666 Park Avenue

There’s something fun about watching a show that has terrible ratings. I know, I know, it goes against the entire idea of “water cooler” television, shows you can’t wait to discuss with your co-workers/family/friends… I mean, everyone knows it’s fun to talk about TV, yeah?

“Aw, man, did you see Breaking Bad last night?”

“Yeah, I did! It was crazy! I can’t believe that happened!”

“Totally intense! That show is soooooooo good, though.”

“Aw, yeah, man, but it’s not as good as Mad Men.”

“What? No way, Breaking Bad is where it’s at, b.”

“But Mad Men artfully creates an atmospheric portrait of a time gone by, homes.”

And so on and so forth. But you don’t get that experience when you watch a show in a vacuum.

“Hey, man, did you see Men At Work last night?”

“No, because I’m not a shut-in. Leave me alone.”

It’s not nice, right? People’s feelings get hurt.

Well, maybe this is coming from someone who watches too much television—huh-huh, yeah, you think—but it’s a neat feeling to watch a show that no one else is watching. I’m talking shows with ratings in the low millions. In real life, a million people is kind of a lot, but in terms of television ratings? You might as well be watching that show by yourself.

This works better for dramas than comedies. When a comedy is failing, it’s kind of sad—it’s like watching a stand-up performer bomb. It’s not quite as viscerally unpleasant, but you’re still watching someone fail to make people laugh.

With dramas, it almost feels like you’re hearing a secret, a story passed down through the ages, only told to a select few, and guess what? You’re one of them!

It seems that 666 Park Avenue, ABC’s new serialized horror series, might be fated to join this realm of secret tales.  The premiere netted nearly 7 million viewers, something of a drop-off from the lead-in Revenge, but not terrible. Episode two, however, dropped by nearly two million, which is… not encouraging.

I was interested in 666 Park Avenue before I found out about the abysmal ratings. Part of it was curiosity (“How are they going to take what is basically Rosemary’s Baby and stretch it out to a whole series”) part of it was actor loyalty (“It’s good to know that Terry O’ Quinn is still getting work”), but a large factor was my love of genre TV. Sci-fi, horror, if anything like that turns up on television, I’ll probably check it out at the very least.

This has caused me some problems in the past. I stuck with Alcatraz even when it became clear it would never fulfill its potential, and I’m pretty sure I’ve spent more time thinking about FlashForward than anyone actually involved with the show’s production. But in a way, I am like every major network since 2004: I’m always looking for the next Lost.

Now, the pilot of 666 Park Avenue wasn’t exactly enthralling. Only a few things really stood out to me, including the two separate characters that were eaten by the titular demonic apartment and the fact that the actual address of the building is 999 Park Avenue, which inexplicably becomes 666 when casting a shadow.

Over the course of the first hour, my curiosity about the show curdled into a disappointed incredulity. How could they POSSIBLY keep this show running for even a season? No matter how long they draw out the central mystery of the show (what’s going on with that there building?), we know from basically the first scene that Terry O’Quinn’s character Gavin Doran is the devil. Or at least some sort of devil. Or he and his wife are… both the devil. Or something.

Terry O’Quinn also stood out to me, but in a positive way. He’s an actor who so effortlessly exudes a mysterious air that I can’t tell if he’s bored with a scene or completely engaged. If you want to add nuance and intrigue to a character that appears to be literally Satan, you could do a lot worse than Mr. O’Quinn.

I finished the pilot episode already mentally writing the show off. I would watch the next episode (and, let’s be honest, several after that) out of a sense of obligation, but I wasn’t excited about it.

Maybe it was a case of lowered expectations, but the second episode, “Murmurations,” actually impressed me, mostly in how it addressed my concerns of what the show would look like week-to-week. When I saw how much of the pilot was given over to a character making a deal with Doran and then being killed for it, I guessed that the show would include a plotline like that in every episode, a brief morality tale not related to the overall arc of the show. A Damned Of The Week, if you will.

As lame as it seemed at the time, I’m glad I was right. The Damned Of The Week in the second episode breaks from the first in that it doesn’t follow the boring arc of someone making a deal with the devil and then losing his soul/being removed from the show. The story this week has interesting twists and a few neat visual tricks, including a series of murders depicted in storybook style.

Better still, the Damned plotline intersects with the main story in some interesting ways, first when the main character Jane catches a glimpse of something she doesn’t understand behind the Creepy Door In The Basement, and then again when Doran confides in Jane’s husband about a property he’s purchased. I don’t want to give too much away—and really, there’s not all that much to give away—but the idea that everything that happens in the show is going to be somehow connected gives me hope going forward.

I’m still not entirely sold on the overall plot of the show, because it seems like there’s only one direction go: Jane and her husband eventually have to find out that Gavin Doran is evil. But I’ll be happy if the show can keep me entertained the way it did in the second episode: by throwing as much stuff at me as possible.

As I said before, the lead-in for 666 Park Avenue is Revenge. I first though that it was just a case of ABC trying to piggyback a new show on an established popular one. But it’s actually more than that. With its pulpy plotlines and never-ending twists, Revenge exemplifies “compulsively watchable” TV, and if 666 Park Avenue continues the level of improvement it showed in the second episode, it could easily join that category… and hopefully it won’t end up just another genre show with unfulfilled potential.

But even if it does… I’ll still be watching, you can count on that. Right to the bitter end. Right… to the bitter… bitter… end.

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