Despite a cast that will manage a lot of draw all on its own, 666 Park Avenue (which might have managed a stronger title) has a tough road in front of it. That’s rather disappointing actually, because it has a lot of potential, and though it’s a little overblown in its opening effort, it’s quite a bit smarter than any summary (or trailer) can convey.
Not that this foray into the new “it” that is the creepy/fantasy genre is quite as clever as it imagines itself to be, but it delivers on intrigue in a way that is surprising, especially considering that it’s actually hard to list positives beyond as an absence of negatives. Bad as that may sound at first glance, it’s a product of the genre (especially in TV) more than a statement about the show itself.
Here’s a show that doesn’t even make obvious statements about the premise it’s working with, other than to say that some extremely odd things are going down. Terry O’Quinn and Vanessa Williams, even from the show’s trailers, are behind some extremely creepy goings on, and the building itself is the home of shady activities, but the audience is left nearly as lost as newcomers Henry Martin (Dave Annable) and Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor). The pilot opens with a resident in dire and supernatural circumstances, and O’Quinn, as Gavin Doran, who runs/owns the building, is seemingly behind them, but what exactly is really going on? It’s easy to jump to conclusions, but the twists to the mysteries leave so much open that this could end up anywhere.
That’s a show that, around the water cooler, is going to be best served by statements about what it is isn’t, because your first thought can hardly be anything but how goofy it probably becomes, and how quickly it probably does it. When your friend tries to sell you on it, they better not just say, “It’s really good,” because you (savvy viewer that you are) are just going to raise your eyebrow at them. Imagine the conversation that doesn’t have more qualifying going on.
“I know, but trust me, it isn’t as loopy as it looks.”
That’s just the game we’ve got here.
Much like lead-in, Once Upon a Time (which is as loopy as it looks, but is ok with the fact, and runs with it), you can’t go straight-faced with a review (whether you’re just you, or a critic), just as the show better not go completely straight-faced in its presentation.
So, and it’s pretty surprising all things considered, 666 Park Avenue doesn’t lose itself to the borderline ridiculousness that is its premise, and even manages (so far) to deliver a fairly strong set up of character play. That’s where the next hurdle comes in, because audiences are going to be looking for a comparison, especially with one of the recent shows that have managed to build crazy into something workable – Once Upon a Time, or American Horror Story. Unfortunately, neither of those shows, beyond a penchant for the fantastic, will give any indication of what we have here. The one is far more satisfied to leave aside seriousness, the other is a whole other kind of serious.
666 Park Avenue, obvious supernatural events aside, is much more interested in exploring characters than anything, and by focusing on the actions and reactions of the various residents, it dodges the kooky bullet, almost entirely by way of simply ignoring it. It isn’t so much that odd things happen, but how people deal with the fact that odd things happen, and so far they deal with them in what can only be called the best possible “semi-realistic” way. Semi-realistic, in much the vein of the semi-realism of the reactions of, for example, people in Amityville Horror, or other horror films. That is, the semi-realism that allows the show/movie to continue, as opposed to fading to black on the rapidly retreating figures of the stars.
Most of the best development comes from the fringe characters, especially a certain writer, but the establishment of the show is put together extremely well for something with such an uphill battle to keep viewers beyond the first few minutes.
All that said, and no matter the impression the previews may have given you, this is one worth giving a chance, but that doesn’t make it one that’s easy to recommend giving a chance. If the supernatural shenanigans didn’t throw you, the obvious slow burn of the show’s effort might. Even getting past that, this may look like a show that reaches an upper plateau on the “goodness” meter pretty quick, and it is. At least, unless it goes a completely different direction after three or four episodes.
Which all amounts to the most hemming and hawing one can manage on just about any subject (it’s also that kind of show), but I will say that it does the guilty pleasure genre a certain amount of credit. It’s wild, without thinking that means it has to be stupid, and if it keeps up the focus on truly examining the building’s residents, leaving the wackiness as merely our excuse for doing so, this could turn into a show with quite a following.
I doubt you’ll fall in love right away, but that isn’t the same as saying that it won’t get its hooks in you. I think it will.