ABC tried to capture the horror genre with the underrated The River earlier this year, which put a new spin on monsters and scares by moving the action to the creepy Amazon. But 666 Park Avenue, its latest dip into the world of thrills and scares, is a much more traditional concept - it's basically a haunted house on a bigger scale.
The show sets out its stall straight away, too - this is not going to be a subtle piece of television. The current manager of 999 Park Avenue - the Drake, as it's known - is horrified to discover that his fingers are bleeding as he plays violin with his orchestra. The building's owner, Gavin (played by Terry O'Quinn, not so much chewing on the scenery as full-on feasting), is staring at him maliciously.
The thunder and lightning as owner Mr Hardwell rushes home to frantically pack his bags is just as expected as the creepy phone call from Gavin, telling him that he signed a binding contract (apparently to be a brilliant violinist) and now it's time to pay up. Of course he doesn't survive it - though he initially bursts outside and sinks to his knees to thank God, he's then ludicrously pulled back into the building through a panel in the door. Bye, Mr Hardwell!
With the set-up out of the way - basically, Gavin's some kind of satanic figure, giving people what they want in Faustian deals - 666 Park Avenue can introduce its protagonists. Rachael Taylor and Dave Annable, as young couple Jane and Henry, are serviceable enough in the roles of the naive duo intended to give the audience its way in, and they're a nice-enough pairing. Plus, they're so very pretty, something the show makes the most of - see the scene where they sit naked in the bath together, just because.
Obviously, they're handed the job of managing the building in the wake of Mr Hardwell's presumed death when Jane shows off her architectural nous to Gavin, and from then on the show is able to rattle through various horror clichés and introduce a bizarre (but not particularly interesting) cast of characters. Most of these are seen from Jane's point of view, since her job conveniently fell through while Henry was busy working for the mayor.
So we discover that Gavin and his wife Olivia - played by the always entertainingly frigid Vanessa Williams - are keen to "get to Henry", though we're not told why yet. But worse is to come as apparently every person appears in front of Jane by surprise, causing her to become more jumpy than a pogo stick. First to give her a scare is John Barlow, who leers at her from the underground parking lot with blood on his hands - blood which apparently won't wash off, no matter how pale John is or how creepy the music gets.
Gavin informs Jane that John's wife Mary recently died; during her research into the building, Jane discovers that it was a suicide (surprise surprise). But wait - John struck a deal with Gavin to bring her back, and all he had to do in return was kill a judge that was getting in Gavin's way. Inevitably, it turns out that this was not a good deal as Mary is not looking her best, bless her, and keeps moaning about being cold when they go on a walk.
But there's more, because Gavin wants someone else dead, and if John wants to keep his wife alive then he'd better bump him off - or they'll both die. Yawningly, John is unable to kill again and Gavin shows up in his bedroom at night like a creepy stalker, before the room starts shaking, the lights start flickering and hands and faces start pushing out from behind the wallpaper - until John is sucked in himself.
That's not the only light-flickering (which 666 Park Avenue seems to consider a guaranteed frightfest). In one particularly trite moment, Jane's down in the basement inspecting the building when she tries to fix a broken light - shockingly, in the darkness, a ghostly figure appears! Who would have thought it?
What's more, she discovers a hidden mosaic in the basement floor and decides that hey, it might be fun to look into that. Even when she discovers that it's something to do with a mysterious Brotherhood of the Dragon, which can't possibly be a good thing to get involved with, she doesn't give up - instead, she wants to know what's going in with the now-boarded-up door in the wall.
This all leads up to a nightmare - or is it? - as Jane follows a shady woman throughout the building during the middle of the night, through the basement with the mosaic on display, and through that door onto the roof, where she realises that the woman is Mary and she's going to jump off again (though not before issuing Jane with a warning about getting involved with the building). She wakes up! It must be a dream! But wait... her feet are dirty! Oh my!
Other than that, we spend overlong scenes with Gavin and Olivia to discover that they're Thoroughly Bad Sorts who are very good at manipulating people to get their own way, though to be fair one of the best scenes in the pilot comes directly from Gavin staring at Jane throughout a concert. Freaked out, back home she's drunk and pushes Henry away, staggering to her bed and sinking onto it, sobbing and asking her boyfriend if they're going to be okay. This is the creepiest and most affecting the show gets... but then it's spoilt by the aforementioned 'nightmare'.
We also meet likeable Brian (One Tree Hill's Robert Buckley) and his cold, mean wife Louise. She treats him horribly, though I suspect that her decision to hire as her assistant Alexis, the girl who Brian just happens to creepily spend his days staring at through his window, might backfire. One of the most unintentionally entertaining moments in the pilot comes as Louise gets trapped in the elevator doors, heaved up and down in some kind of supernatural mischief. Presumably we're meant to feel concerned for her, but actually she's such a dislikeable character already that it's more like karma.
Also introduced is Nona, though we only meet her long enough to discover that she steals people's valuables, apparently in an attempt to foresee their future. So when Jane and Henry inadvisably sign their contract with Gavin to become managers, she's flashing forward to Jane running around in a red dress gifted to her by Olivia, facing an axe and screaming her head off. Is that where the show is headed?
Either way, it remains to be seen whether 666 Park Avenue can rise above the clichés to become something more - it certainly has the potential to be campy fun, as the cast are all severely watchable. It's definitely not there yet, but this could be one to keep an eye on - we all need a bit of a fright now and then, and maybe this will be the show to give it to us.
666 Park Avenue airs Sundays on ABC.
What did you think of the episode? Let us know below!