I have stared into the void, I have become one with an artsy foreign-language film, I have received transmissions from extra-terrestrials directly into my frontal cortex. This is what happens when you watch ABC's new thriller Zero Hour, one of the most bizarre television series to debut at any time ever. It's a monstrosity pieced together from toilet-paper doodles by The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, the ashes of failed half-assed Lost copycats, every Nic Cage action movie you've ever regretted plopping down money to see, and so many bad ideas that a 3am burrito sounds good by comparison.
Yet even after an hour of quizzical reveals, convoluted conspiracies, and FRICKIN' FROZEN NAZIS, the confusing pilot episode "Strike" didn't offer a very good indication what Zero Hour will really be about, and that's usually the greatest crime a pilot can commit. But at the same time, the confusion could also be the series' salvation. I'm on the phone ALL DAY with ABC boss Paul Lee for the second episode, because I'm anticipating where this thing is going with equal parts morbid intrigue and curious terror.
I first saw the pilot episode over in the summer and left dumbfounded. After rewatching it this week, I left absolutely lobotomized. But I didn't hate it; rather, Zero Hour is the latest series to hit the air that's fascinating as a televised piece of mesmerizing performance art, like those guys who shit on things or women who make art out of used tampons.
Early in the episode, skeptic magazine editor Hank Galliston (Anthony Edwards, in his triumphant return to television) made his employees recite his advice to reporters on their first day of the job: "Don't start with the headline, start with the facts." And the facts about Zero Hour are as follows: Nazis, Nazisicles, underground religious secret societies, trained assassins, possibly immortal demonic babies with milky eyes, and clocks, clocks, clocks! Now that we have the facts, here's a headline: "What the fuck did I just watch?"
"People dig a little mystery, Hank, a tease, an intellectual reach-around," Arron (Scott Michael Foster, playing Hank's spellcheck-catastrophe-named acolyte) explained. And that appears to be the show's business philosophy, too. "Strike" favored flashing glimpses of its hand over making any sense, hoping that its net of weirdness—take another look at those "facts" I listed above—would dare viewers to return. Guess what? I'm enough of a sucker to fall into that trap out of stupidity/rubbernecking curiosity/genuine confusion.
I'd love to discuss the plot with you but where do I even begin? Other than a run-of-the-mill fight between good and evil to save the world and Hank's quest to find his wife, I have no idea what this show is about. The crucial piece is whatever was under that tarp in the cathedral's sewers that the Rosicrutians insist is so important (even though they still referred to it as a "thing"), but that's one of the only things the pilot showed constraint on. Is it a time machine? Is it the Ark of the Covenant? Is it a giant Nazi cuckoo clock? How awesome would it be if it was a giant Nazi cuckoo clock and instead of little birds that tweeted out the chimes on the hour, it was little Hitlers? Oh please be a giant Nazi cuckoo clock. And then there was the baby with eyes of milk, created in a Petri dish by Nazi scientists. Did that baby grow up to be the psycho terrorist who kidnapped Hank's wife, or are there multiple creamy-eyed test-tube adults running around? And was Hank cloned, or do these "apostles" respawn? Where are the other apostles? Seriously, what's going on here?
And that's the sour takeaway from Zero Hour's first hour: There was so much lunacy, particularly in the opening and closing scenes, yet so little to grasp hold of. Zero Hour jumped out of the television screen, kicked your brain in the crotch, dry-humped its face, and then just left it curled in the corner wondering what just happened. This is better than typical, boring bad television. This is Zero Hour.
On the production side of things, there was an impressive scope to the pilot that helped establish a sense of adventure and added credit to its facade of legitimacy. Hank traveled to the Arctic Circle and it looked fantastic; that was real snow! Arron and cute co-worker Rachel zipped off to Bavaria and the show used some leftover B-roll from The Bachelor as an establishing shot to make the place look convincingly Bavarian. And flashbacks flung us back to pre-World War Deuce Germany with Nazi bannermen, cobbly stoned streets, and empty, cavernous cathedrals. But there's no way this travel-porn will be sustainable in future episodes unless ABC accidentally added an extra zero to the check it wrote for the show's budget.
There's much more to learn about Zero Hour than the details of the mystery artifact or the origin of super babies. We still need to get the show's pulse. How bad is this show going to be? What are we going to get out of the second episode? I don't even know how to wrap things up here other than to say, "Good luck." We'll need it.
– How about the tempo change from the opening flashback of the priest getting shot execution-style to Hank and Laila walking through the Brooklyn bazaar with Lilith Fair pop playing in the background? Smoooooooth.
– I actually love Edwards in the role of Hank because he's an atypical choice for an adventure hero. I'd rather see a total dweeb take on the descendants of evil Nazis than another meathead carbon copy, and Edwards has the talent to make the rough dialogue sound better than it actually is.
– I still think Jacinda Barrett (who plays kidnapped wife Laila) is the hottest girl to ever come out of The Real World. I remember having a big old crush on her when I was a young'un and The Real World was still relevant. Years later, she still can't hide her Australian accent, though.
– When Beck (the FBI agent) showed up at Hank's for the first time, her FBI partner didn't get a SINGLE line of dialogue. If you watch this again for some reason, pay attention. He just stands there and stares, completely useless. Then he disappears.
– Is this The Event Part 2? It doesn't help that Hank's wife's name is Laila...