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666 Park Avenue: “Lazarus: Part 1”

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One of the swankier-looking duds of the fall 2012 TV season, 666 Park Avenue was packaged and presented as a deluxe guilty pleasure of a show, a supernatural soap opera with storylines about love, sex, family secrets, and power whose tendrils were rooted in a glamorous, pricey chunk of Manhattan real estate. ABC ripped the show off the air last December, and has now finished burning off what remained of the 13 episodes produced. Used as summer filler, the show looks more forlorn than ever, with the actors stylishly bundled up in their winter coats and hats and scarves, promenading along streets lined with denuded trees—images that are interrupted by commercials showing a recent college graduate loading up on new tech at Best Buy while other people beat the heat with ceiling fans from Loew’s, soak their skin in water-soluble Cortisone cream before jumping into the swimmin’ hole, and kick off their shoes to enjoy their McDonald’s iced coffees on the beach. It makes for a disorienting time warp effect that the show itself kept reaching for but never quite got a handle on.


Why did 666 Park Avenue bomb? It had plot lines about Gavin (Terry O’Quinn), the Satanic master of the title location, creating scandals and terrorizing priests as part of his plans to draft a political career for Henry, the fiancée of his new favorite tenant, Jane. It had mysterious organizations with names like the Order Of The Dragon and strange symbols, and other flim-flammery of the kind that can get viewers excited about a show’s mythology. It had characters conducting ritual human sacrifices and being literally dragged to their doom through walls and floors that reach out to engulf them—an effect that looked sillier every time it happened, which didn’t keep it from happening a lot—and a 117-year-old man. And despite all that, it managed to be just relentlessly boring. Among the recent shows that have been a part of ABC's Sunday-night melodrama block, it's the one that proved that you can combine over-the-top storytelling with a full complement of good-looking people in a way that's not the least bit addictive.

The show resisted every effort a viewer could make to get and stay interested in it, and a lot of the credit for this remarkable achievement has to go to whoever cast Rachael Taylor (previously one of the stars of one of the 666 Park Avenues of the 2011 fall TV season, the jaw-droppingly unentertaining Charlie’s Angels) and Dave Annable as Jane and Henry. Annable often looked as if he were experiencing reverse vertigo from being so far in over his head—not the most appealing quality in a hero, but it’s more personality than Taylor ever managed to convey. In her defense, the writers seemed to give up on making coherent sense of her character very early on. Sometimes she was hell bent on snooping around and finding out why life at the Drake was so weird, and in her next scene, she’d just be blithely along for the ride.

Even Terry O’Quinn came across less as a fascinating, malevolent dramatic center than as the show’s emcee, forever stepping out of the shadows to deliver his lines impeccably and colorlessly, telling someone that they were of no further use to him, and would they like to see what’s waiting for them behind door number three? His motivations, and the apparent limitless nature of his powers, were made pretty clear from the first episode, but maybe if the show had teased viewers about his background and whether he was human and vulnerable and had his regrets, there could have been some layers to the characters, and O’Quinn could have had something to play. Maybe they were saving that for when they wanted to mix things up a little in their fourth season. As it was, O’Quinn just looked as if he were doing his professional best but had given up all hope as soon as he realized that the producers were committed to the name “Gavin.”

Since the show didn’t get a full season, let alone make it to number four, the producers were obliged to tidy things up a little in what turned out to be the series finale. They were good enough to supply an ending to the saga of Louise (Mercedes Masohn) the photographer and Brian (Robert Buckley) the playwright, which was only fair of them, considering that Masohn supplied the show with one of its more committed performances. They're bricked up together in the basement of the Drake, a fate out of Edgar Allan Poe, except that in Poe’s day, you didn’t have to include a throwaway line making it clear that people bricked up in the basement can’t get a signal even if they do have their cell phones. And Gavin finally reveals the nature of Jane’s strange connection to the Drake: She is, of course, his daughter. To show just how deeply Jane has always known this in her bones, the show has Gavin reveal the truth after Jane, who is fleeing the building with the man she’s always believed to be her father (William Sadler), sees Gavin and runs into his arms, embracing him like a child who thought she’d lost her daddy at the mall. Rachael Taylor plays that scene in the same paint-by-numbers, “I’m doing this because it says so in the script” manner that she does everything else.


At the very end, 666 Park Avenue jumps ahead a year to show that Jane and Henry are now fully corrupted and ensnared in Gavin’s web, with worse yet to come: Gavin informs the dead-eyed Jane that she will give birth to the antichrist, who will seize power and impose “a new order” that will “bring the world to heel under his command.” The unintended effect of this attempt to end the series on a super-ominous note that raises the stakes (and creates a clamor for a revival or a wrap-up TV movie on basic cable?) is to remind you just how played-out the show’s “the devil rules the halls of power” premise really is: 666 Park Avenue is Rosemary’s Baby meets The Devil’s Advocate, played in slow motion with the fun leeched out. To top it all off, in my time zone, the concluding seconds of the show were hustled off-screen to make room for live coverage of the jury verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, a timely reminder that there are more pertinent, more confounding, and scarier things to make TV drama out of than the suspicion that the Prince of Darkness might be on your building’s co-op board.

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