‘666 Park Avenue,’ chills but few thrills
ABC drama offers an interesting premise and skilled cast
September 28, 2012
One of the brilliant things about the 1968 movie thriller "Rosemary's Baby" is that it keeps us guessing until the end whether Rosemary's neighbors in her apartment house are Satan worshippers or simply kooky old geezers.
ABC's new drama "666 Park Avenue" takes the opposite approach: We know from the first scene that something supernatural and evil is going on. The question is whether the heroes will fall victim to it. A more important question is whether the show will provide consistent chills and suspense along the way.
Thanks to a skilled cast and high-quality production design and cinematography, the answer to the second question is likely to be yes. But the script contains few surprises, so viewers are unlikely to be as intrigued as they are frightened. The series will be at best a guilty pleasure.
The premiere episode, airing this Sunday, Sept. 30, at 10 p.m., opens with a scene in a concert hall in which Gavin Doran (Terry O'Quinn) and his wife, Olivia (Vanessa Williams), are paying particular attention to a violinist whose fingers suddenly start bleeding. The violinist goes to his apartment house, the Drake, at 999 Park Avenue in Manhattan, where he gets a call from Doran telling him that his 10 years are up. A mysterious force sucks him through the building's bronze front doors.
So we're sufficiently nervous when Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor) and Henry Martin (Dave Annable), a naïve young couple living in Queens, apply for the job of building manager, a job that includes a nice two-bedroom apartment. Like "Rosemary's Baby," "666 Park Avenue" draws on the irresistible appeal of an affordable apartment in a good building in Manhattan.
Jane, an aspiring architect, impresses Doran with her knowledge of New York construction history and winds up handling most of the managing while Henry is off working in the mayor's office. As she goes about her business, the interior shots of the old building are realistic but spooky.
Intrigued by a mosaic floor of a dragon in the building's basement, Jane does some research and discovers an old photo of a group called the Order of the Dragon meeting in the building. ("Drake," as everyone in the show seems to know, means "dragon.")
Soon Henry and Jane are socializing with the Dorans. In one of many scenes we know we've seen before, Olivia takes Jane shopping and buys her a dress that Jane could never afford on her own.
Another tenant whose story feels familiar is Brian Leonard (Robert Buckley), a blocked playwright whose wife, Louise (Mercedes Masöhn), is a successful fashion photographer. Brian spends more time peeping at a pretty neighbor (Helena Mattsson) than writing.
In a poignant subplot, a tenant named John (James Waterston), whose wife recently died, has made a deal with Gavin that has unforeseen consequences.
But most of the action is meant to be spine-tingling rather than heartstring-tugging. This allows for some humor. Tony (Erik Palladino), a Drake doorman, tells Jane and Henry that the previous manager "moved someplace warmer — Arizona." When Jane raises the possibility that the building could be damaged by "an act of God," Gavin chuckles and says, "Heaven forbid!"
Though it remains unclear whether Gavin is the devil incarnate or merely a minion, Terry O'Quinn radiates evil mojo. He had practice at this when he played the Smoke Monster incarnate in the later episodes of "Lost."
Vanessa Williams, who played a Prada-wearing devil on "Ugly Betty," makes less of an impression, perhaps because we're meant to be unsure whether she's Gavin's partner or his victim.
Given this show's straightforward approach, that question will probably be cleared up soon. Fantasy fans will probably be relieved to find a show that doesn't try to wind their brains around some giant mystery. Other supernatural dramas — the best example being "Lost" — have aimed higher and fizzled out. "666 Park Avenue" wisely avoids that temptation.
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