February 14, 2013



ZERO HOUR:  Thursday 8PM on ABC – Potential DVR Alert

ZERO HOUR‘s pilot is an engaging piece of nonsense, but whether it can work as a continuing TV series is another question.  The premise is a DaVinci Code/National Treasure-ian tangle of Nazis, Rosicrucians, cloning, assassins, and bits and pieces of what seems to be every hit thriller of the last decade or so, all courtesy of creator Paul Scheuring, the man behind Prison Break.

Our innocent-man-caught-in-a-web hero is Hank Foley, played by one of television’s great conveyers of decency, Anthony Edwards.  Hank runs Modern Skeptic magazine, a publication that specializes in disproving reported sightings of things like Bigfoot, werewolves and UFOs.  Hank is a cynic, but a kindly one, beloved by his two young reporters Rachel (Addison Timlin) and Aaron (Scott Michael Foster).  He’s happily married to Laila (Jacinda Barrett), who restores old clocks and watches.  One day, she purchases an old clock at a flea market, and that’s when all hell breaks loose.  She’s almost instantly kidnapped by a mercenary called White Vincent (Michael Nyquist, who had the Daniel Craig part in the Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), and Vincent will be the first to tell you that he’s lost his mind.  Vincent wants the clock as ransom, and when Hank, Rachel and Aaron examine it, they discover it contains a mysterious map with notes in a dead Biblical dialect used by Rosicrucian priests.  By the episode’s close, Hank is in a Nazi submarine at the Arctic Circle with determined FBI Agent Sunjata (Carmen Ejogo), Rachel and Aaron are in Bavaria, interviewing the 93-year old clockmaker, and Laila is still nowhere to be seen.  Yes, the end of the world is invoked, and towards the finish there’s either a gigantic coincidence or contrivance, depending on how it plays out.

Zero Hour certainly holds your attention, with a twist around every corner and tense, globe-trotting direction by Pierre Morel, who gave us Taken.  There’s no question that it leaves plenty of mysteries to be uncovered.  But in a way, these are the easiest and most misleading kinds of pilots, because building and continuing the intricate conspiracy story over time is the really tricky part.  Prison Break itself probably should have ended not long after its first season–by the time its protagonists were breaking into another prison in South America, it had more than run its course.  Although Lost would be remembered as a triumph if it weren’t for that final episode, since then, ABC has tried, and failed, to make the genre work in Flashforward, Missing and The River, among others.  (Once Upon A Time, so far, is an exception to this rule.)  The problem is that sustaining a storyline for 13, 22 or more hours requires ever more complication, reversal and plot tributaries, until all too often the original emotional stakes have been lost (a given character is bad!  no, good!  no, bad but pretending to be good!) and it starts to feel like all too much trouble to follow.

As a starting point, though, Zero Hour works.  If you can’t get Tom Hanks to play your ordinary guy hero, Anthony Edwards will do just fine, and the co-leads are all likable.  (Nyquist, though, can be as hard to understand as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.)  Clunky expository dialogue abounds, but this genre allows for that, as long as the narrative remains fast and absorbing.  If Zero Hour can keep  this pace and develop a story that holds together, the show could be a fun, escapist addition to the season.  Its biggest challenge, though, may not be the end of the world so much as its own timeslot:  ABC hadn’t managed to make anything work in that death slot against American Idol and Big Bang Theory in a long time.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."