Before I talk about the new drama Zero Hour (ABC, Thursdays, 8 p.m.), I should get two confessions out of the way. One, I’ve watched the pilot one and a half times now, and I’m still not sure, on a nuts-and-bolts level, just what in the Rosicrucian-obsessed hell is going on in it, aside from people rushing from one country to another and having nonsensical yet seemingly very important clues just sort of fall into their laps, then declare that it all makes sense. “Of course, the two doves are a symbol for the Doves of St. Whatever in Port Arthur, which means we should be talking to Arthur Godfrey’s widow!” Two, this sort of storytelling is characteristic of a genre I never much cared for — the quasi-religious, apocalyptic conspiracy adventure, typified by The Da Vinci Code and the National Treasure series — so I’m pretty sure there’s nothing that Zero Hour could have done to make me like it more. Or like it. Even a little.
I do like Anthony Edwards. The longtime ER star has a rare gift for seeming to take every fictional situation seriously without seeming to take himself seriously. I’ll believe just about anything one of his characters does or says, no matter how ludicrous. Without his unpretentious intelligence anchoring Zero Hour, I doubt I could have gotten through ten minutes of the pilot without gnashing my teeth in annoyance. His character, Hank Galliston, publishes Modern Skeptic magazine (formerly Ancient Skeptic; tap tap, is this thing on?), which of course makes him the ideal person to suffer having his wife Laila (Jacinda Barrett) kidnapped by mysterious evil people who want to take possession of a clock that she bought that contains a flawed diamond whose interior conceals a map that leads to a thing in a place in a frog in a log in a hole in the bottom of the sea. There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.
Sorry, where was I? Zero Hour, right. Apparently Hank and two of his ace employees, Rachel (Addison Timlin) and Arron (Scott Michael Foster), have to prevent the diamond map from falling into the hands of Laila’s kidnapper, a man known only as White Vincent (Michael Nykvist), who might or might not be the adult version of a satanic-seeming infant glimpsed in the opening flashback in which Nazis came after Rosicrucians who’d predicted the end of the world and rushed down into the sewers beneath a church and removed a mysterious arklike object that had been there for hundreds of years and that could be humanity’s only defense against the encroachment of the rapprochement of the parchment of the one on the foot on the leg on the frog on the bump on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea. All of which makes perfect sense when an actor like Charles S. Dutton elucidates the connections for us. Alas, Dutton’s only in the pilot for about fifteen minutes, and the rest of the cast — Edwards notwithstanding — lacks Dutton’s Rumpelstiltskin-like ability to spin expository straw into gold. “The flight gets you into Whitefish, and then you’ve got a 200-mile drive across the tundra after that, at which point you can hire a pontoon plane to fly you the rest of the way,” Rachel tells Hank, laying out one leg of his journey. Actors saddled with lines like that should be allowed to amuse themselves while they say them. With a little soft-shoe routine, maybe. Or an Elmo impression.
I’m being unnecessarily jerkish here, I admit. Zero Hour is good-enough-for-government-work entertainment, and it’s aimed at a family audience — likely one with at least a smidge of nonrational sympathy, judging from the importance that faith plays in the plot. (You don’t make your hero the editor of Modern Skeptic without forcing him to embrace the mystical, go with his gut, use the Force, etc.) There’s minimal violence, little profanity, and no sexual energy. It’s a rush of busy activity whose point may or may not seem self-evident, depending on whether you dig the collected works of Dan Brown. Much of Zero Hour’s pilot consists of people poring over documents, peering at computer screens, or montage-ing their way from point A to point B in search of clue C, which will reveal plot point D and allow them to lick the fleck, brush the speck, twist the tail, chase the frog, flatten the bump, break the branch, burn the log, and fill the hole in the bottom of the sea, just as the Rosicrucians predicted. Will they eventually unravel the conspiracy? Maybe they shouldn’t. To quote another character, by way of summarizing this review of Zero Hour, “If you knew the real truth, you’d lose your mind, as I’ve lost mine.”