In one fell swoop, 666 Park Avenue, ABC’s newest offering for its soapy Sunday nights, manages to sell the spectacle of New York decadence through the wide-eyes of two ambitious Midwesterners and offer up a silly, but fun little mainstream horror show. Take a little bit from Rosemary’s Baby, a touch of The Shining and a splash of The Devil’s Advocate, and 666 Park Avenue is practically ready to be consumed by those not ready to end the night with Revenge.
From the onset, it’s clear that the show’s setting, the Drake, is as deserving a shot at the spotlight as the rest of the cast, especially since the pilot decides to show the apartment building’s dark side before introducing it as a bustling hub of activity and personality tucked away inside New York City.
As soon as the lovely Jane Van Veen, played by Rachael Taylor of ABC’s short-lived Charlie’s Angels reboot, and her boyfriend, Henry Martin (Dave Annable), catch a glimpse of the high-class wonder that is the Drake, it illustrates just how far they are from whatever goals they’ve set forth for themselves. Jane’s an up-and-coming, but out of work architect, and Henry’s a young lawyer working for the mayor. The pilot makes it pretty clear these are two career-minded individuals – not altogether unlike the rest of the Drake’s residents – who are looking for their chance to get ahead and prove themselves. The only trouble is, they’ve no idea what they’ve stumbled onto with the better-than-it-looks offer to serve as the Drake’s apartment managers.
Thankfully, the same can’t be said of the pilot.
The show isn’t afraid to tip its hand early, and it’s a gamble that pays off. From the series’ opening sequence, featuring a panicked violinist whose not-so-figurative deal with the devil has just expired, it’s clear that the owners of the Drake, Gavin Doran (Terry O’Quinn) and his beautiful wife Olivia (Vanessa Williams) are dealing in one way tickets to hell. After bouncing around post-Lost on other networks like with CBS’s Hawaii Five-0 and TNT’s Falling Skies, O’Quinn has found himself back on ABC in a role that seems to suits him quite well. Meanwhile, Williams is barely present in the pilot episode, but the scenes in which she does appear have her equally adept at making Gavin look good, while making Jane feel meek and out of place. So far, the Dorans make for the series’ most interesting couple, but even in New York, it’s hard to top those who are in the soul-dealing business.
Though the plot hinges on Jane and Henry, and their gradual immersion into the super-deluxe lifestyle of the Dorans, the Drake has plenty of other residents knowingly making their wildest dreams come true – and a few who are just as clueless as Jane and Henry. Enter emasculated playwright Brian (Robert Buckley) and his alpha wife Louise (Mercedes Masöhn). Brian can’t seem to get past the first line of his new play, what with all the distractions of Louise sending him all over town to get just the right soy milk and the way the lady in the apartment across the street keeps locking eyes with him all the time. It seems the Dorans (and possibly the Drake itself) may have plans for the residents, and Brian especially, after nearly crushing Louise to death with the elevator door.
And it’s there, in the ever-shifting swing of tenants, that 666 Park Avenue likely has its structure. After casting the violinist “someplace warmer,” Gavin has one of his tenants, a recent widower named John, handle a few killings in exchange for bringing his late wife back from the grave. As is so often the case with those willing to make such a deal, the whole thing goes south. John loses his wife once more, and is, presumably, also on his way someplace warmer. It’s easy to see how the series can feature a new deal bound to go wrong each week that will help highlight a theme and simultaneously make the temptation faced by Jane and Henry all the more enticing. After all, the lifestyle of the Drake may be new to the couple, but when faced with a deal of such luxury, who wouldn’t be willing to skip over some important contracts in favor of experiencing something new?
But as the pilot shows, it’s not all nights at the symphony adorned in flowing red gowns courtesy of the Dorans’ seemingly bottomless bank account. Jane’s sense of architectural curiosity, and otherwise lack of employment has her snooping around the library, uncovering the historical importance of the Drake, and slowly unraveling pieces of it and its owners’ true nature. Jane’s digging around uncovers plenty of new mysteries for the series to unveil, while a few, like the clairvoyant little thief Nona (Samantha Logan) may be further past her immediate range of vision, but hint at an important part of the series’ mythology.
Cleverly, creator David Wilcox (Fringe) – working from the novels by Gabriella Pierce – manages to take that early reveal and turn it into a wry smile that lets the audience in on the joke, but still leaves plenty of fodder for episodes to come. Like Brian, 666 Park Avenue is more than a little voyeuristic, but then again, that’s the show’s appeal: It’s a horror program, but only in the lightest sense of the word. Park Avenue is not going to test the boundaries of television standards like FX’s American Horror Story, but it will likely entice those looking for a new soap, or those looking for an easy-to-watch series with some supernatural underpinnings. Throw in some spooky apparitions and a mystery surrounding the building’s occult-heavy beginnings, and ABC just might have a guilty little pleasure on its hands.
666 Park Avenue airs Sunday nights @10pm on ABC.