Come on, network TV. You’ve got to be smarter than “Zero Hour” if you want to hold your own against the cable revolution and the Internet-TV power move that has begun in earnest with Netflix’s “House of Cards.” ABC’s “Zero Hour” is a conspiracy drama that makes you wonder if network programmers are running their own conspiracy — to lose viewers in a “Producers”-like act of self-sabotage. This new ABC action-suspense series is really weak. The acting is half-hearted, the characters are paper thin, and the dialogue and plot development are embarrassing. It’s as sophisticated as “Jonny Quest.”
“Zero Hour” takes over the “Last Resort” timeslot, Thursday night at 8 on Channel 5, which is an important launching pad for ABC’s lineup. But I can’t imagine it giving the night much of a jump start. The show, created by Paul T. Scheuring of “Prison Break,” is a watered-down “Da Vinci Code”/“National Treasure” story that throws the following contents into a giant blender: a bunch of Nazis, the threat of the apocalypse, a treasure map, cloning, and a secret language used only by a hidden wing of the church.
The result: a Nothing Smoothie.
Anthony Edwards is Hank, the editor of a magazine about the paranormal called Modern Skeptic. When his wife, Laila (Jacinda Barrett), is abducted from her antique-clock shop, he and his two employees, Arron (Scott Michael Foster) and Rachel (Addison Timlir), set out to find her, as does an aggressive FBI agent named Rebecca “Beck” Riley (Carmen Ejogo). It all has something to do with a special clock, which is mysteriously connected to that Nothing Smoothie.
There are false leads and a noble priest played by Charles S. Dutton who enlightens Hank about the religious meaning of the codes hidden in the clock. There are awkward triangular flirtations among the Modern Skeptic crew. There is a manipulative soundtrack that tries and fails to create mood. And there are unintentionally campy — in a Boris and Natasha kind of way — mystery men and nefarious villains. “Zeese are matters you don’t vant to be involved with,” one says to the Modern Skeptic staffers about a secret that could bring about “zee end of zee vorld.” If the camp were amped up, maybe “Zero Hour” would be more entertaining; maybe.
Sadly, the show marks Edwards’s return to series TV after more than a decade. He was the very human moral center of “ER,” and an unexpected leading man. Here, he is a one-dimensional mensch who will travel the world to save humanity with a weary expression on his face. He’s saddled with clichéd, italicized action-hero lines — “This is my wife we’re talking about” — which he delivers with a minimum of commitment. Barrett, from Australia, speaks in only one scene, but long enough to let her accent seep through her effort to sound American. And none of the supporting actors is able to make his or her character into anything more than a type. In the Nothing Smoothie, they are the air bubbles.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Matthew