Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Zero Hour could come quickly for maze-like historical mystery

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The clock is ticking, both literally and figuratively.

In addition to luring beloved ER alumnus Anthony Edwards back to prime time, what the new ABC drama Zero Hour accomplishes with its pilot is to introduce a story so tangled up in its own complex mythology that its prime-time fate will likely be known by the end of its second episode.

Viewers will either be so captivated by the maze-like historical mystery in the series première that they'll return in droves the following week, or they'll be confounded by the narrative confusion and abandon Zero Hour immediately.

This isn't a show with slow-build potential. It's in, or it's out. The clock is ticking.

And fittingly, it's a ticking clock that lies at the centre of Zero Hour's imposing narrative. The pilot episode opens in Germany, circa 1938, with a bunch of clockmakers engaged in a frenzied effort to complete a mysterious project, while at the same time chatting frantically about Nazis and prophecies and the end of days.

The church-connected timekeepers turn out to be Rosicrucians, members of a secret order focused on applying ancient truths to modern times, and their intelligence network has reported that the Nazis have been experimenting with the creation of life and resurrecting the dead.

If that's the case, and if the facts match up with biblical prophecy, then humanity is in a dead-end spot of trouble. With SS stormtroopers hot on their heels, members of the order race to move a hidden treasure to a new location safe from Nazi capture. Exactly what's inside the large, sarcophagus-like container remains a mystery, but it's clearly very powerful.

"If it falls into Nazi hands, it will mean the end of mankind as we know it," says one Rosicrucian, just before the bullets start to fly.

Flash-forward to present-day Brooklyn, where mild-mannered Hank Galliston (Edwards) and wife Laila (Jacinda Barrett) are sharing a lunch-hour stroll through an open-air market. He's publisher of a myth-debunking magazine called Modern Skeptic; she owns a clock shop. They're very much in love.

When Hank heads back to the office, she continues to wander; eventually, she comes upon a table laden with curious old clocks, and one in particular catches her eye.

She buys it. And that's when the trouble starts.

The clock, it seems, contains a secret of the legendary sort that Hank's magazine devotes most of its ink to mocking and dismissing as nonsense. But after he receives a frantic phone message from Laila in which she screams that something bad is happening in her shop, he's forced to reconsider just how far his notion of truth should be stretched.

Laila is gone, and an examination of a tiny piece of the clock reveals evidence of a great big mystery, the solving of which will determine whether Hank and his wife will ever be reunited.

Suddenly, skeptical Hank is forced to become super-sleuth Hank, and the search for Laila takes him farther afield than he could have imagined (segments of the pilot were shot late last winter on the fast-thawing surface of Lake Winnipeg near Gimli).

Zero Hour's pilot has a bit of a slow start, but it gains speed and suspenseful weight with every minute after Laila's abduction. Edwards is predictably solid in the role of the unlikely hero, and he's surrounded by a capable supporting cast.

The big question, as mentioned, is whether viewers will buy into a series that will require so much focused attention and faithful week-to-week viewing for its serialized story to pay off. Think The Da Vinci Code meets Raiders of the Lost Ark.

From this critic's view, Zero Hour seems like a show that's worth at least a couple of week's investment to see where it's going. There's potential here for long-term fun, but much depends on the scriptwriters' ability to keep the action-driven elements from getting bogged down in dense historical detail.

If it works, Zero Hour could become addictive. We'll know soon enough.

Tick ... tick ... tick ... Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2013 C3


Updated on Thursday, February 14, 2013 at 9:54 AM CST: replaces photo, adds fact box

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