Television fans, we've been doing things all wrong.
When we prioritize what we want to watch, we've asked ourselves: Is this show entertaining? Is it thought-provoking? Is it funny? Is it surprising, suspenseful or reassuring? Will my life be a little richer for having seen it?
All along, we should have been asking this question: Does this show have Nazi babies?
I have to think that's the question that motivated the creators of "Zero Hour" (Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET on ABC), at least in part. They looked at the television landscape and saw families, zombies, doctors, werewolves and cops, and said, "Where are the Nazi babies?"
Where indeed? Not satisfied with granting our unspoken wish for adorable children with strange eyes who were created for nefarious purposes by the Third Reich, "Zero Hour" also featured lots of other weird stuff, including angry old men and a frozen Nazi Anthony Edwards. That's a phrase I didn't think I'd ever write.
In any event, "Cult" (9 p.m. ET Tuesday, CW) sees "Zero Hour's" weirdness and raises it several Mulders. The CW show is built around a series of meta relationships between fans and TV creators that may well have given you a migraine before the pilot was over. Like "Zero Hour," it takes as a given that the paranoid ramblings of message-board devotees are the stuff of great drama. So far, though, familiar-sounding conspiracy theories and the sight of good actors try to give moderately ridiculous fare some kind of dignified grounding in reality aren't proving to be much of a draw.
As Ryan McGee and I discussed in last week's Talking TV podcast, both shows would benefit from having the courage of their zany convictions. However, "Zero Hour" takes itself way too seriously, while "Cult," which stars Robert Knepper and Alona Tal, appears to want to comment on the nature of the relationships between TV creators and TV consumers but keeps falling down the bumpy rabbit hole of its contrived plot.
Ultimately, the two dramas kind of merge into one big mishmash of "outrageous" stuff designed to drive message boards into frenzies, but both shows lack the kind of memorable characters and fresh creativity that would actually motivate someone to create fan sites devoted to them. (And it looks as though most TV viewers agree with that assessment; ratings for both shows have been pretty dire.)
Given that they are both probably products of pitch meetings that were probably far more entertaining than the shows they produced, there's something rather same-y about these dramas. Is it even possible to tell them apart? Just about. If you dare, test your "Cult" and "Zero Hour" knowledge with the quiz below.