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666 Park Avenue

The first thing that’s surprising about the pilot episode of 666 Park Avenue, ABC’s new supernatural soap, is that the address of the building around which the story centers is actually 999 Park Avenue. It’s just that when the light hits the sign just right the shadows form a 666. The second thing that’s surprising is — actually, no, that’s pretty much it. Everything else is exactly what you think it is, for better or worse. Mostly worse.

Take one part Fantasy Island‘s wish-fulfillment of the week structure, one part The Sentinel‘s conceit of a New York apartment building being the gateway to Hell, mix vigorously through the lens of a flailing TV landscape that has come to believe pretty actors are better than talented ones, and you’ve got 666 Park Avenue. Or at least you’ve got it for the next four to six weeks, before it’s canceled and replaced with more Dancing With the Stars.

Jane and Henry are a young Midwestern couple who come to New York City to manage the Drake, an old and beautiful Manhattan building that for some reason is still a rental instead of a co-op. Perhaps it’s a thematic choice, so that we’re treated to lots of scenes of people signing contracts leases. (The Drake is stunt-doubled by the famous Ansonia on Broadway and 73rd, previously seen in Single White Female.) When we first meet Jane and Henry, they’re driving up to the Drake in a beat-up old jalopy, the only such car on a street filled with sleek town cars and sedans, and I guess we’re supposed to think this makes them more authentic, less pretentious than the snooty New Yorkers all around them. They’re real people, goddamn it! What the producers don’t understand, of course, is that every car parked on my street is a beat-up old jalopy, and they’re all owned by New Yorkers. This is the first sign that 666 Park Avenue has no true understanding of the city in which it takes place. It is, unfortunately, not the last.

The great Terry O’Quinn plays Gavin Doran, the building’s owner and secret servant of Satan. He has the power to grant people’s selfish wishes, and then — mwahahahahaha! — comes to collect their souls when it’s time. There’s a violinist whose time has run out (signified by bleeding fingertips — wha?) and who tries to escape, but gets sucked into the lobby door. There’s a man who kills on Gavin’s command so his dead wife will come back. He gets sucked into his bedroom wall. There’s a lot of sucking going on in 666 Park Avenue.

What you won’t find going on is subtlety of any kind. I can’t help thinking how much more interesting it would be if these poor schmoes died under mysterious circumstances with nothing directly leading back to Gavin, and yet our heroes start to suspect a connection. But no. Instead we get Terry O’Quinn practically twirling his mustache as he announces to the unfortunate schmoe of the week, “We made a deal. Now I’ve come to collect!”

Aside from Terry O’Quinn, who gives it his all and is the best thing 666 Park Avenue has going for it, the cast is lackluster. Our leads, Rachael Taylor and Dave Annable, have no charisma whatsoever. Gavin’s wife Olivia, played by Vanessa Williams, does little more than stand around looking beautiful or shop at expensive boutiques. Erik Palladino plays a concierge whom I assume is named Mr. Exposition, because that’s what he does every time he shows up. (I’ve never in my life met a concierge who told me the building’s entire history while taking me to my room.) There’s also a struggling playwright who has writer’s block. Oh, no! Cue the Devil’s contract to make him a Broadway success!

You’ve no doubt heard how in some entertainment women are basically things, but here it’s literal, as one female character exists solely to be stared at through the window by the playwright! She goes to bed in the middle of the day and makes sure to wear skimpy lingerie — or nothing at all — in order to give him a show. She’s not just a thing, people, she’s a Satanic thing, there only to tempt him into cheating on his wife so the Devil can have his soul. Foul, evil temptress! How dare you be all sexy and not close your curtains! Don’t you know I can’t control where my eyes go? Christ, it’s like a nighttime soap written by the Taliban.

I could have forgiven this show pretty much anything, though, on the grounds of it at least being campy, but near the end of the pilot, when it’s revealed that the only other person of color besides Vanessa Williams is a burglar stealing things from people’s apartments, I realized I was never going to tune in again. Sure, its hinted that she’s actually psychic and is using the stolen items to investigate what’s happening in the building, what with people getting sucked into the structural details and all, but there are other ways they could have gone about it that wouldn’t have buckled so hideously under the weight of hundreds of years of racism. “I know, let’s make the girl of color a thief!” is not what I’d call creative thinking.

So yeah, for me 666 Park Avenue is one and done. I won’t be tuning in again. Terry O’Quinn deserves a much better program to star in. Luckily, I don’t think he’s going to have to wait long before another opportunity arises.

One response to “666 Park Avenue”

  1. Ellen says:

    (I’ve never in my life met a concierge who told me the building’s entire history while taking me to my room.)

    But you’ve gotta admit that would be an awesome concierge, right?

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