Throw open “The Gates,” and just pray they don’t lead to “Happy Town.” ABC’s latest macabre soap has a strong cast and enticingly bares its fangs — literally — in the opening moments, followed by a tantalizing drip of clues that all is not what it appears in this Stepford-like gated community. The problem is that so many similar concepts have become roads to nowhere that one suspects this summer serial will need to begin peeling back the curtain faster or risk its own unhappy end.
In a tantalizing teaser, an unlucky contractor finds himself in the living room of the alluring Claire Radcliff (Rhona Mitra), who promptly sinks her protruding fangs into his throat. Claire walks around in daylight and drinks tea, so she’s not your father’s vampire, just as many other residents of the Gates appear to be different in hard-to-ascertain, vaguely supernatural ways.
Into these perilous environs comes the new chief of police, Nick Monohan (Frank Grillo), a Chicago homicide detective who has relocated his family to what ostensibly looks like a fairly cushy job. He begins nosing around about that missing contractor, though, which risks complicating things for Nick and his wife (Marisol Nichols), who receives a warm welcome from Claire.
Finally, there’s the inevitable high-school subplot, as the Monohans’ son Charlie (Travis Caldwell) catches the eye of another student (Skyler Samuels) — and looks destined to discover that raging teen hormones, jealousy and supernatural powers are a potentially combustible mix.
Beyond the “Dark Shadows”-type atmosphere, “The Gates” is blessed with an attractive cast, many of whom have affiliations with past ABC dramas. They include “The Practice’s” Mitra, Nichols and Grillo (who were both in the short-lived “Blind Justice”), and Chandra West (“NYPD Blue”), who runs a local day spa but cryptically speaks of her own dark “craft.”
The question is how long the show can get by on those assets before series creators Grant Scharbo and Richard Hatem shed some serious light on all these things going bump in the night. Previewing the second hour didn’t disgorge many secrets, suggesting these gates might need to be oiled.
Produced by Fox Television Studios — meaning the show has enough international cash to make it an attractive summer fill-in — “The Gates” has more potential than its lead-in, “Scoundrels,” but will likely be partly dependent on that series’ success if it’s to gain any traction.
ABC is gambling on a big NBA Finals to give these programs a push into the summer, but should it fail to generate momentum quickly, the argument for keeping “The Gates” open will hardly be a slam-dunk case.