On TV: 'Zero Hour' gets crazy from the beginning
Writer/producer Paul Scheuring's last TV series, "Prison Break," started out as a show about guys trying to break out of prison of course and degenerated into total insanity. Like when a character turned up alive after being beheaded. Or when escapees traveled to Tooele, Utah, to find no mountains anywhere and locals who spoke with a Southern accent and went boar hunting.
Scheuring doesn't wait to add the crazy in his new series. The first episode of "Zero Hour" opens with Nazis and Rosicrucians and genetically engineered humans and dead languages and secret maps and terrorists and the possible end of the world, all playing out while dramatic music swells in the background.
It was at least a little bit funny when Scheuring previewed the show by telling TV critics: "I have a great amount of respect for the audience."
"Zero Hour" is a conspiracy theorist's dream come true. Viewers who see hidden plots behind everything from the JFK assassination to the 9/11 attacks to the Newtown murders will feel right at home.
The hour opens in 1938 Nazi Germany, then quickly flashes forward to the present day. Hank Galliston (Anthony Edwards, "ER"), the publisher of Modern Skeptic magazine really ends up in the middle of one of his own stories when his wife, Laila (Jacinda Barrett), buys a clock and gets kidnapped by terrorist White Vincent (Michael Nyqvist).
The cast also includes a couple of Hank's employees at the magazine, Rachel (Addison Timlin) and Arron (Scott Michael Foster), who help with his investigations.
Suspending disbelief when it comes to the conspiracies is the easy part. Believing these characters are anything other than cartoonish caricatures is the hard part.
Shortly after Hank's wife is kidnapped three minutes as the show goes he seems pretty much entirely calm about the situation. And when events send him north of the border in search of clues, FBI agent Rebecca "Beck" Riley (Carmen Ejogo) asks him, "What's in Canada, Mr. Galveston?"
"A bunch of ice," he replies. "Lots of beer. Reindeer."
It's painfully awkward and unreal.
"There were kind of two mandates going into it, one of which was to deliver something gigantic," Scheuring said. "We wanted to make a spectacle. But for me, a serialized show is only as good as its MacGuffin, ultimately where it ends up."
The writer didn't give much away, but he did make a couple of promises. First, that he already knows how the series will end, regardless of how many seasons it lasts.
And second, that the end of the 13-episode first season will be the end of all this stuff with the Nazis and the Rosicrucians and the end-of-the-world plot.
"It's like the '24' model, where you reset every year," Scheuring said. "Like, this entire Nazi conspiracy thing will be done in Episode 13 this year, but we have a group of investigators, headed by Anthony, at the magazine, which can then apply those skills to the next investigation next year."
If there is a next year.
"Zero Hour" premieres Thursday, Feb. 14, at 7 p.m. on ABC/Channel 4.