666 PARK AVENUE: First Thoughts on ABC’s New York Horror Story

666 Park Avenue (2012) – Season 1, Episodes 1-6 – Starring Terry O’Quinn, Vanessa Williams, Rachael Taylor, Dave Annable, Robert Buckley, Mercedes Masohn, Erik Palladino, Helena Mattsson, and Samantha Logan.

If you’ve read any of my reactions to WAREHOUSE 13, you know that it’s a show I do not love, yet always watch. I like the characters, I like the welcoming vibe, I like the stories, but none of it moves me. When it pops up in my Hulu queue, I watch it, but when it’s not there I’m not wondering what happened. Eventually, SyFy will stop making it and I’ll go, “Oh, that’s too bad,” and then go have lunch and forget about it. I bring this up as a means of introducing ABC’s new horror show, 666 PARK AVENUE, which I watch and like and will likely not mourn when it goes away.

To be certain, 666 is a better show than 13. It’s better written, better acted, better directed, and has a better visual style. There’s also actual consequences to the things that happen in 666, unlike WAREHOUSE, which hits the Cosmic Reset Button so much that it makes Russell T. Davies uncomfortable. 666 is even, in it’s own way, a more enjoyable show than WAREHOUSE is, which is a fair comparison to make, I think, since both shows deal with unexpectedly weird things happening. WAREHOUSE is full of more likeable characters, but both shows know who their characters are and deliver copious amounts of their signature traits.

666 PARK AVENUE focuses on two couples living at the Drake, a residential hotel in New York City. (Outside of the TV, the Drake is the Ansonia, one of those buildings that’s so cool looking it gets used repeatedly in TV and film.) There’s an older couple and a younger couple, and the show sets up a mentoring relationship between the two couples. The older husband and wife are the owners of the Drake, Gavin and Olivia Doran (Terry O’Quinn and Vanessa Williams). Gavin not only owns the Drake, but he’s the mastermind of much of the creepy stuff that’s going on, and Olivia seems blindly aware of what’s going on, perhaps aware of what Gavin is capable of, but unconcerned with the details.

O’Quinn and Williams are fantastic. They play a wonderful carrot and stick game with the younger couple, Jane Van Veen and Henry Martin (Rachael Taylor and Dave Annable), in which they offer mentoring but never allow them to forget their place. Jane and Henry have been hired to be the Drake’s new building managers, which is the only way they can afford to live in the residence. Gavin and Olivia each want something from the younger couple; Gavin is lining up Henry for “bigger things” and Jane fills the missing role of the Doran’s dead daughter.

The structure of 666 has our four leads doing basically the same thing every episode: Gavin manipulates people for his benefit, Jane experiences something supernatural and spooky inside the Drake, Henry struggles with his desire for political power, and Olivia goes to lunch and shops.

It’s not a complicated format but everyone does their part. The show enhances this format by having various subplots about other tenants in the building. Typically, these plots last an episode or two and then cycle back in some other format, such as when a reporter writes a killer into existence, only to be killed by her creation. The killer is sent to jail, but then Gavin conspires to get him free by using another tenant to assist in the escape.

O’Quinn is always good, and his quiet ruthlessness provides the show’s rock-solid foundation to counter Jane’s spiraling sanity. Rachael Taylor’s Indiana-girl-in-the-Big-City is a curious mix of good and bad; I like that she’s inquisitive but she’s also a bit annoying. As a leading lady in a horror story (and an attractive blonde, at that), you know she’s going to endure the largest psychological damage the hotel can dish out, but I can still appreciate and understand why she goes forward into the creepy room instead of backing away. Her quest for knowledge supersedes her desire for personal safety, and it feels like believable character trait instead of simply a perfunctory plot device.

It’s in the non-detective moments, however, where Jane tends to grate. When she’s hanging out with Olivia and playing the surrogate daughter, or when she’s doing her job and being the Drake’s manager, she’s far less interesting and far more annoying. Luckily, the writers tend to keep her busy with ghosts appearing in her apartment or luring her to the basement or by having birds fly out of the walls.

One of the best aspects of 666 is that it’s clearly learned the lessons of all the failed LOST knock-offs. This show is going someplace and is not taking forever to get there. By the end of episode 6, Gavin has lost his magic box, Henry wants Jane to get help because he thinks she’s crazy, and Jane realizes her grandmother used to live at the Drake, which is why the latest ghost is trying to kill her.

666 PARK AVENUE certainly isn’t the best show on television but it is a rather enjoyable one. It’s effective at delivering some creepy moments and, if nothing else, it provides a good weekly dose of Terry O’Quinn. The show has a darkly slick style and engaging characters, and it’s got the Drake, with all of its dark secrets, to keep me coming back every week.