terry o’quinn

666 Park Avenue, “Hypnos”

“Hypnos” is the first episode of 666 Park Avenue that I’ve watched with other people since I started writing about the show. Like watching a favorite movie in a crowded theater, experiencing something in public that you’re used to experiencing in private can change the way you look at it, or at least offer a new perspective. In this case, I gained some clarity on the show’s many failures when one of my friends asked, “What is this show about?”

I was at a total loss. I ended up saying something like, “There’s an apartment complex that is evil or magic and then the owner of the building is like the devil and then the blonde girl is trying to figure out what is happening.” That was the best I could do, and I spend more time thinking about this show than anyone else in the world.

Of course, if ABC’s marketing department can’t convince people to watch this show, I don’t think I even have a chance. It was their job to sell the public on this show, and the best tagline they could come up with is “New York’s Most Seductive Address?”

It's not exactly false advertising, but it is awful.

It’s not exactly false advertising, but it is awful.

My friend Daniel has already written about the bafflingly inept ad campaign for 666 Park Avenue, but I think it’s worth re-visiting, if only to marvel at the fact that Terry O’Qunn—who I imagine is the reason most people even watched this show to begin with—is completely absent from the poster, and only appeared for a few seconds in the commercials. I guess the network was hoping to promote this show solely on the image of Rachael Taylor, otherwise known as “Anthony Anderson’s friend from Transformers.

Remember this scene? What? No? Well, geez, you don't have to get all defensive about it.

Remember this scene? What? No? Well, geez, you don’t have to get all defensive about it.

In all fairness, it can’t be easy to advertise a show when the show itself doesn’t know what it wants to be. At the beginning of the season, the mystery of 666 Park Avenue excited me. I didn’t know where any of the plotlines were going or even what the show was actually about! Maybe it was naïve of me to see either of those things as a positive. But at this point, with nine episodes of plot development behind us, what the show is about has become apparent. What’s also apparent is that the first four episodes were an almost complete waste of time.

I touched on this last week, so I don’t need to get into it again, but I’m now convinced that episodes two through four were pretty much useless. The creators wasted time with the one-off Damned Of The Week characters and muddled the show’s villain with boring, un-villainous characterization. The parts of those episodes that actually matter (the beginning of the Brian/Alexis/Louise plot, Henry’s rise to political prominence) could have been handled a lot better and a lot quicker.

But let’s give 666 Park Avenue the benefit of the doubt. It’s not unusual for a show with a rocky start to develop into something worthwhile or even great. The ability to refine and adjust a television show is possibly the best thing about the medium, and to the credit of this show’s creators, they seem to be slowly narrowing in on the show they actually want to make, a show full of weird occult stuff symbols that keep demons from entering rooms and trips into the past that leave Shining-style clues as to their reality. Sure, the show still stumbles in the small moments—Jane’s cop friend stripping down to his undershirt for a ridiculous wall-smashing scene—and the big moments—Meris exploding into a flock of white birds after finally leaving The Drake—but the writers are also stumbling towards a show that’s fun to watch, a show that actually has a theme.

Yes! A theme! In this show! In this episode, Meris tells Gavin that “there’s a price to pay for what we want the most,” which is pretty on-the-nose for a show where people make deals with a literal devil. However, this episode added a twist to Henry’s storyline that gives the idea unprecedented depth.

I had assumed that Henry’s “journey to the dark side” (as the creators referred to it) would have him driven away from Jane by a lust for power. This week, though, we see a darker side of Henry himself when he blackmails a potential political ally who tries to exploit Jane’s recent hospital visit. If Henry’s soul is in danger, it’s not because he doesn’t care about Jane, it’s because he cares about her too much. What he wants most is to protect her, and given that he’s currently allied with not one, but two members of the Doran family, Henry might end up paying a high price indeed.

See? Somewhere underneath all the CGI mirrors and magical birds and lines like “I burned your buns” is a show that actually has something to say about the price of success. We’re probably never going to see that show, but isn’t it nice to know that it’s there?

One more thing: after this episode was over, one of my friends asked if “Hypnos” was, by this show’s standards, “a good episode.” I answered, “yes,” and everyone started laughing, which was not a totally unreasonable response.

  • The campaign manager turning out to be the Doran’s missing daughter is a twist I feel like I should have seen coming. Still, I have to congratulate the show whenever it pulls off a twist ending that doesn’t revolve around Jane getting stuck behind something. This reveal actually raises some interesting questions about Sasha’s motives and how she’ll proceed from here. Kudos!
  • “Your family has a dark legacy.” Gee, Meris, ya think?
  • So, Meris is made of white CGI birds, but the Drake is full of black CGI birds. I have no idea what this whole bird fixation is about, but the writers are clearly not going to let it go.
  • I hope the show isn’t building to a face-off between Kandinsky and Tony. Tony’s still my favorite character, and I don’t think I could handle it if he died.
  • The super-depressing 666 Park Avenue Facebook page referred to this episode as the “winter finale,” and there’s no telling when the last four episodes will air, but… uh, see you then, I guess.

666 Park Avenue, “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?”

Hey, everyone! It’s official!

During that horrible two-week period where we had no new 666 Park Avenue to watch, the show managed to go and get itself cancelled! The announcement was such a foregone conclusion that I don’t have much to say about it. I’m not surprised, because I’ve known this was coming since the second episode aired—except for that brief period of optimism when ABC ordered two more scripts, it’s been all downhill for this show. I’m not sad, either, because while I still find this show interesting, I’m not sure the creators have it in them to turn it into the “compulsively watchable” horror-themed soap I was predicting a few months ago.

One bit of news that I do appreciate: the creators are tweaking the season finale in order to wrap up the entire series. This is great, not because I’m so invested in the show that an unresolved cliffhanger would haunt me for the rest of my life—Twin Peaks this ain’t—but because it means we might get a totally insane logic-goes-out-the-window, gonzo-style ending. Maybe they’ll even go full-tilt Life on Mars and reveal that the entire complex is really just a doll house that Jane owned as a little girl, and Gavin is actually her dad, and he’s really just an insurance salesman, and “Henry” is the name of her favorite doll and… I don’t know, something like that.

Jane Van Veen, seen here attempting to pull her legs into her own chest.

In the mean time, we’ve got five episodes left of a show that is still showing glimmers of promise now and then. Not only did this episode experience a mild bump in the ratings—which I can only assume is from cancelled-show fetishists like myself—but we got forward movement on all fronts, including the Brian/Louise/Alexis storyline, which is just now starting to show signs of relevance.

In my ongoing attempt to mentally remake this show into something good, Gavin Doran receives a lot of attention. Before the show aired, I read a review that claimed it was a failure because it broadcast Gavin’s villainy so early on. There was no mystery or suspense, this writer claimed, in a show where the audience knew so much more than the main character this early on.

I was resistant to this idea, partially because I wanted the show to be good and partially because, after the pilot, the show really dialed back on Gavin’s villainy. I even said that the show’s semi-sympathetic depiction of Gavin was one of my favorite things about it, because of how it played against our first impression of him.

Well, I was wrong. Once you establish someone as a soul-reaping demon in the first episode, you can’t back off from that. I mean, you can, but it obscures the character and confuses the audience about what kind of show you’re making. Gavin does’t need to be moustache-twirling devil, constantly scheming about how to steal Jane’s soul, but this is the kind of show that needs the villain to be consistently villainous. All of the best Gavin moments either involve him doing something clearly evil—remember when he chopped that dude’s head off?—or interacting with his wife. If Gavin’s character was pared down to those two aspects, he would become a lot more fun to watch without turning into a one-note cartoon.

Gavin has three great scenes in this episode, and they all cast him in a creepy, villainous light. My favorite is the church scene, which is among the best things the show has ever done. Yes, “Sympathy For The Devil” is a beyond-obvious musical cue, and the cover they chose is not the best, but when you’ve got Terry O’Quinn walking menacingly through a cathedral, you don’t need much to make it cool. And to top it off, he has a creepy conversation with the priest about a mysterious demon box! There’s an electricity to this plotline that’s missing from a lot of the show.

Gavin’s scenes leading up to this moment put him back in the mode of demonic crime boss, matching wits with his adversary Victor Shaw. Shaw spends most of the episode tied up in one of The Drake’s many creepy basements, trying to play the Dorans against one another. At one point, he reveals to Gavin that his daughter killed herself and that Olivia knows the truth. Gavin and Olivia move past this pretty quickly—probably due to the show’s sudden insistence on cramming every single plotline into each episode—and Gavin pulls out the big guns: impersonating Victor’s dead father.

Magically disguised as a dead man from until East Germany, Gavin tricks Shaw into giving up the box’s location. It shows how dirty Gavin is willing to play, it gives us some hints about what he’s capable of, and it’s a pretty cool scene, overall… that is, until Gavin dispels the illusion. Before the reveal, there’s a long, lingering shot of Victor’s father staring at the camera, and when I realized what was about to happen, I shouted, “Oh, no, please don’t.”

Sure enough, that terrible, network-grade CGI strikes again, as the old man’s face dissolves into dust, leaving behind a hilariously bad skeleton. It only lasts for about five seconds, but it’s so bad and so unnecessary that it drags the whole scene down. Seriously, guys, you couldn’t think of a better way to do this? Haven’t you ever heard of a cross-fade?

“What do you mean you still can’t get me a role on a good show? You are the worst agent ever.”

Gavin has one last big, villainous moment towards the end of the episode, during a meeting with Alexis. We see a different, more human side of Alexis, as she begs Gavin to release her from one of his trademark bargain. Apparently, she’s seducing Brian under his orders, and she can’t stand what she’s doing to him. Again, this scene is over too quickly, but it gives some shading to Alexis. She’s not just an evil person! She actually has emotions! And Gavin just shrugs it off with an incongruously cheery platitude. His casual disregard of human misery isn’t as over-the-top as a CGI skeleton, but it’s chilling to see someone’s life tossed aside with so little care.

666 Park Avenue was advertised (and probably pitched) as a vehicle for Terry O’Quinn’s peculiar brand of ominous mystery, and I think the show would be better off if it gave him more opportunities to do what he does. I actually like Jane—unlike most of the show’s tiny fandom—but it’s hard to create a compelling protagonist when your antagonist spends half his time worrying about land deals.

In fact, it usually seems like Jane and Gavin are on completely different shows… but it’s possible we might still get a confrontation between the two of them. There are only five episodes left, and according to the executive producers, 666 Park Avenue is building to “powerful and surprising series finale” where all of our question will be answered! Questions like:  “What?” and also “Why?” In fact, the only question that probably won’t get answered is “could this show ever have been successful?”

I’m not sure, but I’ll keep on speculating, all the way through to the end of “Jane and Henry’s incredible journey to the dark side,” and probably well beyond that.

 

  • Oh, yeah, Jane’s back from her two-day journey below The Drake and she has that kind of amnesia that television characters get when the writers don’t want to reveal something yet. Not a lot of good things to say about her storyline this episode, though I did appreciate the change of scenery.
  • Next week is the long-anticipated (I guess?) appearance of Whoopi Goldberg. I was hoping she would show up at the end of this episode, but getting Goldberg for two episodes is probably way out of the show’s budget.
  • The title this week is a reference to the deeply unsettling 1962 Bette Davis/Joan Crawford movie of the same title. It’s mildly clever, but since this episode actually reveals nothing about Jane’s history, I’m thinking it could have been better deployed somewhere down the line.
  • After next week, I’m not sure what the plan is for the four remaining episodes. I doubt ABC’s wants to drag this into 2013, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we got a “special two-hour finale event” on some dark Saturday in late December.

666 Park Avenue, “Downward Spiral”

There’s still no word on the future of 666 Park Avenue, but I think we all know how this is going to go. The ratings have dropped by three million since the already-lackluster premiere, an untold amount of the set was destroyed, and now they’re taking two weeks off between episodes? Sure, “Downward Spiral” ends with the most suspenseful cliffhanger of the series, but for a show that people are watching mostly out of habit, this loss of momentum could be disastrous. By the time the ninth episode airs, I might literally be the only person watching, instead of just feeling like I’m the only person watching.

666 Park Avenue is not long for this world. We all know it, and I can’t imagine anyone is all that upset about it. For the purposes of these write-ups, however, the show’s obvious doom is kind of distracting. I know, it’s the reason I started doing these write-ups in the first place, but I’m getting kind of sick of it, aren’t you? I always end up bemoaning the show’s end and not taking the time to figure out why the show isn’t doing so well in the first place.

The easy answer would be that it’s just not that good. Now, I will admit to a certain fondness for the show (though that fondness, like many secondary characters on 666 Park Avenue, comes and goes weekly), but beyond that, I honestly believe what I said when I began these reviews: this show has the potential to be fast-paced, soap-y, creepy, and above all, just plain fun, and if the creators had a little time, I think 666 Park Avenue could be all those things.

Of course, it’s not going to get that time, but I’d like to put that aside for a while. What I want to explore is this: how could this show be better?

First things first: 666 Park Avenue should be moving at a breakneck pace. With a show this silly, you’ve got to keep things going. Just look at Revenge or The Vampire Diaries. TVD especially is well known for burning through plotlines like it was nothing (Homeland also takes this approach, but we’re talking network dramas, here).

666 Park Avenue seemed like it was picking up steam when Jane opened up the ominous locked door in just the second episode… but it turns out all she found behind the door was a creepy suitcase. The creepy suitcase gave us a few potentially interesting turns, but the end result was just to bring Jane back down to the basement and get her to open up a different door.

I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing that the creators of the show utilizing the slow-drip method of revealing stuff because they’re trying to keep mystery of The Drake shrouded in secrecy as long as possible. I understand why they’re doing this, but it’s unnecessary because the mystery of The Drake is probably the least interesting thing happening right now (next to Alexis and Brian). Maybe the creators just don’t want to shake things up too much this early on, to which I say: really? Really? Is Jane really going to find anything in that staircase that will change the premise of the show?

I guess that when Jane finds out that Gavin is evil (or possessed or the devil or possessed by the devil or whatever) that’s going to be a game-changer… but this show could use a game-changer. Besides, what are the creators afraid will happen once the secret is out? That the show will be all about Gavin working his demonic influence while someone else tries to stop him? Guess what, we already had an episode like that last week. And it was great!

For some reason, I think Gavin’s sunglasses in this scene are hilarious.

Sadly, the Damned of The Week, the part of the show that I used to find so interesting, has turned out to be the biggest waste of time. It seems like it’s not even a thing anymore. And you know what? That’s fine. As cool as it seemed that each episode would have a miniature version of The Twilight Zone tucked away inside of it, I can absolutely live without it.

Except that now, a huge chunk of those early episodes looks like a waste. Why did we need that guy and his dead wife in the pilot? We’d already established that Gavin makes shady supernatural deals with people; we saw it before the opening credits! And that eternally young woman in the second episode who couldn’t stop killing people? What was that all about?

Episodes three and four gave us Annie the Journalist and in turn Kandinsky, who the show is dedicated to keeping around for some reason. But surely there was a better way to get a shady Russian hit man onto the show than by having a guest star get magical powers and then dream him up.

The show has actually improved in this area: the closest thing we’ve had to a Damned of the Week since Annie is Dr. Scott, and he’s been worked into the show so well that his continued presence isn’t totally distracting. And once again, I’m curious about what’s going to happen with him. After his attempted murder of Gavin this episode, I guess that Scott will be out of the picture before long, but honestly? I have no idea.

In fact, I have no idea what’s going to happen in any of the five plotlines that were crammed into the show this week. I still don’t even know what kind of show this is. Is it a mystery about a young girl’s past? A character-driven drama with supernatural overtones? A horror story stuffed with homages to classic films? A soap opera that takes place in a haunted hotel? 666 Park Avenue is none of these shows and yet it is all of these shows.

And even when those shows annoy me—the Brian/Alexis plot showed some promise tonight, but it still feels like it was snatched out of a different show entirely—I want to know how they’re going to play out. The show’s creators need to focus on that and stop trying to artificially lengthen the mystery surrounding the building itself. I get it—it’s a creepy demon building, a cult used to live there, the owner has magic powers. I’m on board with all that. Quite screwing around and tell me what happens next.

I mean, hypothetically speaking. This show’s not going to last another two months.

Aw, dang it. I did it again.

 

  • You may notice the distinct lack of last week’s “Jane and Henry are breaking my heart”-style criticism. I’d like to chalk this up to an increase in emotional stability, but I think it’s actually because this episode was way over-stuffed and nothing got time to breathe, especially Jane and Henry’s relationship.
  • Maybe it’s because body-horror is the one horror trope that really gets me, but that sequence where Kandinsky pulls the knife out of his stomach is the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen on this show.
  • The spiral staircase hidden beneath that awful CGI-steampunk floor appears to be the same staircase from the opening titles. Hands up if you just assumed that staircase was somewhere in the building and didn’t think it would ever be significant.