Primetime’s relationship with the macabre has always been tenuous, with ABC’s recent flameouts including “Eastwick” and “The River.” The network’s latest gothic-soap dice-roll, “666 Park Avenue,” comes to the task with handsome accessories and a cheeky sensibility, none of which makes the delicate balancing act of what amounts to a “Rosemary’s Baby”-like series any easier to realize. “Are we gonna be OK here?” half of the central couple asks. Despite promising signs, like almost anything in this vein, the Devil is in the details.
Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor, fresh off “Charlie’s Angels”) is an aspiring architect, living with Henry (“Brothers & Sisters’ ” Dave Annable, returning to the same timeslot haunt). They’re presented an opportunity to move into and manage a posh Park Avenue building by owner Gavin Doran (Terry O’Quinn), who slyly notes the previous occupant “moved somewhere warmer.”
Faster than you can say “Beelzebub,” Doran and his wife Olivia (Vanessa Williams) are scheming to seduce the attractive new managers, and talking up their “friendly” building. Yet pretty quickly strange things begin happening, placing series creator Dave Wilcox (working from an Alloy book series) on a tightrope, trying to make the show appropriately creepy without sending Jane and Henry frantically looking for something more in their price range in, say, Brooklyn. (“American Horror Story” dealt with the problem by simply hitting the reset button, which probably won’t be an option here.)
The cast is certainly strong, and O’Quinn proves an excellent choice for the Mephistophelean mogul, oozing menace from every pore, and uttering each line with an implied crack of lightning. (Why the Dark Prince would put down roots in Manhattan among privileged One-Percenters is a discussion perhaps better left for another day.)
If those elements provide incentive to return, the formula could become awfully repetitive if the primary characters’ story is augmented each week by a “B” plot regarding another resident, which is what transpires in the pilot, and doesn’t prove particularly compelling.
Practically speaking, the program’s fate could hinge in part on how well “Revenge” fares as its lead-in — introducing an element of uncertainty to ABC’s Sunday fortunes that hasn’t existed since “Desperate Housewives” made its debut. There’s also a noteworthy glut of high-profile cable competition to (heh heh) turn up the heat.
So while “666 Park Avenue” is clearly a classy piece of real estate, until some of the smoke clears, the smart move would be to rent, not buy.