Fall 2012 Review: 666 Park Avenue

22 Oct

666 Park Avenue is a supernatural soapy horror, a super specific genre which happens to mean that the writers have narrow waters to navigate regarding the show’s tone.  If it’s too serious, it’ll be impossible to swallow the level of over the top silliness involved in an evil apartment building, while if it’s too jokey, it loses the scary horror element altogether.  Scary horror and fun but kind of silly horror can be combined (note: Shaun of the Dead, though that’s with satire instead of soap), but it’s a delicate balance.  I definitely think 666 sees Revenge as a model, following the formula of serious plot and soapy personal relations meant to be both serious and fun, but featuring a supernatural theme instead of a rich powerful family conspiracy.  It’s kind of fitting that on the other end of the spectrum from Revenge is ABC’s third Sunday night drama, the pretty bad (although quite successful) Once Upon a Time as a model of what not to do, which takes on fables, but far too over the top and silly, rather than serious, without being either fun or funny enough to make that trade off worthwhile.

Of course, the building isn’t actually 666 Park Avenue; that’d be a little too on the nose.   It’s actually 999 Park Avenue, but looks like 666 in the shadows.   It’s a large, old, building and our main characters Jane and Henry are wannabe yuppies, a young couple with lots of ambition and education but low on funds.  Their prayers are answered in the form of a building manager position at the building, which gets them a free room far above what they could normally afford.

Terry O’Quinn plays building owner/SATAN/SATAN associate Kevin Durand, resembling more later season Locke, when he was actually the Man in Black, then the regular Locke (yeah, I didn’t understand the last couple seasons of Lost either).  Vanessa Williams portrays his wife Olivia.  They’re somehow seeking to corrupt Henry and Jane (I wonder if having them be unmarried rather than married was a nod to the horror trope of disapproving of pre-marital sex?), while Henry and Jane are bowled over by their generosity before they start noticing slightly odd occurrences around the building.

Aside from the main plot of the two building managers getting settled in their new home, the episode plays out almost like a series of Goosebumps stories, which basically all have the same classic horror message:  Be Careful What You Wish For (I can’t find a clip for the life of me, but this always makes me think of the Simpsons Monkey’s Paw episode where Homer wishes for a turkey sandwich, “The turkey’s a little dry…the turkey’s a little dry!  oh, foe and cursed thing, what demon from the depths of hell created thee!”).  The first of two examples we see in the premiere is in the opening scene.  As a demonstration of both Durand’s power and his shady intent, a violinist who apparently had no talent and made a deal for ten years of greatness, is sucked away into the building after his time runs out, although he begs Durand for more.  Second, a man who agreed to kill on Durand’s command to bring his dead wife back to life is, well, sucked into a wall when he doesn’t.  Here’s a tip from someone admittedly not qualified to practice law:  Don’t sign contracts that oblige you to you know, die in ten years, or kill people, or sell your soul to any number of devils, etc.  About every five minutes out of Durand’s mouth comes some attempted witty ominous crack about how all people have needs and wants and must be willing to do what it takes to get them, or some such.

Note:  I do have a lot of doubt about the enforceability of these contracts in a court of law, though I guess that’s immaterial to Durand.

I’m not sure how many of the characters are regulars and how many episode of the week residents there will be, but besides O’Quinn and his wife, and the main two characters, there’s a young couple where the husband is a playwright who keeps staring at some woman in the window, and a young girl who apparently steals things and then maybe sees people’s futures in the items, or something. Going in, with the huge building filled with mostly rich people, compared to the cash poor main characters, I thought there might be an opportunity for some wonderfully heavy handed satire, They Live-style, but sadly, that element seems to be absent.

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.  Not because it was so bad as much as because it’s at least fifth in the picking order amongst new shows.  After one episode, I think it can be a good show but is unlikely to be a great show, and while I think watching the next episodes could possibly be enjoyable, it doesn’t quite cross the necessary threshold at this point.

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