Do you remember being read fairytales as a kid and thinking that the leads were always kind of lame and uninteresting? And that the villains were so majestic and cool that you sort of wished you were spending time with them instead? Sleeping Beauty? Pfft. Gimme some Maleficent action! It's a similar feeling to 666 Park Avenue, ABC's spooky new horror series, where the villains not only steal the show, but are so head-and-shoulders above the rest of the cast in terms of mystery and entertainment value that you wish they had more to do. Which isn't to say this is a weak pilot, but says a lot about the burgeoning 'campy-slasher' sub-genre, where the helpless protagonists are shuffled around between the far more exciting bad guys, who chew the scenery like their lives depend on it.
Coming into 666, I was apprehensive that it would be a Disney-friendly, radically sanitized version of American Horror Story, last year's loopy cable hit with its soapy sensibility and horror hysterics. Actually watching the show, 666 has far more in common with the Al Pacino/Keanu Reeves thriller The Devil's Advocate, in which an impressionable young couple are lured into a picture-perfect, high-flying Manhattan existence of opera parties and expensive dresses, before discovering they've unknowingly signed a deal with Satan himself. That movie wasn't very good, despite a hilariously grandiose performance from Pacino and a revelatory one from Charlize Theron, when she was still mostly known for her body rather than her acting skills. But it at least managed to hold your attention, something this show does, too.
666 Park Avenue doesn't so much reinvent the wheel, but has enough of an operatic, head-screwy personality to be reasonably entertaining. We know where a lot of the story is going, but there's still fun to be had as Rachael Taylor (far more tolerable here than in last season's heinous Charlie's Angels reboot) gets lured over to the dark side by the John Locke magic, while sleepy husband Dave Annable walks around in disbelief at how great their new apartment is. Again, there's nothing new here, but the idea of riches and gifts being used as some kind of satanic currency is a tried-and-tested button-pusher, intriguing enough to hook even the most jaded viewer.
It's still Terry O'Quinn that raises the bar, though, naturally commanding and sinister as he sends his enemies to weird walls full of shrieking hands, all the while charming with that trademark twinkle in his eye, never sure of what exactly he's planning. Vanessa Williams gets less to do, presumably due to her Desperate Housewives schedule at the time of shooting, but it's interesting to see her translate her elegant, monied persona into something so different from the series she's best known for.
Where the pilot becomes a little confused is in the litany of subplots and presumed 'pacts-of-the-week'. None of the other regulars make much of an impression, most of them seemingly designed to fill time and making you long for a day when network television doesn't insist on having twenty-two episodes per season. The smaller stories, involving other inhabitants in the building and their various deals, will hopefully dissipate as time goes on -- sort of like how lead-in show Revenge quickly moved away from 'revenge of the week' storytelling a couple of months into its debut.
There's definitely room for improvement here, and the ka-thunk! double meaning dialogue ("Off-Broadway", "moved someplace warmer") seriously needs to stop existing, but 666 Park Avenue has an alluring tone that helps cement it as something sort of fun and interesting. It looks gorgeous, features two ridiculously strong actors as the show's central antagonists, and a couple of decent scares. So there's something here. B
Guest stars Erik Palladino (Tony DeMeo); James Waterston (John Barlow); Lucy Walters (Mary Barlow); Steven Skybell (Malcolm Hartwell); Victor Slezak (Daniel Stone)
Writer David Wilcox Director Alex Graves