On September 30 of this year, a new supernatural drama called 666 Park Avenue premiered on ABC. Produced by David Wilcox, a veteran of such shows as Law & Order and Fringe, 666 Park Avenue is loosely based on the Gabriella Pierce novel of the same name. I’ve been watching and enjoying it, and apparently I’m one of only a few, because the show—disadvantaged perhaps by its 10 p.m./9 p.m. eastern time slot—has failed to break more than 2.1 of the Nielsen ratings share in the 18-49 demographic (which translates to about 23,982 viewers). It deserves a closer look in my opinion—at least for people who are into network TV horror.
The story takes place at a fictional high-end Manhattan apartment building called The Drake. It’s not actually at 666 Park Avenue—that would be too much—but it is at 999, and shadows falling from the raised numbers on the front door at the correct angle reveal the Number of the Beast. The exterior shots, for those who are interested, are of a real NYC apartment building called The Ansonia.
Our protagonists are Jane Van Veen and Henry Martin, a couple we first see as they show up at the Drake to apply for jobs as residential managers. They meet the building’s owners, Gavin and Olivia Doran, who are played by the venerable Terry O’Quinn and Vanessa Williams. Henry’s status as an ambitious young lawyer and Jane’s experience with architecture win over the Dorans. By this time, we’ve already seen someone get sucked into Hell as a result of a deal with Gavin, so we’re screaming at Jane and Henry to read the fine print on their contracts.
From there, the Dorans begin a sort of seduction of Henry and Jane. Olivia plies Jane with fabulous dresses and fancy lunches, and Gavin gives her the authority to do major renovations on the Drake. Gavin takes Henry to an exclusive club and to his golf course, trying to persuade him to run for office but also luring him into a conflict of interest with his current job. Meanwhile, Jane starts having strange dreams, and even seeing strange things while awake.
The show feels a bit like The Devil’s Advocate: The Miniseries . . . and I mean that in a good way. The thing that gives it an advantage over that film is that Henry and Jane are equally strong characters with equally important story arcs. Their relationship becomes strained as Jane delves further into the mysteries of The Drake (and her connection to it) while Henry stubbornly ignores the strangeness around him.
Other residents of the Drake are also floundering in the Dorans’ net. A playwright and his wife are bedeviled by writer’s block and prescription addition, respectively, and both are tempted by infidelity. A journalist pays a terrible price for making things up. A doctor ends up indebted to Gavin for helping cover his rent. A young woman who was born in the Drake lives there with her catatonic grandmother, and knows more of the building’s secrets than most people. Whoopi Goldberg even has a guest spot as a psychic psychotherapist who tries to help Jane. Their fates intertwine with Jane’s and Henry’s and with each other.
The strongest performances come from O’Quinn and Williams as the Dorans. They manage to be menacing while still being nuanced, believable, and occasionally even sympathetic. Olivia seems to know that Gavin is cutting deals for the dark forces behind the Drake, but he’s also controlling her, through practical means and, it is implied, supernatural ones. That control erodes as the secrets they’ve been keeping from each other come to a boil, and one of Gavin’s biggest enemies becomes a pawn between them.
Part of what makes 666 Park Avenue so effective is that like The Devil’s Advocate, it gives supernatural consequences to real-life moral decline. You see the characters make steadily less kind and more selfish decisions, and you find yourself thinking that this really is how people lose their souls. Throw in some genuine scares and some judiciously used gore, and the result is something truly unsettling.
The Drake itself provides the perfect backdrop. In the laundry room, there’s a floor mosaic that looks like something out of Anton La Vey’s decorating guide. A flock of birds, seeming to represent some suppressed force of good, lives in the walls. The elevators turn on people on several occasions. Hidden rooms and bricked-up fireplaces are revealed, reminding us that an apartment’s architecture can be as malleable as a house’s. It gives the show an incredible sense of place, and puts the story solidly within the tradition of tales that take place on unhallowed ground.
Unfortunately, there’s not going to be second season for this well-done, innovative show. Its cancellation was announced on November 16, in time to re-work the finale to tie up the loose ends. Nine episodes have aired so far, and the tenth episode, “The Comfort of Death,” will air on January 6. Fittingly, the season will have a total of 13 episodes.
It’s fun to speculate on how the season will end, and where future seasons would have gone. Will Gavin be defeated? Will Jane and Henry stay together? Will Olivia become their ally of convenience? If the show had continued, would characters have gone to Hell and back, a la Supernatural? Would the chickens have ended up in charge of the fox’s den, as in the final season of Angel?
Perhaps the concept of 666 Park Avenue was only durable enough for one season, but I’m disappointed that we probably won’t get to find out. If you’re a fan of the show and happen to have a quixotic nature, there’s always the Facebook page dedicated to saving it. Hopefully horror fans will get caught up and start watching when it resumes in January. If nothing else, I hope if finds a following on DVD and Blu-ray, and on services like Netflix and Hulu.