Wednesday, 3 October 2012

ABC's 666 PARK AVENUE review

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

written by David Wilcox / directed by Alex Graves

It makes mistakes (some of them perhaps fated to unravel the show), but 666 Park Avenue could develop into something good. I just have doubts it'll grow into anything special because its beautiful protagonists—married couple Jane (Rachael Taylor) and Henry (Dave Annable), latest tenants of luxury apartment building The Drake—are both too honourable and straight-laced. The concept is The Drake's run by the (literally?) demonic Gavin Doran (Lost's Terry O'Quinn) and his wife Olivia (Desperate Housewives' Vanessa Williams), who offer residents deals that come with a heavy price. If you want to be reunited with your dead wife, you must kill someone for the privilege—but then keep your hands bloody for the miracle to stick. Should anyone break their agreement, their soul's sucked into the building's structure where it probably writhes in agony for all eternity—that's how these things work, right? The problem with Jane and Henry as audience surrogates is they don't seem the type of people who could only achieve life-changing dreams by making a deal with the Devil, so it was hard to feel the tension of them being the latest flies in Gavin Doran's web.

The show's format has ready-made potential to last years, because each episode could focus on a particular resident and their unique Faustian pact. A few characters could even recur over numerous episodes, which is perhaps the intention for this pilot's handsome author—whose window overlooks a sexy neighbour inclined to strip for him before bedtime.

I'm just not convinced it was a good idea to install Jane and Henry as leads, unless the long-term plan is to swap them out for different characters every season. If so, the show might work with that built-in guarantee of new blood and fresh corruptions every year.

On the scares front, 666 Park Avenue was glossy and eerie instead of ghoulish and scary—although there was an effective sequence with a flashing bulb and a basement ghost, and an unnerving moment when Jane felt the desire of Gavin to kiss her neck at a black-tie event. Otherwise it's hard to be scared by such superficially zany things like a violinist being sucked into a peep-hole a murderer subsumed into a wall crawling with CGI limbs, or a woman killed by malfunctioning elevator doors. In some ways this feels like a US network's reaction to the success of cable's American Horror Story (which is hardly devoid of its own problems) but there are obvious limitations with what ABC can do while trying to appeal to a general audience.

There was barely room for suspense and tension because the pilot was so keen to hook viewers with spooky visuals, despite these things working better when the atmosphere is allowed to slowly get under your skin. Considering Jane's already found a scary basement with a weird floor mosaic, got frightened by a man with blood on his hand, and has started "dreaming" of a woman jumping off The Drake's roof, it felt like the show's already racing towards the moment when audiences are screaming for the tormented residents to just move out already. I don't care how awesome the apartments are.

Overall, 666 Park Avenue delivered an enjoyable pilot with a finely tuned performance from O'Quinn (who balanced courteousness with a sparkle of evil as brilliantly as you'd expect from The Stepfather himself), but I'm just not convinced about the show's long-term future if Jane and Henry are going to be constants. It may have been wiser to focus on setting up Gavin and Olivia as unnerving anti-heroes, before introducing weekly stories about various guests with pasts, flaws, hopes, dreams, and desires to manipulate for evil ends.


  • The most intriguing moment of the pilot came when the hotel thief, who appears to be clairvoyant, saw Jane's future by holding her stolen necklace. A future that involves Jane tied up in the creepy basement wearing the expensive red dress Olivia bought her as a present, after mentioning that red was her daughter's favourite colour. Is the ultimate goal of the Doran's to bring their child back from the dead, by perhaps feeding the haunted building people's souls? Might they also have signed a deal with a higher power?
30 September 2012 / ABC