Let me say this for Zer0 H0ur (or, as I will call it from this point on, Zero Hour, lest we all go mad from too many zeroes): It is fast-paced. Things happens quickly — the hour-long pilot zips from 1938 Germany to modern New York to the Arctic but also Bavaria — so viewers barely have a minute to think of how ridiculous the plot is, or how dumb the characters are (and boy, it is ridiculous, and boy, are they dumb). And yet, somehow – maybe because the show believes so fully in its insanity, or maybe because it appears to have no idea it's crazy, the Zero Hour pilot is still somehow entertaining, which may be the biggest mystery of all.
The show begins, like all great shows, talking about how divine the number 12 is ("it's both the beginning and the end of time!" crows the narrator, indicating belief in a clock-based theology far weirder than Deism). We then open into a secret clock-making room inside a 1938 Berlin church, where a priest demands 12 clockmakers hurry their clockmaking. The priest and another guy have a quick conversation about the world ending and the dead rising, and then visit a hospital where they visit an Evil Nazi Baby ("born of no womb!") with all-white eyes.
Let me stop there for a second, to point out that this is the first two minutes of Zero Hour.
Cut to: A meeting of the Rosicrucians! They're worried about the Nazis getting ahold of the hilariously unnamed "thing" beneath the cathedral (and its clockmaking center), which will of course mean the end of mankind. So some of the Rosicrucians drag a large wooden "thing" of a water of a tunnel below the church – it appears to be the size of a coffin for two, although I have no idea if that's what it is – and flee, while the Nazis break into the church, kill everyone they see, and start shooting all the pictures and statues of Jesus and Mary. The priest manages to mutter "Not even God can help now; it's up to the Twelve!" before expiring.
Cut to: 2013 Brooklyn! Anthony Edwards and his wife are shopping in a Brooklyn flea market and vomiting exposition. Anthony Edwards' wife Laila runs a clock shop, and buys her clocks here; Edwards plays Hank Galliston, who runs a hilariously successful print magazine called Modern Skeptics, leaves to meet with the only two employees he has apparently allowed to speak to him, the young reporters Rachel and Arron [sic]. Rachel pitches a story about a family of werewolves, which Edwards doesn't want to print because he doesn't believe it, which I thought was the point of the whole goddamned magazine, but whatever.
After teaching his "two favorite reporters" some of the basic ethos of journalism and pontificating with the subtlety of a bulldozer on fire ("The first answer may not be the right one!"). Hank gets a call from Laila, who is being Taken at her clock shop. Hank rushes over, but Laila's gone and the shop has been tossed.
After trying to explain unsuccessfully to the cops that perhaps the kidnapping of a clock repairwoman is a little weird, Hank returns home to find Rachel and Arron (who apparently have keys to their boss's apartment and let themselves in whenever?). Immediately, the FBI stops by — specifically Beck Riley, who explains that Leila was taken by a guy named White Vincent, who is an evil mercenary of some sort. Beck intimates that perhaps Laila might not be as innocent as Hank thinks, but Hank's skepticism powers fail him and demands the FBI gets out.
That's when Hank spies one of the 1938 Berlin Rosicrucian clocks, which Laila bought in Brooklyn and dropped off at home instead of her shop full of clocks! Hank astutely notes that the only possible reason anyone could have kidnapped his wife was for this clock, opens it and discovers a diamond, a diamond which, when light hits it, reflects a map. Arron thinks it's a treasure map, which Hank scoffs at (Skeptic Powers reactivated!).
The map has words written in a language they don't understand, so they take it their old priest friend who recognizes it as a language that died in the second century that was reserved for the priestly elite of the Church. Because the map includes the Americas, the priest extrapolates that some secret Church people are still secretly using the non-dead language for some purpose. The priest also mentions the Rosicrucians, because their symbol is on the map — the chance that the secret Chruch group who've been using the language might be the Rosicrucians doesn't seem to enter anybody's minds — as "a secret society of Christian mystics; they're still in existence hidden throughout society, readying themselves for the apocalypse." And then the priest explains the map leads to a place named New Bartholomew in the Arctic (but is not a treasure map, don't be an idiot).
White Vincent calls Hank and spouts a lot of nonsense — "Your name is as much Henry as mine is!" and "Good, if you understood you'd lose your mind as I have" — but still manages to arrange a meet for Hank to drop off the clock. Things briefly slow down to a standard procedural, as the FBI gets involved, Hank give Vincent the clock without the diamond, and it's a mess. As it turns out, White Vincent isn't even there –- he's just directing Hank randomly — while he goes and kills Hank's priest friend, presumably getting the location of New Bartholomew.
After a preposterously long scene where the two cub reporters demand their boss at Modern Skeptic believe his wife is still alive — and in which no one points out the irony of the situation — the three of them realize their only lead is New Bartholomew. Hank decides to go, thinking maybe White Vincent took Laila along for the ride or something — but tells Rachel and Arron to research who made the clock so that if the New Bartholomew thing doesn't work out he'll have another lead (which is honestly the best use of reason in the entire episode).
Hank is stopped by FBI agent Beck in the airport, who quickly explains 1) her fiancé was killed by White Vincent (kismet!) and 2) she can legally fly with a gun, so Hank agrees to bring her along. While the two fly, drive and then charter a plane to the location of New Bartholomew, Rachel and Arron find the clockmaker's name inside the clock, discover he's living in Bavaria, and decide to go interview him.
Cut to: White Vincent! Scratching a zero in a mirror while mumbling crazy, clock-related nonsense to himself! And then taking out his contacts to reveal he's the Evil Nazi Baby! (Or at least has the same eyes).
The next day, Hank and Beck meet the guy who's going to fly them to New Bartholomew, where he tells them White Vincent was there yesterday, also trying to charter the plane. Unfortunately for Evil Nazi Babies, the weather was too rough, so Vincent has to drive ro Bartholomew, which will take more than a day, which means Hank and Beck will beat him there. I point this out because this means Hank and Beck get to new Bartholomew first, and it also means White Vincent is just as dumb as the protagonists.
Cut to: Bavaria! Arron and Rachel find clockmaker Norbert Peter Steinke IV, who, once they show him a picture of the clock Leila bought, is surprisingly happy to tell a couple of young American strangers all about the clocks, the Rosicrucians, New Bartholomew and everything. Let's see if I can make this appear to make any sort of sense:
• New Bartholomew is not a place, but a person.
• Back in 1938, he Rosicrucians were so convinced the Nazis were going to destroy the world that they appointed 12 new Apostles.
• According to Norbert, the Apostles were "the men Christ entrusted with the salvation of the world," which apparently extends to stopping the apocalypse, and not just preaching.
• The Apostles were given a secret, "one that not even the Pope knew."
• This secret would bring about the end of the world, and involved the thing hidden under the cathedral.
• Even Norbert has no idea how this is related, but he says the Nazis couldn't find out about the secret because they had figured out the the first steps to creating eternal life (cut to Evil Demon Baby).
• These Apostles "scattered to the four corners of the globe" to keep the secret away from the Nazis.
• Apparently, the New Bartholomew was a holy man, a noble man and a Nazi officer who helped out the Rosicrucians (glimpsed briefly in shadow at the beginning of the episode).
• The Norbert tells Arron and Rachel that they have to find the clocks because "a storm is coming," pitting "science against religion," "country against country, it will be "unholy" and completely fuck the world up, cats and dogs, living together, etc.
• Oh! And the storm will be called… wait for it… ZER0 H0UR.
Cut one last time to: The arctic! The plane lands at the location indicated by the map, wheich happens to be a Nazi submarine stuck in the ice. Hank climbs inside to find New Bartholomew… WHO LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE HANK. DUN-DUN-DUNH. And that's when White Vincent finally pulls up.
And that, my friends, is the first episode of Zero Hour.
The show has managed to find some kind of sweet spot between total insanity and complete stupidity that somehow has resulted in it still being a lot of fun, at least as long as you're willing to enjoy schlock. The characters are paper-thin and do not come close to making decisions any rational human would in their circumstances. Minor characters inexplicably have specific knowledge they almost certainly shouldn't have. None of the mystery/conspiracy/danger makes a lick of sense at any level. And yet, I still laughed out loud with a kind of glee with Anthony Edwards saw his own, frozen face in that Nazi sub.
Zero Hour is bad — quite bad -– but it's so crazy I can't help but be intrigued. It also helps that the show appears to have no idea that it's ridiculous. There's not a single wink to the camera, not a single hint that they're making The Da Vinci Code look like the actual Dead Sea Scrolls. If nothing else, I can respect the show for believing in itself –- no matter how misguided that belief might be -– and going balls out in bringing its weird, goofy vision to life.
Zero Hour's best quality, however, is that the show never gave me a chance to dwell on its many, many flaws. This show is absolutely going to live or die by its pacing. If it can keep up this manic energy and ridiculous plot twists –- they don't even need to make sense –- in fact, you could argue that they probably shouldn't -– but any slacking off in the forward propulsion of the story will destroy Zero Hour. To crib a title from a much better show, Zero Hour is building a house of cards, and the only way it'll keep standing is if Zero Hour builds faster than it can collapse.
• So let me get this straight. Because the Nazis were threatening the world, the Rosicrucians created 12 new Apostles and gave them a secret that could destroy the world. Why not… just not give 12 people that secret? Isn't this just giving the Nazis 11 additional chances to find it out?
• You're going to tell me a print magazine — especially one called Modern Skeptic –- has the budget to send one guy to the Arctic and two reporters to Bavaraia? Hahahahahahaha.
• How come in every single one of these conspiracy flicks, it always begins with "We must hide these clocks/maps/artifacts of power from the bad guys!" and ends with "We must find these clocks/maps/artifacts of power before the bad guys find them!" "Why is it never ""We must hide these clocks/maps/artifacts of power better!"
• Honestly, this show would be even better if the role of the FBI agent were actually played by Beck. As himself. Like, he quit music to join the FBI and hunt Evil Nazi Babies. You can't tell me he's never considered it.
• Say you've made a clock that 1) holds some kind of immeasurable power and 2) the Nazis want very, very badly. You'd think signing your name to the clock would just be asking for trouble, wouldn't you?
• I fully admit I'm not a Rosicrucian, and I have little to no experience in vast, religious apocalyptic conspiracies. But I'd like to think that if some random kids knocked on my door, I would manage to keep my mouth shut about said giant vast, religious apocalyptic conspiracy to a bunch of complete strangers. I probably wouldn't give them the job of saving the world, either. Norbert might as well have gone to a Bavarian 7-11 and chosen a couple of customers at random.
• Question that almost certainly will never be answered: How did Evil Nazi Baby learn Leia bought the clock without knowing it was being sold on a table at Brooklyn art fair first? Why didn't he just buy the damn thing himself?