Given that “666 Park Avenue” is centered on such a fundamentally monochrome battle of good versus evil (The demon’s sneaky emissaries! Pitiful, weak-willed humans!), it seems downright wrong to feel wishy-washy about the show. In the pilot, it doesn’t seem as if our main foursome has much tolerance for shades of grey, and I’m not talking about the book.
It’s not giving anything away to say that the sexy, wealthy owners of 999 Park Avenue (the numbers have been flipped for viewers who might otherwise miss the point) are running something more sinister than a fancy shmancy apartment. As played by Terry O’Quinn (“Lost”) and Vanessa Williams (“Desperate Housewives”), Gavin and Olivia Doran are gleefully manipulative and slick enough to coat frying pans. If there is fun to be had in this show, it’s watching these two veterans at work, delicately chewing up the scenery much as the Dorans might merrily gnaw on mortal souls.
Less fascinating are the clueless young couple who fall unwittingly into the Dorans’ nefarious grasp. While Jane (Rachael Taylor, “Charlie’s Angels”) and Henry (Dave Annable, “Brothers & Sisters”) are attractive, sweet-natured and lovey-dovey, good guys are never as interesting as villains, and, in horror movie style, they often seem a little dim. Hey, want to manage the Drake, an extremely expensive building in Manhattan? And you can live here! For free! No experience? No problem! Of course, it’s not quite that easy, but, as usual, we’re supposed to believe that being from the Midwest is code for “kinda dumb.” In their rush to snap up this opportunity, they sign a contract without looking at it, for no other reason than Gavin Doran expressing some vague impatience with their heel-dragging. I’m pretty sure they should have read the fine print, but then maybe they’ve never been dragged to one of those timeshare seminars to learn that lesson the hard way.
We get a sense that Jane is going to poke her nose into places where it doesn’t belong (boy, you never see that complication coming!) and Henry, who just happens to be a member of the mayor’s staff (yes, they just rolled into New York City! And that happened!), may have some fight in him. But it’s hard to get excited about this battle, especially when it’s so difficult not to root for the bad guys.
Of course, Henry and Jane are not the sole focus of the show, and admittedly some of the extended cast of characters seem more promising. Brian Leonard (Robert Buckley) is a struggling playwright with a more successful photographer wife, Louise (Mercedes Masohn) -- as well as a wandering eye. Tony the doorman (Erik Palladino, “ER”) is also snooping around, and his ability to stop himself from screaming the gory details of what happened to the last manager when Jane wonders why anyone in their right mind would leave such a cush gig promises hidden depths (or just good breeding). There’s also teen spook Nona (Samantha Logan), who can predict the future of her apartment mates, sort of like that creepy kid from the first episode of last season’s “American Horror Story.”
For those who like a little gore from their prime time viewing, that appears to be saved for those Drake dwellers whose deals with the devil come due each episode. Of course, the devil tends to be sneaky and those who get what they wish for are disappointed to discover that loopholes have been exploited at their expense. In one memorable segment, a doting husband barters to bring his late wife back to life, not realizing exactly how much that will cost him. It's a short pop of drama, quickly and dramatically resolved, and if these vignettes continue to be entertaining and not too predictable (which can't be said for all of them in this premiere episode), they'll hopefully drive us past some of the more tedious elements of the struggle between the Dorans and their new apartment managers.
But it's too soon to predict whether the show is going to dish up surprises or hit the familiar beats of cheap horror movies. Until then, "666 Park Avenue" is a nice place to visit, even if we don't want to live there for a multitude of reasons.
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