Just in case there’s some poor soul in this Twittered-up universe who didn’t pick up on the Satanic subtext of 666 Park Avenue’s title, the show hammers the point home in its first two minutes or so. A concert violinist who probably couldn’t pass a urine test for demonological substances tearfully pleads that he’d give anything for just a little more time. “Not anything, everything,” pronounces his Mephistophelean negotiating partner, and pfffft, the violinist disappears, presumably to start a long booking on the Hell Doesn’t Freeze Over Tour.
So, are we all clear on the concept? The apartment building that gives 666 Park Avenue its title is the mouth of Hell, and owner Gavin Doran (Terry O’Quinn) is the Devil, or at least his head of acquisitions. Nobody is going to remake 666 Park Avenue as a Czech art film or stage a conference of Talmudic scholars to study its use of nuance.
But give the Devil his due. Though 666 Park Avenue borrows its floor plan from Rosemary’s Baby and some of its furniture from The Shining and FX’s American Horror Story, it’s still a fun place to visit. Crisply written and acted, grafting some Enron-era scandal onto a morality tale that goes back to Faust, 666 Park Avenue gives good goosebump.
Gavin Doran’s menacing building, the Drake, is on New York’s upper east side and is home to several dozen residents plagued with unfulfilled ambitions for money, power or sexual allure. (Not to mention the occasional fellow still hopelessly in love with a dead wife.) “It’s the essential truth of who we are — we all want something,” Doran muses happily. The ultimate capitalist, he’s willing to supply those needs — at a price, of course.
As 666 Park Avenue gets under way, Doran is trying to reel in a couple of new customers: up-and-coming mayoral aide Henry Martin (Dave Annable, Brothers & Sisters) and his unemployed-architect girlfriend Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor, Grey’s Anatomy). They think they’ve stuck an ordinary deal with a real estate tycoon to work as the Drake’s resident managers. (The previous manager quit and “moved someplace warmer,” which probably does not mean Arizona.) Doran, however, has a more far-reaching agreement in mind.
666 Park Avenue is nominally based on a series of Goth romance novels by Gabriella Price. But the show’s deja vu moments mostly have a Hollywood tinge: Jane’s research into the building’s checkered past as a cult headquarters and magnet for lurid murders and suicides ( Rosemary’s Baby). The presence of a child psychic ( The Shining). The depiction of sexual kink as the incubator of evil ( American Horror Story). And the Drake management really ought to call a pest-control company about the building’s infestation of Hitchcock allusions.
The show does offer one new wrinkle: its portrayal of the Devil as the ultimate capitalist, a wheeler-dealer in souls. Doran is like an evil Donald Trump (go ahead, insert your own parenthetical punchline here) collecting deeds to the damned in much the same way his corporate raids on distressed properties suck up new buildings.
Whatever you think of the metaphor, there’s no way not to love O’Quinn’s performance as the diabolical Doran. O’Quinn displayed considerable emotional range on Lost, where his character morphed from good to evil and back approximately 1.2 million times in the show’s weird mélange of time travel, alternate universes and supernatural possession.
He doesn’t have to do quite that much here — Doran is not one of those existentially self-aware Lucifers who spends a lot of time contemplating the Hegelian interdependence of good and evil — but he mixes charm and menace in precisely the right proportions. When his eyes light up at somebody’s casual reference to a “nasty act of God,” it’s damnably hard for yours not to do the same.