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TV Tonight: Cuckoo Clocks

Zero Hour, ABC's attempt to cross Lost with The Da Vinci Code, is an unholy mess. But if you watch just a few minutes, it's a pretty good comedy.

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Philippe Bosse / ABC

You really should do yourself a favor and watch Zero Hour. Not the whole series; I can’t in good conscience recommend that. Not even the whole pilot, actually. But if you DVR the premiere and watch the first few minutes and the last few, you will be treated to the most over-the-top hilarious parody movie trailer you will likely see all year.

That trailer begins with a flashback to World War II. Nazism is sweeping across Europe. And a band of Rosicrucian priests have vowed to stop a Nazi threat against humanity–nay! against God Himself!–with an arcane plan that involves… clocks. “Twelve is a magic number, ” a voice intones. “Twelve is divine. Twelve is both the beginning and the end of time.”

The last time we heard someone intoning about magic numbers on ABC, of course, it was during Lost, whose spell Zero Hour seems Swiss-engineered to re-cast. But this is no Lost; it’s more like a particularly absurd Rimbaldi subplot of Alias. There is hilariously stiff dialogue. (We learn what order the priests belong to because someone says, “As Rosicrucians we know the most important thing we can do…”) There is an icebound submarine, and old men and babies with creepy pupil-less eyes, and maps and antiques and ancient prophecies. And it all wraps up with a wizened European man warning, “The storm is coming. It will pit science against religion, country against country. … And that storm is called–Zero Hour!”

That storm is blowing big fat flakes of pure hoo-hah, which could have been a grand ridiculous time. But on the way from World War II to the discovery of a secret holy-war conspiracy, we have to pass through Brooklyn, and some of the stiffest acting and dialogue you’ll find this season.

Hank Galliston (Anthony Edwards), publisher of a mythbusting magazine called Modern Skeptic–sort of an anti-Weekly World News–gets embroiled in the kind of conspiracy he usually debunk, when his wife (Jacinda Barrett) buys the wrong antique clock and gets abducted. With his two cub-reporter proteges Rachel and Arron (Addison Timlin and Scott Michael Foster), he goes on her trail, and comes across a mystery that involves modern Nazis, lots of clocks, and “a secret that even the Pope doesn’t know.”

If we’re going to wade through all this papal bull, we need characters to engage with, but Hank and his colleagues are written so thinly, their scenes have all the life of an early-morning table read. Edwards is too dour, his sidekicks too bland, and they’re forced to trade exchanges like: “We keep asking ‘how.’ If we want answers, we have to ask ‘why’?” “‘Why’ will drive you crazy, Hank!”

If you last this long, you will probably ask yourself how this show made it on air. No doubt it sounded great in a pitch meeting: a little Lost, a little Dan Brown, and the pedigree of the creator of Prison Break, which was at least good crazy before it went bad crazy. But we’ve seen this over and over again: a series built around an elaborate concept, dressed up with a spooky mythology, then filled in with characters so poorly conceived, they may as well be called Kidnapped Wife Lady.

All that said, while I think life is too short for hate-watching, this is the kind of show you might want to watch a few minutes of just for the experience. Maybe the intrigue over Pope Benedict’s resignation will pique viewers’ interest in Vatican-related religious thrillers. Certainly, Zero Hour needs some kind of miracle.