Episode 1: Strike
By: Carlos Uribe
Zero Hour is a show about 12 clocks that can end the world and the race to find them before evil can.
“It isn't supposed to make any sense.”
I think that line from near the end of the pilot is a perfect way to describe Zero Hour. The premise of Zero Hour is that the magazine editor of a skeptics magazine is embroiled in a massive conspiracy that could lead to the end of the world. This is a conspiracy that depends on twelve clocks that can lead to the person who brings them together to a world-shattering secret. There are also clues of immortality, time travel, and references to secret cults within the Christian religion. The stakes are very ambitious in scales as the world is basically what's at stake. I like to watch genre fiction and this is a series that can be very entertaining but I wouldn't expect to ever actually be good. The premise is kind of dumb to begin with and the execution doesn't really do anything to make it intelligent. It doesn't even really play into the whole “skeptic character drawn into religious conspiracy” angle very well as the characters are all too undefined for that. This is a show that manages to draw you in but you never lose sight of the fact that what you're watching is pretty stupid. Zero Hour is a show that reminds me of a toned-down The Cape: it's awesome and fun but it's not actually very good. If anything, I think that “it's so bad it's good” applies to this show.
The pilot begins with the Nazis. There is a church that is secretly building clocks with a great sense of urgency. It's very idiotic but engaging at the same time. I'll admit that the opening managed to hook me in that I wanted to watch more of it. We then jump forward in time and the pilot commits a grave error. There's a nice scene where the wife and the protagonist show that they're in love but then she gets kidnapped. One of my least favorite story tactics is to begin with a missing character that everyone has to look for because we don't really know this character. The stakes might work for the people in the show but the audience doesn't have a lot of reason to root for them. That one scene is supposed to get the audience to get aboard with the search for the character but it doesn't completely work because it's just one scene. After that, the pilot becomes about trying to find her as the characters are slowly drawn in to the conspiracy. It has a shocking ending where the protagonist learns that the antagonist was being literal when he states he's lived before. Overall, it's a fun watch but there isn't a lot of actual substance in this pilot. The plot is addicting but not much else. I don't care about any of the characters nor am I invested in getting the protagonist’s wife back.
So who is the protagonist? His name is Hank Galliston. He's a magazine editor for a skeptics magazine who believes in getting evidence before jumping to conclusions. He's married to a wife who he's still very much in love with after all these years. He might know a lot about clocks. That's basically all that there is to know about him. He doesn't really have a personality. He spends most of the episode being worried about his wife. This is understandable but there isn't a single moment where his actual character is really developed. We only learn the superficial elements of the character. Anthony Edwards is a great actor but even he struggles to make Hank completely work as there's some scenes that he doesn't manage to sell. I've run across pilots where the main characters are at the very least defined by the end of the hour. This is not one of them. This is a bigger problem when you realize that a large part of the idea is that he's a skeptic involved in a conspiracy. This could lead to some pretty strong thematic material and character work but this doesn't work because Hank isn't really a character. He's just a vehicle for the pilot to start exploring the mystery.
Hank might not be a very strong character but every other person on this show is less defined. After his wife gets kidnapped, Hank is joined by two of his reporters. I'm not sure their names are actually established in the pilot but they are Arron and Rachel. The two basically just join Hanks's search because their employees? Friends? I'm not sure but the pilot doesn't really do a good job explaining why they get involved. This would probably involve giving them actual personalities but they basically just tag along with Hank because the plot needs to give him some sidekicks. Hank's wife, Laila, has great chemistry with with him but there is a framing device that defines her. When we see them shopping for clocks, there is a shot where the two are saying goodbye. The camera makes it look like the two are in a portrait. The meaning is clear: they have a picture-perfect marriage. This might not be realistic but it also means that Laila's sole personality trait is liking clocks and being a great wife. The final main character is Beck, an FBI agent who...carries a gun and her job makes her a “resource”. She keeps bringing that up and that's basically why she exists: to provide the FBI's resources to Hank. The antagonist is White Vincent, a character who basically does stuff for the sake of the mystery. His motives are unexplained and he's a two-dimensional villain. What's worse is that he's also a very bland and by-the-numbers one.
Zero Hour is a pilot that is bold in it's love of clocks and the mystery it has set up. I'm intrigued and will probably watch this show until it's cancellation but it's not a good one. I still have to recommend the pilot at least simply because it's hard not to get all excited about it. The question is if the remaining episodes will be able to keep up this craziness or if they'll slow down to try and develop the plot as slowly as possible. Slowing down is the worst possible thing for this show unless it's interested in actually fleshing out it's characters and it's able to do so in an entertaining manner. Zero Hour is a fun show but don't expect much out of it.