Zero Hour is right

ABC’s new primetimer, Zero Hour, would be a better fit for Saturday morning on a kids network. The dialogue is painful, at one point having a character use the phrase “crap storm” in a serious statement. The casting has the most glaring swing-and-miss possible in a primetime drama: Its lead character. Anthony Edwards isn’t the only one, the priest played by Charles Dutton replicates Whoopi Goldberg’s appearance in 666 Park Avenue signaling that here we have an unserious television show.

Edwards is too soft to play the leading role in a conspiracy thriller. But don’t fault him. The character is so poorly constructed that he never has a chance. Hank Galliston is the editor of Modern Skeptic magazine, an amazing coincidence then that his wife is kidnapped after buying a clock built by a secretive religious sect as part of a plan to prevent the end of the world! Galliston’s skepticism is on full display after an international fugitive kidnaps his wife when he refuses to trust and barely cooperates with the FBI. He loves his wife so much – as evident in their one scene together – that he travels to the ends of the Earth to find her but not so much that he’s willing to set aside his core belief in distrusting the FBI. You know, like all men who love their wives.

Galliston would be more compelling if he was an accomplished and legitimate news reporter instead of a fringe conspiracist. An investigative reporter with real investigative skills could still have a healthy dose of skepticism while bringing some intelligence and legitimacy to counter the show’s tendency to mirror a Dan Brown novel. I don’t think you can have a successful show that dives headfirst into that realm the way Zero Hour does, at least not on prime time network television. Common sense tells you there needs to be some balance for the storyline to have a broad appeal. I don’t understand how the show’s creators or the network wouldn’t realize such a problem and fix it.

Maybe they knew the show wouldn’t be around for very long. That could also explain why the plot advances at a comical pace. There’s some dots on a watch? BAM – they must be a constellation! A madman blew up our car and flew off in our airplane leaving us stuck in the middle of the arctic? Cut to commercial so a helicopter can drop us on a roof in Manhattan. Ridiculous. A college journalism professor used to emphasize to students that they should show readers a story instead of telling it. Zero Hour never got that lesson. It tells viewers so much and requires so much dissonance that they are right to roll their eyes. We complained for seasons on end that Lost was going too slow, and at times we were correct to do so. Zero Hour shows maybe going slow isn’t such a bad thing.

“How long has it been for you?” Widmore’s question to Locke in The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham came to mind when Galliston found the standing woman in India who was protecting one of the secret clocks. Widmore’s line came in season five so it wouldn’t be fair to compare its weight to that of a line in the second episode. Instead I’ll use it to lament what Zero Hour isn’t able to achieve. The “snake in the mailbox” at the end of the premier was intriguing and had the episode been better it would have had an even bigger impact. The intimation at the end of episode two that the end of the world might be already happening right before our eyes is the kind of thing I could go for, but the show hasn’t done anything to show that it can back up the intrigue.

Zero Hour probably didn’t deserve ABC’s boneheaded decision to premiere it on Valentine’s Day. Doesn’t matter, though. It could premiere after the Super Bowl and not get renewed. What should be a dark mystery is instead a light and airy adventure that might entertain 10-year-olds. At least they won’t know enough about Anthony Edwards to be disappointed to see him associated with this embarrassment.

 

 

 

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The Last Resort

This view of ABC’s soon-to-be-sunk Last Resort is so over the top in its praise of the show it reads like it was written by the show’s PR department. Last Resort is not “brilliant” – far from it – and it doesn’t have strong female leads. I could go along with saying it deserves a look from another network, but with all indications being that the writers had enough time to film a legitimate ending, it doesn’t seem likely.

Last Resort had a premise with loads of potential. How did it go wrong and not even make a full season?

The pilot was, in a word, fricking outstanding. Out. Standing. The submarine – the USS Colorado – under the command of Marcus Chaplain defied orders to make a nuclear strike on Pakistan due to Chaplain’s concern over receiving the message thru a secondary protocol that is only supposed to be used when the government has failed. When the apparently-not-failed government threatened to destroy his ship, Chaplain retaliated by firing a nuclear missile at the nation’s capital. The writers let several dramatic minutes pass before the nuclear warhead detonated…200 miles off the east coast. A commanding speech to the world by Chaplain near the end of the episode solidified him as the dramatic center of the show. Andre Braugher fulfilled the role with great deftness as the definitive authority of his boat dealing with an extreme crisis of conscience. Braugher is not the reason Last Resort failed.

Once the pilot ended and the show’s plot had to be unwrapped, the writers went at it like a greedy punk kid at Christmas, tearing through the story so haphazardly that they destroyed their present. This was its downfall.

There had to have been a reason the order to fire on Pakistan didn’t come through the standard chain of command. That’s a political intrigue. Viewers love political intrigue. Had the United States government been decapitated? The writers didn’t seem to care. They sent the show on a boring chase for some military tech developed by a powerful national defense family. How relevant that was to why the sub got questionable orders to fire a nuclear missile, I was never really clear. The tech figured prominently in getting the boat out of one life threatening situation and seems to have been forgotten about since. It was like watching Dogan in the temple all over again.

Finally, in the first episode of its four week sprint to eternity we got some hint of what happened leading up to the pilot. The president ordered an assassination on a United Nations weapons inspector which would be followed by the rogue order to launch nuclear war. Awesome! Why would a president do that? Was he being blackmailed? Was he a traitor? Was there an effort to stop it? How might that have played out? How did something like that affect the people involved? I have no idea. We have no idea. Maybe we will find out over the final three episodes, and I hope we do. But it’s too late. That’s just too much to leave out of a primetime show. It puts enormous pressure on what does make it into each episode. Last Resort couldn’t hold up.

The plan to manipulate LC Sam Kendall’s wife into turning him against Chaplain was obvious but still so poorly done as to be annoying. I completely expect a military wife to be fully devoted to her husband and vice versa, but you still have to earn it with me as a viewer. Last Resort didn’t. I’m not even sure it tried. Failing to invest in it was evident when their eventual reunion failed to deliver an emotional punch. (Desmond and Penny, anyone?) Her sudden death was surprising, but even that was undone by the end of the episode. Two characters in love don’t make a primetime love story. Two characters viewers love make a primetime love story. We were never made to love Sam and Christine.

Last Resort’s best storytelling may have come in the episode in which one of the sailors was tried for raping a woman from the island. Chaplain put Lt. Grace Shepard in charge of the case and by the end we learned that she is a rape victim. Powerful stuff that illuminates a character. We didn’t get much of that background for the other secondary characters even though it is all sitting there waiting to be told.

What did the French researcher leave behind live on this island and look for rare Earth minerals? How did the island’s despot come to power? How did a young woman come to run her own bar? Why is one of the sailors spying on her own country? If you enjoy good television, wasted potential like this should leave you seething. Much has been made of Shawn Ryan’s run of bad luck that now includes Last Resort. It ain’t bad luck. Hollywood should take out a restraining order against him on behalf of good material. He and anyone else responsible for how this story was told ought to have their keyboards confiscated by time travelers who can ensure they never touch them again.

Well then what did Last Resort have right that I enjoyed it enough to be disappointed? I think it did the drama exceptionally well. The trap of a show about a submarine is spending too much time threatening to sink the sub. Last Resort avoided that, creating dramatic situations that were intense and entertaining even in the absence of great character-based storytelling. Give the show credit for that. I would even say that alone could have been strong enough to overcome the show’s faults. Saying so only makes it that much more disappointing that they couldn’t put storytelling and drama together. They could have made the kind of show people hang on every spring and can’t wait for every fall.

Some have said Last Resort was too masculine and that it faced stiff Thursday night competition. Both probably carry a kernel of truth. Both are minor reasons compared to its overall failure to develop a better story. So, sorry, Yahoo Contributor Network bro, Last Resort didn’t take any chances, and that’s why it’s about to get dry-docked.

Once upon a flop

My original thoughts on Once Upon a Time with additions now that the season is over.

Emma Swan does not belong in Storybrooke.

Her look is all wrong. She wears red, deep and rich leather. Her hair falls carelessly across her shoulders. She wears a tank top. No one in Storybrooke even has a tank top. Storybrooke, Maine, has the visual style of a seaside small town. Its people are pleasant and content. Its colors are subdued in blue, green and gray. That is not Emma Swan. In the city, where she is supposed to be, she would not look the least bit out of place. But this is Storybrooke. Nothing is at it should be.

Addition:

Once Upon a Time really fell apart for me as the season wore on, in part because little things like this were discarded. Or maybe it wasn’t even there to begin with. /addition

ABC took this risk before, once upon a time. In 2004 it put a show on the air unlike any viewers had seen in some years, maybe ever. Perhaps because of their proven storytelling as writers on that show, the network gave Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz the green light for a project they conceived together before joining Lost midway through its first season. For Once Upon a Time to prove itself a success, they will have to have some creative magic left in their tank.

Addition:

I don’t think they do. The ratings say otherwise and it got picked up for a second season, but it lost my interest for being too juvenile. /addition

We meet Emma doing her job as a bailbondsman, er, person. She finds people. On her 28th birthday, she is found by the son she gave up for adoption 10 years prior. Henry is one of those children Hollywood always seems to find who is sufficiently smart. He convinces Emma to bring him back to Storybrooke, where he is the adopted child of a single mother, the mayor. With dark hair and grayscale fashion, Regina Mills is the epitome of an ice queen. She’s been the mayor of Storybrooke for as long as anyone can remember, and that’s exactly how she wants it to stay.

Henry wishes otherwise. We don’t yet know exactly why or how, but Henry believes his birth mother is the child of Snow White and Prince Charming, escaped from the fairy tale at birth right before the Evil Queen’s dark curse brought ruin. He brings her to Storybrooke on her 28th birthday, the time it was foreseen when she would return to break the evil curse. Emma sees enough to want to stick around, much to the delight of Henry and the despair of Regina.

Addition:

We never seemed to really get the why or how, one of this show’s many failings. /addition

Lost’s finger prints are all over Once Upon a Time. Like Lost, Time’s story bounces between to worlds — one the placid Storybrooke and the other a fairy tale. Although, Storybrooke is more like the flash sideways in that its inhabitants don’t know that their lives are not at all what they seem. Just like the escapees from the island, they are waiting to see, even if they don’t know it yet. The black smoke the Evil Queen conjures for her curse needs no explanation. And in probably the most blatant homage yet, Emma wakes up in jail after a car wreck in a way we saw someone on the island awaken and, ultimately, go back to sleep.

Kistis and Horowitz pledge Once will be a show steeped in character rather than mythology, and that’s good. Being based on one of culture’s most famous fairy tales gives the show all the mythology it needs. If it is going to keep viewers it will need the hooks that compelling characters provide.

Addition:

It doesn’t have those hooks. The characters are boring and shallow. It is as if they went too far away from complexity in trying to not trip in Lost’s pitfalls. In doing so they created a show better fit for Saturday mornings than Sunday nights./addition

Once Upon a Time is a daunting challenge. A fairy tale told to a prime time television audience? In 2011? Amidst the sprawling family of crime tech from CBS and more mature offerings of FX and premium cable channels? Once has to convince viewers to suspend their perception of what is and can be real so the show can have unfettered access to their imaginations, where it must and can only survive.

I will grant it because I like fantasy stories with unbelievable fictions, and my imagination is free to anyone who knows where to find it. Once Upon a Time has shown through two episodes to feature charming acting, intriguing curiosities and something else. Something not found in the gritty alleyways of dark and mysterious dramas. Something…Storybrooke.

Addition:

People are obviously buying it. I’m not. Once Upon a Time was too rambling in its week-to-week stories to keep my interest. The main characters are Emma, the kid, the queen, Mr. Gold, Snow White and Prince Charming. Way too many episodes about people other than them. In the aftermath of Revenge’s season finale, I can’t help but think how different and how much better the show would be if Madeline Stowe played the queen. 

Boring, meandering, shallow. It will be nice to have an hour to get things done on Sunday nights next fall before Revenge.