“Twelve is a magic number,” intones a lofty voice at the beginning of Zero Hour. “Twelve is divine. Twelve is both the beginning and end of time.” These 12 conspiracy-laden seconds are enough to dismiss the entire series before it even starts, and the first 12 minutes are enough to bury it, though given the shoddy acting, overwrought dialogue, and poor production values, it’s easy to imagine that 12 full episodes would in fact bring about the end of time itself.
The story begins in Germany, 1938, as a secret sect of the Rosicrucian order (think religious Freemasons) smuggle a shrouded relic out of their church moments before Nazis kill those who’ve stayed behind. Fans of exposition and conspiracy nuts will more than get their fill here, what with the cryptic comments about raising the dead and images of a baby who was “born of no womb.” But unlike The Da Vinci Code, which was at least based on the thinnest foundation of religious history, Zero Hour appears to be making it up as it goes along. Hence foreshadowing from the dying Rosicrucians like, “Not even God can help now. Only the Twelve can.”
Leaping ahead in time, the series picks up with the woefully bland Hank (Anthony Edwards), who runs a magazine called Modern Skeptic, whose sole employees, Rachel (Addison Timlir) and Arron (Scott Michael Foster), double as Hank’s only friends and are responsible for fulfilling ABC’s required minimum of flirting. (God knows neither seems plausible as an ace reporter.) After Hank’s wife, Laila (Jacinda Barrett), purchases an antique clock, White Vincent (Michael Nyqvist), purportedly (but unbelievably) the world’s most renowned mercenary, breaks into the woman’s clock repair shop and kidnaps her in broad daylight without even bothering to check to see if she still has it (she doesn’t).
Continuing down a cavalcade of clichés, Hank, already overtly established as a skeptic, is at first distrustful of the F.B.I. agent, Beck Riley (Carmen Ejogo), assigned to Laila’s case, but eventually cooperates when she reveals her Tragic Past and Personal Motivation for Locating Vincent. There are no surprises here for anyone familiar with the adventure genre: Hank and Beck skip out on the official investigation, of course, and follow a treasure map embedded in the facets of the diamond hidden in the antique clock, nonsense that reaches critical mass when the first episode ends with a cliffhanger aboard a half-buried Nazi submarine in the Arctic circle.
There isn’t a standout personality in the entire cast (even Scott Michael Foster seems subdued as the “brash young thing” he’s supposed to be playing), so Zero Hour is forced to rely entirely on plot. If it were at least played with a hint of camp, it might be tolerable, but Nyqvist is about as dry as they come, and Edwards is so stiff that you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s auditioning to play the Tin Man. Barrett spends the majority of the episode gagged; it says a lot that that’s an improvement over the ways in which Timlin and Ejogo are so shallowly shoehorned into archetypal roles as “sidekick/voice of reason” and “tough cop.” After immersing oneself in Zero Hour’s flimsy mythology, it’s hard not to believe that a series this bad must be part of some greater conspiracy.