If you think combining “Melrose Place” with “American Horror Story” sounds like a great idea, then you’re not very creative. You are, however, creative enough to be a programming executive at ABC. The network’s new series “666 Park Avenue,” is far more soapy than scary—but it does manage to meld two not terribly compatible genres into a rather rickety hour-long melodrama.
The series is based on Gabriella Pierce’s supernatural romance novels. Other than the title and a couple character names, however, the two don’t seem to have much in common. The books are about an architect who marries into a family of witches. The TV series is about a young couple who get jobs managing a very exclusive New York apartment building owned by Satan (or at least one of his minions). Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor, “Grey’s Anatomy”) and Henry Martin (Dave Annable, “Brothers & Sisters”) have—for no discernible reason—been hired to manage the Drake, a 13-story beaux-arts building on New York’s Upper East Side. They’re broke, have no experience and don’t seem to know how to fix anything. Nonetheless, they’re snapped up and given a huge apartment by the building’s billionaire owners Gavin (Terry O’Quinn from “Lost”) and Olivia Doran (Vanessa Williams fresh off “Desperate Housewives”).
Immediately it becomes clear—to the audience anyway—that the Dorans are offering those patented “Twilight Zone”-style deals with the devil along with every lease. Residents of the Drake get their fondest wishes fulfilled, but eventually end up dead under ironic circumstances. People become famous musicians, have their loved ones brought back to life or stay young forever—at least until Mr. Doran shows up and collects his debt. So why are Jane and Henry here? Mostly to uncover the mystery behind the Drake. Jane spends her days digging into old newspaper archives or wondering about that mysterious locked door in the basement.
Though it sounds like it should be a simple anthology series—“The Love Boat” with demons—it’s actually on ongoing, mythology-building drama replete with ghosts, serial killers, scary birds, weird cults and the occasional psychic premonition. This does the show some disservice. People get their wish, people get screwed: It’s a pretty simple pattern. Why drag it out? For example: Week after week, some playwright (Robert Buckley, “One Tree Hill”) lusts after the sexy blonde across the street. Meanwhile, his wife gets mauled by the building’s elevator. Obviously, this subplot is connected to the Drake and its evil owners—but how and why and who cares? Producers obviously want to add some sexy, “American Horror Story”-style elements with this story line, but it doesn’t have nearly the kinky, creepy kick that FX’s hit series does. Instead, it feels like the usual cheating and partner-swapping you’d find in any other nighttime soaper.
There isn’t much mystery here. (This is no “Lost.”) Very little of it qualifies as scary. (ABC’s short-lived devil-as-sheriff series “American Gothic” was way spookier.) And the soap opera elements aren’t campy enough to be any fun. (Something at which “American Horror Story” excels.) What remains is a convoluted haunted house narrative that seems to head in five directions while simultaneously going nowhere.