Every few years, a network tries another archaeological-religious-artifact-seeking adventure show. Sometimes, the hero is a spin on Indiana Jones, himself a spin on pulp magazine voyagers like Doc Savage. In 2003, the forgettable Veritas: The Quest followed a man on a quest for his vanished wife, and also, some science and truth. In 2005, Revelations set a Catholic sect against a secret evil power. Shows like The X-Files and Stargate SG-1 have also touched on the subject in memorable ways, which suggests that a less single-minded approach might be more successful.
Combining ideas from all of the above, ABC’s Zero Hour includes FBI investigations, flashbacks to Nazi Germany, hunts for antiques and artifacts, a secret sect of the Catholic Church, creepy and possibly possessed infants, ancient demonic languages, and a very peculiar treasure map. Unfortunately, it also sometimes lapses into melodrama, if not hysteria.
The first episode begins with a mythos-setting introduction where the Nazis are locked in a race with the Catholic Church to obtain a mystical power that might be the key to eternal life. This intro also hints at an ancient secret society that could be the salvation or damnation of mankind. With these nebulous but surely high stakes established, the scene cuts to the present, where an antique clock restorer named Laila (Jacinda Barrett) is kidnapped by international terrorist White Vincent (Michael Nyqvist), operating with no rational motive apparent.
Laila’s husband Hank (Anthony Edwards), a newspaper publisher, responds with a burst of wide-eyed, freak-out energy, assembling a team to rescue her. This may come as a surprise for those viewers who remember Edwards’ previous, notably subtle work (especially on ER). But Hank is all about the mission thrust upon him, rallying a band of helpers who include reporters Rachel (Addison Timlin) and Arron (Scott Michael Foster), the requisite spunky 20somethings who get results by not following the rules.
Zero Hour turns slightly less generic once Hank enlists the aid of his best friend, Father Mickle (Charles S. Dutton). An expert certain Catholic arcana and dead languages, Mickle is at once professorial and avuncular, his restraint welcome amid the excitement surrounding Laila’s disappearance. At the same time, FBI agent Beck Riley (Carmen Ejogo) enlists Hank in her own pursuit of Vincent, conveniently granting him access to the Bureau’s resources. During a series of map-spanning search sequences, the first episode takes on a new vibrancy, and even turns somewhat surprising in its second half.
In part, these surprises emerge in Zero Hour‘s rearrangements of adventure show clichés, mixing Nazis and ancient secret societies into a plot based in 21st-century international criminal conspiracies. Still, the episode builds slowly: given that there are two full commercial breaks before Zero Hour’s larger story arc comes into focus, many viewers may have already tuned out.
Those who stay tuned, however, may be enticed. Zero Hour‘s first episode ends on one hell of a promising cliffhanger, including a shock that comes out of nowhere but still makes sense. If director Pierre Morel can ask for a few more takes (occasional scenes feel like actors are still rehearsing) and if the script turns as strange as that episode-ending shock suggests it might, Zero Hour may actually be more new than recycled.
Some shows take time to find their way, or perhaps more accurately, to reveal their way to viewers, who too often expect instant satisfaction. It may be that, even as audience members with experience in the genre are left wondering whether Zero Hour is the next X-Files or the next Veritas, the better question, the one we might hope to ask, is whether this is another show entirely.