Seitz on 666 Park Avenue: A Dark Heart, But a Network Soul

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Photo: Patrick Harbron/ABC

When ABC announced a new horror series titled 666 Park Avenue (Sundays, 10 p.m.), I didn’t expect it to be a sinister cousin of Fantasy Island, but that’s the vibe I got from the pilot. Gavin Doran (Lost’s Terry O’Quinn) is the show’s Satanic Mr. Roark. He owns the title structure, the Drake (actually New York City’s Ansonia) along with his elegant wife Olivia (Vanessa Williams). He somehow bought the place in 1986 while serving as its manager. The Drake has doubled in value many times since then, but despite its immense apartments and full-service staff, it’s not the most inviting place to live. Between the endless Shining-like hallways, disappearing/reappearing apparitions, and unexplained dragon mosaics, it’s an immense haunted house founded on dark secrets.

When Gavin hires a couple of Midwestern newcomers, Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor) and Henry Martin (Dave Annable), to manage the Drake, it first seems implausible — they have no experience — but once you get to know Gavin and his, er, proclivities, it makes sense, or horror-movie sense. Henry is working for the mayor, and Gavin is a real estate magnate, so there’s political potential here; plus, he looks at Jane with something other than professional interest.

Swirling around these two main couples is a constellation of supporting players, most of whom are played by actors vastly less interesting than their characters. There’s a struggling playwright named Brian Leonard (Robert Buckley) who’s married to a bitchy, self-centered fashion photographer (Mercedes Masöhn), and a seemingly psychic girl named Nona (Samatha Logan), and a doorman named Tony (Erik Palladino) who insists that even though he really wanted the job of building manager, he’s not mad at Jane and Henry, not at all. “What happened to the previous manager?” Jane asks him. “Mr. Hartwell moved someplace warmer,” Tony replies.

The premiere features blood, blood, and more blood, plus Faustian bargains and teasing enactments of the Seven Deadly Sins. It’s not a hyped-up freak show like FX’s American Horror Story, which I adore; it has some pleasing old-school moves, and Gavin’s fondness for classical music lets the editors construct some magisterial (if conceptually clichéd) montages. It’s good, but I wish it were better, or at least bolder. I fear that being on a broadcast network hinders this program in ways that will soon become painfully apparent. Throughout the pilot there are hints that 666 Park Avenue wants to be more arty/impenetrable or more shamelessly perverse, but has to ratchet things back, because if you showcase too many taboos or too much gore, the network won’t be able to sell cars or gum or whatever. The attractive but bland supporting cast is the best indication of network timidity; if every part was played by an actor as unique as Terry O’Quinn, the TV-14 strictures might not seem as constraining.

Still, for all its flaws, this is an intriguing show, packed with atmospheric details and Easter-egg-style grace notes. Apropos of nothing, I put Gavin Doran’s name into an Internet anagram generator: one of the phrases that came up was “Nirvana dog.” Make of that what you will.