, no takers.

So I’ll take Zero Hour even though I have concerns. For starters, Edwards can deliver his lines with piercing accuracy, but when called on to be frantic, he moves like he needs more espresso. And the magazine he runs has two young copy editors, Rachel (Addison Timlin) and Arron (Scott Michael Foster), who seem more like they came out of the Magic Tree House children’s books than any hard-core J-school for Internet sleuthing. (And why spell Arron like that? Don’t make this hard on us. Your task is difficult enough.) Oh, and unless we find out later that Hank is a trust-fund guy running this weird magazine, it’ll be hard to swallow that he can afford his amazing loft offices in New York and the spur-of-the-moment travel he greenlights.

But I’m willing to put that behind me. Nazis, clocks, Rosicrucians -- hell, if you can make me forget about life for an hour, I’m in your corner. Best of luck, you crazy Zero Hour.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com