Think “Matlock” meets “Bill Nye the Science Guy” in “The Eleventh Hour,” a nifty if not particularly inspired, mystery that casts Patrick Stewart as a crusading scientist, investigating microbial perils on behalf of Queen and country. Discovering a sort of magic in the fringes of modern science, the program actually generates its modest sparks on a more mundane level — namely, via the cerebral Stewart’s interaction with his reluctant state-assigned bodyguard, earthily played by “Ugly Betty” and “Extras” co-star Ashley Jensen.
Four self-contained installments feature Stewart as Professor Ian Hood, a former physics prof serving as a roving investigator for the government. He’s paired with Rachel (Jensen), a policewoman/bodyguard whose job is to keep him out of trouble — even if that means, as in the premiere, responding to his panic button at an extremely inopportune moment.
Hood spends the opener pursuing a nefarious character known only as Gepetto (the name itself provides a clue), who is leaving a trail of discarded fetuses — the byproduct, the professor quickly realizes, of a full-scale attempt at human cloning.
Crisply directed by Terry McDonough and created by Stephen Gallagher, the introduction moves briskly and draws suspense from the fate of a young surrogate mother involved in the experiment. Subsequent plots involve a lethal virus, a scientist researching global warming and a perhaps-miraculous cancer cure.
Stewart brings considerable authority to the role, but he’s a very different character here than the one “Star Trek: The Next Generation” or “X-Men” fans have come to expect — an ivory-tower occupant who relies heavily on Rachel to navigate the real world. Hence the fun of their interplay.
“The Eleventh Hour” indulges in its share of scientific gobbledygook, but the basic formula hews closely to the well-established template of British mystery, with a pinch of “The X-Files” for good measure. And if the first case is perhaps a trifle thrill-challenged for U.S. audiences accustomed to “CSI,” there’s something to be said for the occasional viewing experience that spends more time sketching out theories than chalk outlines.