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.

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