TV Season 2012-2013: 666 Park Avenue

Another one cleared off the DVR.

666 Park Avenue seems to want to be the new Dark Shadows or something similar. It wants to be badass, too, by actually putting the Number of the Beast in the title. This move seemed rather ballsy in that perhaps it was meant to stir up some controversy and get a few rubberneckers who might stick around for an hour. Unfortunately, it airs on ABC, which is owned by Disney, which provides same-sex couples healthcare benefits that already pissed-off-to-boycott-level all of the fundamentalists. In other words, nobody who is angry enough to care is watching. This was misstep #1 in what after watching the pilot I considered to be a rapid downward spiral into a final product that I will politely call “a mess.”

Here’s the set-up:
Terry O’Quinn, late of Lost and Vanessa Williams, late of some cosmetics cover-girl gig, are apparently Mr. and Mrs. Devil, or at least Mr. Devil and his perhaps mortal but still not saintly wife. They own a huge, very upscale apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, called The Drake. Apparently, the leases are limited to 10 years and instead of first month+last month for the security deposit, they take your soul.

This is mistake #1– we already know what’s up, more or less. Maybe there’s some “big twist,” like, the wife is really not happily married and is only doing this to get her daughter back. The way it’s played, though, this and all other issues are secondary. What we have is a set up where we get to watch the Devil, or someone like him, torture people (emotionally and apparently physically) for 44 minutes every week because the “victims” asked for it, literally. Where’s the interest in that? There’s a whole library of Saw films if that’s your thing.

Anyway, the last superintendent “moved someplace warmer, like Arizona” says the bellman, where “Arizona” clearly means “Hell” (I’ll refrain from commentary). The job now falls to a young not-yet-married couple. She’s an out-of-work architect/historic preservation specialist. He’s a lawyer, who was “hand-picked” by the Mayor of NYC, but apparently works for the City Planning Department. Full disclosure here: I’m a planner by profession and I work very closely with historic preservation specialists and NYC’s public sector. I took issue right away with how badly these two were off. But hey, if the rest of the world believes planner-lawyers and cultural resource specialists are the new paupers of the degree-holding universe, I won’t complain. Maybe someone will let me cut in line at Dunkin Donuts. “Oh, my, look at this long line… I’ll most certainly be late to my planning job reviewing historic architecture reports. Woe woe woe.” The day that happens….

I digress-
Mr. Poor Lawyer and his gf (Jane) move in. Mr. Devil has an interest in him, and Mrs. Devil wants to use her to get to him. (Do I care why? Not really.) He goes to work each day, making minimum wage, apparently, while preparing litigation against some major developers, coincidental enemies of Mr. Devil. Jane goes about her duties finding structural and utility problems with The Drake. She also has nightmares about crazy violent things, and judging by the lingering shot of her dirty feet, we’re supposed to wonder if she’s actually running about doing the stuff instead of dreaming it.

The residents of The Drake are an interesting hodgepodge of people. Interesting, in this context, means “I’m interested in how these people can afford an apartment in that building at that location.” I guess the “rent control” throwaway line was intended to shut up people like me. It didn’t completely work. No way a playwright with middling success and a struggling fashion photographer afford that type of rent. This is mistake #2: Completely unbelievable premise. If you wanted diverse characters, NYC is the place to set your story, but for the love of reason, please set it up a little better– make some comment about how Mr. Doran (the Devil) charges incredibly low rent, but is very picky about residents. Wait.. that wouldn’t work because of the Equal Housing Law… seems like this concept is flawed from the get-go.

There’s a corollary issue here, too. The editing was terrible. I felt like we were supposed to be shocked by the jump-cuts or the rapid-fire editing was supposed to disorient the viewer into thinking, “By golly! There’s alot of stuff going on in that there apartment building.” What it created instead was visual noise that annoyed me. Tension is built with lingering shots and creative perspectives and framing. All I know is that there are at least two units-worth of miserable residents, and they’re doing things really fast. The directors and editors need to go watch some Hitchcock and come back ready to prove they learned something.

Moving on…
So in Jane’s wanderings, she comes across a mosaic on the floor of the laundry room. She uses her special cultural resource specialist powers to dig up historic info on The Drake, and it turns out that the dragon mosaic was the symbol of a secret society, and “Drake” means dragon. Wait.. what? In planning school, I took a very intensive wildlife ecology course and we learned that a drake is a male waterfowl. I had to go to wikipedia for this, and apparently, yes, a “drake” can be a thing possessing dragon-like features. I still think of ducks, though, and maybe those snack cakes, Drake’s Cakes, whose logo is a duck in a chef’s hat (not a dragon). Now, my obvious ignorance of archaic terminology for mythological beasties isn’t the problem with the show. It just bugs me that every time that dragon mosaic appeared, I thought it should have been a big white duck, maybe with little ducklings following it. Maybe they should have named the building the Drago? No, that would get the Harry Potter peeps all wound up. How’s about “The Babylon?”

Could it be?? wait.. don’t tell me…is the dragon the Beast of Babylon? The Beast whose number is 666? The one with the seven heads ridden by the whore who holds the cup full of filthy things? Can we get any more literal? Seriously… Maybe “The Drake” is better.

So this issue is Mistake #3. Dragon-ducks from hell and another secret society. I’m so weary of secret societies. And really, after Giraldo, satanic cults kinda lost their scary edge. Just for a reality check here: The Giraldo thing happened in 1988- twenty-four (24) years ago, when it was cool if you had a wireless phone in your house and there was still a place called Czechoslovakia. Demonic stuff is most scary these days, when, as George Michael said, it’s “one on one.” Rogue priests, random possessions, contortions affecting one person at a time– those are scary. Tile mosaics and evil wallpaper harassing an apartment full of people = not scary.

If this turns out to be a Cthulhu thing and I missed it because of all of the other distracting crap, I’m going to be mighty disappointed in myself for not giving it more of a shot. Lovecraft’s works are public domain now, I think, and if The Real Ghostbusters could go there with the Old Ones in 1987 (S2E32 “Collect Call of Cathulhu”), we can definitely handle it today. Would be great. Will it go there? No, and three strikes on a Sunday night when the schedule is chock full of other goodness (Dexter! Homeland! Copper!) is three strikes.

Go in peace 666 Park Ave.

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