666 Park Avenue Series Premiere Review: Creepiness Is Not Enough

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666 Park Avenue S01E01: "Pilot"

We live in a post-The Vampire Diaries, post-Battlestar Galactica, post-Revenge, post-Teen Wolf, post-True Blood, post-Breaking Bad world. Sure, some of these series are still airing, but the toothpaste is already out of the tube: GOOD TV MOVES QUICKLY. There is no going back! It is 2012. The only way a network serial can possibly survive is to learn the best lessons from its higher-quality cable competitors: Keep the characters fascinating and the plot points flowing—particularly in the pilot, when the storytelling should be nothing less than habit-forming. Unfortunately the pilot for ABC's new supernatural thriller 666 Park Avenue eschewed both of those elements and settled for being more like the middle section of a particularly uninspired horror film; you know, the part that comes after the terrifying cold open, but before the heroine actually figures out what's going on, where she's just entering dark hallways going, "Hello? Anybody there?" It was THAT for an hour.

Based on a book most of us had never heard of, 666 Park Avenue is from the evil geniuses at Alloy Entertainment. They're the ones who've made an industry out of publishing ghostwritten YA thrillers and adapting them into TV shows (The Vampire Diaries, The Secret Circle, Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl, The Lying Game). But this older-skewing premise exercises an astonishing lack of imagination and almost no scares that could reasonably surprise or hook anybody's interest. The premise itself proved to be a bit of a disaster: A young, impossibly attractive couple answered an ad for a new building manager at The Drake, an insanely posh apartment building on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Jane (Charlie's Angels' Rachael Taylor) has a background in architecture, while Henry (Brothers & Sisters' Dave Annable) works for the mayor—two qualifications that seemed to impress the building's devilish owner, Gavin Doran (Lost's Terry O'Quinn), and his wife, Olivia (Ugly Betty's Vanessa Williams). So the young couple moved in and that's when weird (and weirdly unoriginal) things started to happen to them and a half-dozen of their unmemorable neighbors. Anyway, the premise's disastrousness is this: Every tenant of the building has somehow sold his or her soul to the devil in order to be there, so what we're dealing with is essentially a haunted-house story in which the characters can't or won't leave. Is there anything less compelling than that? Who cares about the devil's lease agreements? How can we possibly root for characters who stay in a bad situation for more than two episodes, let alone SIX SEASONS? The first season of American Horror Story essentially admitted that the premise can only last for about 12 episodes, and even that felt like a stretch.

To get around this obvious fatal flaw in its premise, 666 Park Avenue will undoubtedly be stretching out the amount of time it takes for Jane and Henry to even realize that Gavin Doran is the devil (basically—it's already clear this show will be backtracking/secularizing the whole satanism thing). But that's the premise's second fatal flaw: It relies on the heroine's ignorance to maintain plausibility, and that's just not how good TV works. Like most main characters, Jane is our audience surrogate, so by definition she should not be as in the dark as we are. Jane spent most of the premiere episode having only tangential encounters with supernatural phenomena, but none of them were serious enough to give her pause or write them off as anything other than stress-related nightmares. In keeping her discoveries restrained and her curiosity minimal, 666 Park Avenue has promised us a feast and served only an appetizer. That's just not acceptable anymore.

This lack of storytelling momentum might be acceptable if 666 Park Avenue had anything original to say or an even remotely scary idea in its head. Truly addictive TV shows all have killer "gotcha" moments just before commercial breaks, but 666 Park Avenue's were straight-up boring. One pre-commercial stinger featured a character we'd just met washing his hands. Boom! Commercial. Another was that same, barely featured character hugging someone we'd never seen before. Boom! Commercial. Even the episode-ending cliffhanger was boring. A teenager in the building had stolen a necklace and suddenly had a VISION of Jane running somewhere. Boom! Credits. Sorry writers, you need to Netflix up some TVD and see how this sort of thing is done, because so far you are failing.

Speaking of TVD: To be fair, its pilot was not its best episode. We know this now. The primary reason for lackluster quality of TVD's first few episodes was that Elena (the audience surrogate) didn't know that vampires existed until about Episode 5. Frustrating! That unforgivable ignorance is happening here, too. But at least the TVD pilot managed to bust out some thrills and twists during its 42-minute runtime, like a truly scary cold open, a brutal "murder" of a character we'd gotten to know (Vicki), and the sudden appearance of a surprise villain/heartthrob (Damon) followed by a brutal vampire fist fight. In 666 Park Avenue a lady got her head stuck in an elevator and later a man got sucked into some wallpaper. Not the most compelling stuff. Probably the biggest shock was when Jane woke up from a nightmare (in which a character she'd never met fell off the roof), only to reveal that her feet were FILTHY. But that didn't so much scare me as remind me I need to Swiffer my floors.

I'm tempted to admit that 666 Park Avenue has potential to improve, but the characters are all so boring and the premise so maddening that I really doubt it. You're telling me the subplot where the writer spies on his neighbor is going anywhere interesting? Or the backstory of Olivia's deceased daughter? Or the psychic teen? No, I do not care about these people and I am not curious about the mosaic in the basement, either. I just don't see this happening. Good scares (and even dream sequences) are only effective when there's real tension, real stakes, and we genuinely care about the characters involved. None of these three elements were present in the pilot. Right now the only interesting thing about 666 Park Avenue is that it had the audacity to have the sign of the beast in its title. It's a great title! Unfortunately it makes a promise that the show just doesn't keep.

666 Park Avenue Series Premiere Photos




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