When ABC announced it was producing a series called ZERO HOUR, revolving around a massive conspiracy, with a skeptic for a main character, naturally, I was excited. Then I was able to get a copy of the pilot script (through one of my Illuminati brethren) and my excitement turned to child-like giddiness. ZERO HOUR hit all of my zones. It had Nazis, Rosicrucians, secret societies, hidden relics of immense power, demonic cloned children, mysterious clocks with buried codes and dire pronouncements that “not even God can save us now.” If conspiracy theory nonsense can be compared to wine, then ZERO HOUR tasted like Rothschild ’51.
Or at least the first five pages did. What starts as an insane romp through Crazyville quickly turned into a rote, poorly-written procedural as Modern Skeptic publisher Hank (played by ER’s Anthony Edwards) butts heads with a “my way or the highway” FBI agent in an effort to get back his wife, who’s been kidnapped by a crazy guy looking for a clock that she just purchased. That clock happens to hold a diamond that happens to be a map to a city in the Arctic Circle, so Hank hops on a plane and gets there about five minutes later, while his minions at the lavishly outfitted and seemingly wealthy-beyond-description Modern Skeptic track down the clock maker, who, despite being in his 90’s and going to great lengths to get off the grid, is found in Bavaria after a Google search.
The whole thing leads its characters around by the nose, taking them exactly where they need to be and giving them dialogue that explains everything they’re thinking and doing. I was ready to write it all off…until the last five minutes, when, thanks to an insane speech by the Bavarian Clockmaker involving the Nazi quest for Eternal Life, 12 new apostles tasked with protecting an apocalyptic secret hidden in 12 secret clocks (one of which Hank ended up with) and an approaching horror that will pit man against God; plus Hank finding a frozen submarine in the Arctic that contained a Nazi clone of himself, we were right back in Crazyville again.
And I was back on board.
The next two episodes are even more ludicrous, involving the Biblical plagues, a star map written in a pocket watch leading to a constellation visible only in one place and time in history (in India, of course), Nazi experimentation, a six-year old Hindu girl with special powers, Einstein’s last equation (which leads to a clock buried in literally the most obvious place it could possibly be hidden), coded messages hidden in coded messages which were painstakingly hidden and easily found and all of it was orchestrated by a demonic small child reporting to a woman in a tastefully furnished loft. This fun house of nutty was set against the backdrop of Skeptic Hank trying to get his wife back from Crazy Guy…who was the cloned Nazi demon baby clone from the opening of the pilot. It was insane. It was baffling. It was addictive.
But ABC pulled the plug on ZERO HOUR after just those three installments. Something about ratings lower than film of paint drying. While they might burn off the other filmed episodes over the summer, it’s likely we’ll never know what all of this, or any of it, was about. We’ll never know the final secret of ZERO HOUR.
And this saddens me greatly.
To be sure, ZERO HOUR was not an especially good television series. Beyond the sheer unfollowable lunacy of the overall plot, the writing was bad on almost every level. The dialogue was completely subtext free. Nobody did anything for any organic reason that made any sense. Characters knew things only because the plot demanded that they know them. One of Hank’s underlings was fluent in German just at the time they needed to translate Nazi Clone Hank’s diary, because a girl he liked in his “freshman badminton class” was German, and he learned German to get close to her and happened to remember it perfectly years later. If any part of that sentence makes any sense to you, you’re either on serious medication or you were a writer on ZERO HOUR, in which case we should talk. The geography of the show was screwy, with characters flying around the world (Paris! India! New Jersey!) and being back in no time whatsoever exactly at the time they had to be.
From a skeptical angle, Hank was a terrible skeptic. He displays none of the critical thinking or analytical skills we’ve come to expect from the great skeptics of our time. He blindly followed clues and strands that would cause any sane person to step back and say “hmmm, maybe that doesn’t make a ton of sense.” At no time does he ask any questions that might lead him deeper into the origin of the nonsense going on around him, or to falsify any of it. Yes, he’s single-mindedly determined to get his wife back, but he goes about this not by lending his expertise to the investigation, but by defying the wishes of the FBI agent assigned to the case and flying everywhere the trail leads him, no matter how nonsensical or farfetched, to confront a dangerous killer. Also, publishing a skeptical magazine seems incredibly lucrative, because Hank basically has unlimited resources. Maybe it’s all that Big Pharma money.
Moreover, his credentials as a skeptic appeared to revolve around disproving cryptozoology and going to a “UFO convention” for the purpose of telling the people there that UFO’s aren’t real. It doesn’t take a die-hard skeptic to not think Bigfoot, skunk apes or reptoids are real. Most people don’t think those things are real. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for the character to be a “skeptic” other than because it’s ironic for a skeptic to be involved in a conspiracy…because, you know, skeptics don’t believe in conspiracies. Oh, and non-believer Hank’s best friend is a priest. A priest who has his throat slashed in the pilot and is then perfectly fine in the next episode, with only a bandage to indicate his throat had been slashed a day earlier!!!
But in spite of all these flaws, or maybe because of them, I’ll miss ZERO HOUR. First, I love anything revolving around a massive conspiracy, and this was one about as massive as it gets. I mean, come on. To quote io9.com, Einstein had a secret Rosicrucian apocalypse clock hidden in his brain. Isn’t everything about that amazing?
There was a certain charm in the show’s haphazard plotting, un-nuanced characters and nonsensical timeline. The show threw everything but the kitchen sink at the wall, and only skipped the kitchen sink because there was a secret code written inside it that lead to a Dutch-speaking alien monkey living in a convent hidden inside the Rock of Gibraltar that knew the secret of free energy. And it was nice to see a skeptic as the hero of a TV show, even if he wasn’t especially skeptical or heroic.
Beyond all of that, ZERO HOUR tried. It tried hard to give us something unique and special and crazy, something we’d only seen in Dan Brown novels and 10,000 word screeds on Infowars. In a network TV landscape littered with reality schlock and DoctorLawyerCop knockoffs, ZERO HOUR was different. It was bold enough to be insane, insane enough to be entertaining and entertaining enough to forgive its terribleness. I didn’t watch it because it was bad, as so many hate-watchers do these days with a show like SMASH. I watched it because I genuinely wanted to know where it would go next, even if that destination, and the road it took to get there, were barking mad.
And I guarantee that whatever celebrity ice cream eating ice road pawn shop wife swap crap that goes in its time slot won’t be anywhere near as ridiculous, ambitious or compelling.
RIP ZERO HOUR.