Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pilot Review: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast (Thursdays at 9:00 on The CW)

It took me over a week to get to this review, mostly because I care so little about it.. The CW's Beauty and the Beast is terrible, and if it weren't for the insipid The Mob Doctor on Fox, it would be the worst new show of the season.

Like Emily Owens, M.D. is the network's first medical procedural, this is their first police procedural (or at least the first since Dawn Ostroff took over, I think there may have been one before her). You read that right: Beauty and the Beast is a police show. The even more ridiculous part? The police are played by two attractive women who are hardly 30 and manage to only solve crimes involving the beautiful elite: the first episode a beauty magazine editor, the second a ballerina. It's stupid.

There's also the matter of the "beast" of the title, who happens to be a presumed-dead soldier left "horribly" scarred (it's a line on one side of his face; Google images of wounded vets if you wanna see what war scars really look like... but don't do it if you want to sleep tonight) and with superpowers that make him a killing machine. It seems he saved Beauty, whose name is actually Catherine and played stoically and boringly by Smallville's Kristin Kreuk, from attackers ten years ago, while her mother was murdered. This crime is the reason Cat became a police officer, and she has spent the remaining years searching for her savior, whom she called a "beast" at the time. When a crime is committed and a partially human hair matching one found at Cat's long-ago crime scene is recovered, she goes searching for the Beast, actually named Vincent and played with ho-hum seriousness by Australian actor Jay Ryan. Conveniently, he has the same newspaper clipping Cat has looked at everyday for 10 years lying around his house, so she knows it's him.

See? Stupid. And the fact that this is even called Beauty and the Beast is ludicrous. It's apparently loosely based on the 1980s CBS series of the same name that starred Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman, but it lacks all of that show's magic and sense of mythology. In that series, the Beast was an animal. Here, he's a pretty boy with an "ugly" scar on his face... which actually kind of makes him even more attractive, and even more human because it's a flaw. "The World Below" does not yet exist in this incarnation, and considering that was the heart of the 1987 show... I don't really understand how this can be considered a remake. Just because Kreuk and Hamilton played characters with the same name?

It's all nonsensical anyway, so it doesn't really matter. From little things like how Catherine could be tending bar underage to how she attended an Ivy League school and ended up a cop, to big things like discrepancies in the time frame and the total inappropriateness of the title, nothing about Beauty and the Beast makes sense. But it doesn't seem like creators Sherri Cooper & Jennifer Levin (Brothers & Sisters) are interested in doing anything but displaying a distorted and ridiculous world where everyone and everything is inconceivably beautiful, even when it's dangerous and dark. I mean, Cat spends the pilot investigating a murder at a beauty magazine, for sobbing out loud. Everything is about physical perfection, from the lighting in the mother's murder scene to Kreuk's perfectly brushed and never out-of-place hair. No wonder a beautiful guy with a scar is considered beastly in this world; it's the only flaw on display.

And that's what makes Beauty and the Beast ultimately so preposterous and unable to be enjoyed. It's bringing nothing new to the table, and what it's redoing it is redoing poorly. No one on the show can act worth a lick, at least not in these roles; the script is predictable and painfully slow; the direction is slick but expected and never creative; the story goes nowhere, and the crime isn't engrossing; and it claims to be something that it's not by using the title of a very well-known fairy tale (and better done TV series). It's a quick way for the CW to cash in on the fairy tale series craze that turned Once Upon a Time and Grimm into hits last season. But both of those shows are infinitely more entertaining and better put together than this piece of crap.

Checking In: American Horror Story Asylum Premiere


American Horror Story: Asylum (Wednesdays at 10:00 on FX)

I wasn't the biggest fan of the first season of FX's series American Horror Story. I found it busy, contrived, overrated, bloated, and pompous. But it did have some clever moments and some great performances, so I watched the whole season. I, like everyone else, was shocked by the finale when the entire Harmon family bit the dust and the cycle of Murder House started all over again. Where does one go from there? Creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk decided to completely reboot the series and tell an entirely new story rather than continue in the same haunted house genre, and now we have American Horror Story: Asylum.

Just for how gutsy a move it was to totally shift gears and tell a brand new story with brand new characters and only some of the same actors, I give the series a lot of credit. That's a brave, totally unheard of move that has the possibility of paying off in spades. The horror genre contains many types of films, so there's a lot of material out there to touch upon; where season one focused mostly on the haunted house and ghost horror stories, both timeless and enduring tales, season two is a period piece focusing on religious, medical and extraterrestrial horror stories popular in the 1960s and 1970s. It's a stark contrast to the accessibility of the first season, but there are many things the two seasons have in common, chief among which is the creators' tendency to throw every idea they have into one episode and see what works.

At American Horror Story's core, that's what has always been the main problem: it does too much. There are too many characters, too many plot twists, too many random jump scares, too many film references, too many social issues being addressed, etc. That theme has carried over into Asylum, which has all the same problems as the first season. The premiere works so hard to introduce so many characters and plots in such a short amount of time that my head was spinning twenty minutes in. It doesn't help that we're watching events unfold in two different timelines either. In the present we meet a horndog couple known only as the Lovers, one a photographer (Adam Levine of Maroon 5) and one a horror freak (Jenna Dewan Tatum, Step Up), who get off by having sex in haunted placed. They end up at Briarcliff, a sanitarium for the criminally insane. Levine's character ends up biting off a little more than he can chew, and we are drawn back into the past (1964, to be exact) to learn the history of Briarcliff. It's run by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), under the eye of a hot Monsignor (Joseph Fiennes) whom Sr. Jude often sexually fantasizes about. Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) tricks her way into Briarcliff to get a story on the newest inmate: Kit Walker (Evan Peters), AKA Bloody Face, a man accused of skinning women alive.

There are a ton of other characters introduced, including a large group of inmates and their staff, from a nymphomaniac (Chloe Sevigny) to the introduction of yet another "special needs" character in Pepper, a woman suffering from microcephaly (you'll recall last season featured a major arc for a character with down syndrome). There's the sadistic Dr. Arden (James Cromwell) and Sr. Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe), who is playing both sides of the faith/science debate by catering to both the doctor and Sr. Jude.

Subtlety has never been one of Murphy's strong suits, and that remains an issue in Asylum. So much happens in this short introduction that it's hard to actually recount everything. There's Levine's dismemberment in the first five or so minutes, Kit's alien encounter, the monsters in the woods created by Dr. Arden, Lana's commitment to the asylum, Sr. Jude's sexual fantasies, the Lovers' attack by a present-day Bloody Face, and so much more. That's not even counting the social issues Murphy and his team, led by this episode's writer Tim Minear, tries to throw at the audience: interracial marriage, homosexuality, and the coexistence of science and religion. It's a jumbled mess of ideas, scattered images, crazy editing, a loud score, and a myriad of characters. The audience is bashed over the head with all of these elements relentlessly. The sad thing is, I would still be mostly on board if it weren't for the introduction of the alien subplot, in which Kit was abducted and implanted with some type of chip (which Dr. Arden later removes, and it sprouts legs and runs away... yes, really), while his wife and a number of other women were killed. This happens fairly early in the episode and sets a tone of ridiculousness for the remainder of the hour; it's so out of place that it feels like a joke. And perhaps it is. Perhaps the whole alien abduction is in Kit's mind, but in that case then it feels like an unnecessary way of confusing and annoying the audience. But it's the prime example in "Welcome to Briarcliff" of the staff's inability to edit themselves or be anything less than over-the-top and in-your-face.

Another problem Asylum has is that it borrows very heavily from itself, giving it a sense of pomposity. They are separate stories in separate locations and times, but so many elements carry over that at times it feels like we're seeing the same thing happen again: Pepper = Addie; Bloody Face = Rubber Man; Sr. Jude's fantasies recall Alexandra Breckenridge's Moira (and so does Chloe Sevigny's character); Sr. Mary Eunice = Vivien; etc. I know this was likely intentional, to tie the second season to the first so as not to imply that Asylum is a wholly new show, especially since so many actors returned to the series in new roles. But it gives everything a sense of deja-vu, and a feeling that the creators are smirking and saying, "See how clever we are?" And unlike its predecessor and despite having so many elements, Asylum moves terribly slowly. I just kept waiting for the next shoe to drop, because you know there's a twist coming. And in this case, the twist wasn't all that hard to see coming: Lana's institutionalization was a given from the moment she crossed Sr. Jude in her first scene.

On the flip side, the strength of Asylum is in its performances, much like it was in season one. Jessica Lange is still the best thing about the show, though she's playing a more forward version of the same character she played last season: a huge bitch with power. She's wonderful, playing up the good/evil contradiction of her character and letting it slide into camp on occasion, which is great considering how campy horror movies typically are. Evan Peters is shockingly good as Kit, after a rather strained performance from him as Tate last season. Sarah Paulson already has more to do in this one episode than she did in the entirety of season one, and she's the anchor of the show so far: the character who is innocent and part of both worlds (the asylum and the outside). Clea Duvall does strong work as her romantic partner, especially when she goes toe-to-toe with Jessica Lange at the episode's end. I was looking forward to seeing Zachary Quinto, one of the best parts of last season, but his character will not be introduced until next week. But all around, everyone did an admirable job, even Adam Levine in his acting debut. Granted, he's probably played characters with a bigger range in his music videos, but he doesn't embarrass himself so that's good.

By the time the premiere of Asylum ended, I realized I was having a really strong negative reaction. This season was an opportunity to fix the problems of season one, namely the abundance of ideas that don't always work. But Murphy and Falchuk didn't do that. In fact, they made themselves more problems by introducing such a huge cast of characters right off the bat. The strengths of the previous season are still the strengths of the current one: the genuine creepiness of the cinematography and art direction, and the wonderful cast led by Lange. But it looks to be more of the same, only messier and less focused if the staff doesn't get their act together and start letting the audience think for themselves.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pilot Review: Arrow

Arrow (Wednesdays at 8:00 on The CW)

The CW is in dire straights and needs a lifeline, ASAP. New President Mark Pedowitz took a step in the right direction with his schedule overhaul in May, and Arrow is the crown jewel of that schedule. It's a return to the CW of yore, when Smallville garnered some of the network's highest ratings (on Friday nights, no less), and not every show was geared toward teenage girls. And it's debuting without much real competition (opposite reality and sitcoms, no other dramas) in front of Supernatural, one of the only reliable performers left on the network. Based on the strength of the pilot, it deserves to succeed and help lead the CW out of the darkness.

Billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Steven Amell) went missing five years ago when his father's ship sank, and he was presumed dead, along with all the other passengers. But he is discovered by a fishing boat and returned home to Starling City, a town his father practically built. Oliver has changed over the years, surviving savagely on a deserted island. Now that he's home, he's determined to right the wrongs he committed as a carefree and spoiled brat, beginning with an overdue apology to former girlfriend Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy, Melrose Place). Laurel isn't in the mood to forgive Oliver, however, since when the boat went down he was sleeping with Laurel's sister, and she didn't survive the wreck. Soon after his return, however, Oliver is targeted by one of his father's enemies. Using the survival skills he picked up on the island, Oliver escapes and vows to right the injustice in his city as the Green Arrow.

Right off the bat, the parallels between Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne, AKA Batman, are obvious. Neither has superpowers, both have tons of money; then there's the aspects of vengeance for the death of a parent, the urban decay, etc. Keeping all that in mind, it makes sense that Greg Berlanti (Green Lantern), Marc Guggenheim (Eli Stone), and Andrew Kreisberg (Fringe) would then develop the character into a television presence similar to the film version of Batman in the recent Christoper Nolan Dark Knight trilogy; the tone of Arrow is the same as those films, and it borrows many elements of the first chapter, Batman Begins, for its pilot. It never feels like a copycat or anything like that, and it's actually a decent attempt to serialize and adapt that type of storytelling for the small screen. The script is standard superhero fare, not exactly subtle in its delivery and impact, but then again that's not exactly what a comic book audience expects. So for what it is, Arrow is about as well done as one would anticipate.

On other levels, it's just not up to snuff. The performances are pretty weak all around. Amell is a great presence, and he has an incredible physique, but there's no depth to his portrayal of Oliver Queen. Right now, he's just a quiet guy with an anger problem; there's no hint of what's bubbling underneath in his performance. Katie Cassidy is fine as Laurel, if a bit one-dimensional in a role which doesn't yet have many angles. Her chemistry with Amell is the weakest part of the pilot. She has been waiting five years to rip into Oliver, yet she addresses him like all he did was forget to call her before bed the night before. The rest of the supporting actors are getting the job done without much effort. But then again, a show like this isn't always about depth or making good choices as an actor... it's about the action.

And the action is great. Anytime Oliver is flipping through the air, sending arrows sailing, or beating the hell out of someone, Arrow is amazing entertainment. The fight choreography is animalistic and savage, wholly appropriate for Oliver's character, and always spectacular. The montage of Oliver training himself to become the Green Arrow, though pretty cliche for superhero stories, is just as awesome as it is in every comic book adaptation you've ever seen; it's been done to death, but we all love it. Director David Nutter (Smallville) keeps things moving at a smooth, brisk pace until the pilot's final shocking reveal, setting some high stakes for the remainder of the season. It's dark and aesthetically beautiful, an attractive but still entertaining hour.

There's something here for everyone: politics, romance, action, mystery. There's a whole lot of potential in Arrow, proving the CW is still capable of developing mature shows with a sense of direction, rather than just showcases for good-looking guys and girls... though the show certainly has that going for it as well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Pilot Review: Nashville

Nashville (Wednesdays at 10:00 on ABC; Premieres October 10)

Now having seen the Nashville pilot, it's safe to say that it's the perfect successor to the timeslot reinvigorated last season by Revenge. It's similarly an overly dramatic soap opera centered around the rivalry between two strong, beautiful women, each possessing their own kind of power. It has all the trappings of a guilty pleasure, and I loved every moment of it.

Rayna James (Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story) is the reigning queen of country music, an artist on top of her game for over two decades. But the country scene is changing, and Rayna just doesn't have the crossover appeal necessary to be a contemporary success: her latest album is failing, and her tour isn't selling. Her record company's solution? Send Rayna out on tour with Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes), the hottest thing in the country world. If Rayna declines, the label will pull all promotions of her album and turn their backs on her. It's a tough decision for Rayna, who also faces discord at home from her unhappy marriage and a broken relationship with her power-hungry father (Powers Boothe, Deadwood). When Juliette bursts on the scene and tries to steal Rayna's longtime lead guitarist (and ex-lover) as well as her producer, the stage is set for a showdown between the reigning queen and the rising princess of country music.

I can't say enough good things about Nashville. It's well-written by Oscar winner Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise), full of witty banter and well-placed bits of backstory, without ever seeming campy. The rivalry between Rayna and Juliette could have easily devolved into Dynasty territory, but the strength of the writing and performances from Britton and Panettiere ensure that these girls feel real. Speaking of which, it is Connie Britton's performance as Rayna that truly sells the show. She plays all the contradictions and confusions of the aging star so perfectly, from her diva outbursts at sound check to scenes driving her kids to school in a minivan like any regular mom. Rayna is a simple woman for whom things got (or are getting complicated), and Britton plays up every second of that humanity without sacrificing that certain something that makes Rayna so magnetic to millions of music fans. Without Britton, Nashville would be a lesser show. She is supported amply by Panettiere, who is giving a delicious villain performance that isn't at all melodramatic. She is the ideal foil to Britton's groundedness, though she gets a hefty moment of her own late in the episode. As broken as Rayna's personal life seems, we get the sense that there's something much darker happening in Juliette's... we just don't get to see it yet.

The supporting cast is full of strong performances, particularly from Powers Boothe as Rayna's tycoon father; he's the J.R. of Nashville except more forward. Newcomer Clare Bowen is also a standout in the ensemble as a waitress/songwriter looking for her voice. The best supporting performance, however, is from the music. A show like Nashville wouldn't survive without strong music in its catalogue, and the show has it down. The original songs are produced by Oscar winner T-Bone Burnett (Crazy Heart) and written by several up-and-comers, including John Paul White of the Grammy winning duo The Civil Wars. The pilot's final torch song, "If I Didn't Know Better," is a thing of beauty as performed by Bowen and Sam Palladio (Episodes). Accompanied by images of Rayna's acquiescence and Juliette's seduction, it's a clear view of where these characters have been and where they're going. It's a great way to cap a very strong episode.

In addition to being well done, Nashville is just a really good time. It's got a bit of Dallas's Southern-fried melodrama coupled with the backstage rivalry of Smash. There's political intrigue, sexual seduction, broken hearts, domestic unrest, and good music. There's quite a bit of commentary about the state of the music industry and where actual talent will get you (Rayna is a true singer, Juliette is an auto-tuned puppoet of her label), not to mention the effects the current economy and technologies have had on artists. So whether you're looking strictly for an entertaining soap opera, or for something with a bit of an agenda, you're likely to find it in Nashville. It's well-rounded and well-done in just about every aspect.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pilot Review: Chicago Fire

Chicago Fire (Wednesdays at 10:00 on NBC; Premieres October 10)

There really isn't much to say about a show like Chicago Fire. Its pilot was thrilling and action-packed, but it's not the kind of show you watch for depth or intrigue. You watch it to see hot guys without shirts and stuff exploding.

The barebones plot of the new series produced by Law & Order creator Dick Wolf centers around the tense relationship between a group of firefighters and a rescue squad, both of whom operate out of the same firehouse in Chicago. The rift is widened in the first few minutes by the loss of a fireman and friend to both squads; now the leader of the firefighters, Lt. Casey (Jesse Spencer, House), and the leader of the rescue squad, Lt. Severide (Taylor Kinney, The Vampire Diaries), are at each other's throats constantly.

That's it. It's more of a cast of characters than a show with a story to follow. There are two female ambulance drivers to balance out the testosterone, but the rest of the cast is comprised of firefighters and rescue team workers, each with the slightest of backstories: one lost his house (Sex and the City's David Eigenberg), one is engaged but moved into his own house, one is hiding a medical issue, one is the rookie, etc. The whole thing is kind of a rehash of Third Watch, minus the police officers, with a dash of Rescue Me, minus the artistry.

The visuals of Chicago Fire are why anyone is going to tune in. There are two scenes which take place inside burning buildings, and both are thrillingly shot. The climactic scene in which Casey and Severide find themselves helping each other out of a helpless situation is everything a viewer could ask of a firefighting show: emotional, tense and exciting. Another scene in which a young girl is pulled from a crumpled car is similarly engrossing. The direction under Jeffrey Nachmanoff (Homeland) is tight, and the editing is especially good; the close-ups and quick cuts add to the tension and suspense, much more so than the standard script and performances. Speaking of which, there are no standouts here, and there don't really need to be. Everyone is pulling his or her weight equally; no one is running ahead of the pack, but no one is lagging behind either. As the characters, of which there are many, become more flesh-and-bone, I would expect that to change.

And that's about it. Chicago Fire isn't breaking new ground or anything, but it's an adrenaline-fueld hour. There's a lot to enjoy, if not to love, about it. What it comes down to is how you feel about the claim I made above. If you want to watch a show with a bunch of buff-yet-sensitive guys working out, fighting, and putting out fires, then Chicago Fire is for you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pilot Review: Emily Owens, M.D.

Emily Owens, M.D. (Tuesdays at 9:00 on The CW; Premieres October 16)

What would happen if you tried to set Grey's Anatomy in high school? That seems to be the question first-time creator Jennie Snyder Urman (formerly a writer on 90210) tried to answer with The CW's first foray into medical procedural territory, Emily Owens, M.D. Well, the answer is exactly what you'd expect: nothing good would happen.

It's the first day as a doctor at Denver Memorial Hospital for Emily Owens (Mamie Gummer, Off the Map) and a host of other recent med school graduates. Among her new colleagues are Emily's crush Will Collins (Justin Hartley, Smallville); her high school tormentor Cassandra (Aja Naomi King); kindhearted senior doctor Micah (Michael Rady, Melrose Place); and her new mentor, a goddess in the medical field, Gina Beckett (Necar Zadegan, 24), among many others. It's lot long before Emily learns that working in a hospital is a lot like being back in high school: the doctors form cliques, she must deal with her unrequited emotions, help her friends get dates... the only difference being now things really are a matter of life and death.

As far as an introduction for The CW into the world of medical shows, Emily Owens could have been much worse. The concept of "hospitals are just like high school" is cute, and it's a good jumping off point for the youthful network. It makes the characters a bit more relatable for the young audience the network attracts. But it also trivializes the entire concept of medical shows as well. The writing is so immature, the situations so childish, that Emily Owens plays more like a parody of Grey's Anatomy than anything else. There's a scene in the pilot directly lifted from Mean Girls, where seemingly the only kind female other than Emily, a hospital bigwig's daughter named Tyra (Kelly McCreary), introduces her to the different cliques: The Jocks (podiatrists), The Plastics (plastic surgeons), The Stoners (anestheseologists), The Geeks (neurologists), etc. It's cute, in concept, but to see it played out makes it all seem really, really silly. And from there on out it's hard to take the rest of the show seriously.

Not that theyr'e trying very hard to be serious. The medical cases in the pilot are so standard that it's laughable. Emily relates to a young pre-teen who faints when her crush walks by, only to learn she has a heart condition; an old woman with Alzheimer's goes missing; a man and his brother are in a drunken car accident, with the golden boy being the one who ends up seriously injured. Nothing at all interesting happening there. And the way Snyder relates her doctor characters to the patients is lowest-denominator. Emily convinces her young patient to tell her crush how she feels, just as she realizes that she must do the same with Will; Cassandra turns out to be such a bitch because her home life was so awful in high school; etc. It's all very basic and immature. There's even a scene where Twilight is used as an example of how to live one's life, and I swear I'm not making that up.... it happened. The dialogue is pretty bad, but it's the structure that is truly terrible. Snyder Urman uses far too much unnecessary voice-over for Emily, again recalling Mean Girls, and she treats everything going on in the hospital with deadly seriousness. Every few seconds (much like the other awful medical drama of the season, The Mob Doctor) all the doctors are receiving emergency calls on their beepers (yes, BEEPERS!) and running off to some other area of the hosptial, yelling about syringes or broken arteries or some such medical nonsense. It's enough to make you roll your eyes and groan, "Come on."

With only so much to work with in a very weak script, it's no surprise that not even the excellent Mamie Gummer, who looks and sounds so much like her mother, Meryl Streep, at times that it's uncanny, can elevate the material above mediocrity. She has very few dramatic moments to play; instead she's standing around making googly eyes at Will or fretting over what happened to her in high school to make everyone hate her. Emily is a sympathetic character if you're a teenage girl, but an annoying one if you're anyone else. Still, Gummer is the only actor who doesn't succumb to the script's more ridiculous moments and characterizations. Aja Naomi King is doing her best Regina George impersonation, but nothing doing; she is so stereotypically bitchy that she might as well be a cardboard cutout with a pre-recorded bitchy voicebox. Justin Harltey just needs to look adorable; ditto for Michael Rady, who's just as shallow an actor as he was on the aborted CW remake of Melrose Place.

I can imagine a show like Emily Owens, M.D. (which should have stuck with its original title, First Cut) finding an audience of young people and women who are invested in its melodramatic love stories and tales of redemption after high school, but for anyone who prefers a bit of meat on their shows, it falls incredibly short. It's Grey's Anatmoy without the gravitas, Scrubs without the humor, and Mean Girls without the bite.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Pilot Review: 666 Park Avenue

666 Park Avenue (Sundays at 10:00 on ABC)

ABC's Sunday night lineup looks to be a strong one, despite the fact that the shows have very little in common with each other except for a general theme of good vs. evil: the family-oriented Once Upon a Time; primetime soap Revenge; and then this haunted house horror story, 666 Park Avenue. I don't expect 666 to get anywhere near the level of attention as its lead-ins, partially because of its incompatibility and partially because it's just middle-of-the-road in terms of quality.

Henry Martin (Dave Annable, Brothers & Sisters) and Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor, Charlie's Angels) are underpaid and underemployed, respectively, and looking to move. They pursue a job posting to become resident managers at The Drake, a residential Park Avenue hotel. Drake owners Gavin (Terry O'Quinn, Lost) and Olivia Doran (Vanessa Williams, Desperate Housewives) are initially dismissive but change their minds when Jane displays an astute breadth of knowledge on the building's structure. The couple moves in, and the Dorans quickly take them under their wing. While Henry is off at work during the day, Jane begins her task of informing Gavin of what needs fixing. She meets several neighbors, one of whom is covered in blood, and discovers an old mosaic in the basement of a dragon. Jane spends the next day researching the history of The Drake, including evidence of sealed doors and past murders on the premises.

The overarching structure of 666 Park Avenue seems to be vaguely procedural, if the pilot is any indication. We're introduced to the new managers, but we also get the personal story of some of the building's tenants, one of whose contract with Gavin and The Drake is either expiring or being breached. And these contracts aren't simply lease agreements, as I'm sure you can gather. In the introduction sequence we meet a violinist who apparently signed a contract with Gavin to become talented and popular within ten years, and on the night of its expiration he is sucked into the building; reference is made later to his moving "somewhere warmer." So we get the idea that Gavin is the Devil, or something similar, and everyone in the building has made some sort of deal with him: to become a famous playwright, to regain a dead loved one, etc. It's certainly a more engrossing procedural than any of the myriad cop/lawyer/medical dramas on the air, but procedural nonetheless, unless that impulse is broken in future episodes to further explore the hotel, the characters' interactions, etc.

Other than that, 666 is something of a mixed bag in concept. I can't tell if it's trying to be an homage to horror types, like American Horror Story very obviously is, or if it's just unoriginal. There are many allusions to films like The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Rear Window, Vertigo, The Devil's Advocate, Rosemary's Baby, 1408, and others. Even the development of the plot, with Jane researching the hotel's past, follows traditional horror film structure. Unfortunately unlike horror films, it's not as fast paced as it should be. The episode starts with a bang, but then it slows down considerably to follow the minutia of the neighbors' days: Jane checking lights, a writer spying on a woman undressing, Gavin and Henry golfing, Olivia shopping, etc. It's a bit uneven, oscillating between boring scenes and action scenes, and at this point it's the latter that seem out of place and strange, particularly a scene at the symphony where Gavin works some sort of mind-voodoo on Jane, leading to her pronouncement in many of the previews: "Are we going to be okay here?" The scene is well-played and shot, but it's sudden and confusing.

As you can tell from the cast list above, the show is filled with ABC regulars and favorites. Rachael Taylor has recovered nicely from the embarassment of last year's heinous Charlie's Angels reboot, on which she had the most ridiculous character, and is just fine here. She's gorgeous, and she does frightened well. Dave Annable is adequate as her live-in boyfriend, but I get the impression that he (and she, actually) were cast based more on looks than on talent. 666 Park Avenue is about temptation and seduction, and Taylor and Annable easily fit in with those descriptions: they're a beautiful couple. Terry O'Quinn is chewing scenery with the best of them, and Vanessa Williams manages to be both warm and icy as his wife. It's easy to see them being both inviting and fearful. But the real strength of the pilot comes from the stylish direction of Alex Graves (Terra Nova). He injects a lot of personality into the script, finding strange camera angles and making excellent use of close-ups and cutaways. He makes some of the weaker and slower moments in the script more interesting, and I hope that future episodes keep his vision. Right now it's one of the best things about an otherwise choppy and only slightly intriguing series.