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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
666 PARK AVENUE (ABC)
(written by David Wilcox; directed by Alex Graves; TRT: 42:22)
The network's description: "At the ominous address of 666 Park Avenue, anything you desire can be yours. Everyone has needs, desires and ambition. For the residents of The Drake, these will all be met, courtesy of the building's mysterious owner, Gavin Doran (Terry O'Quinn). But every Faustian contract comes with a price. When Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor) and Henry Martin (Dave Annable), an idealistic young couple from the Midwest, are offered the opportunity to manage the historic building, they not only fall prey to the machinations of Doran and his mysterious wife, Olivia (Vanessa Williams), but unwittingly begin to experience the shadowy, supernatural forces within the building that imprison and endanger the lives of the residents inside. Sexy, seductive and inviting, The Drake maintains a dark hold over all of its residents, tempting them through their ambitions and desires, in this chilling new drama that's home to an epic struggle of good versus evil."
What did they leave out? It's based on Gabriella Pierce's book of the same name. Plus, the pilot will make its world premiere tonight at Comic-Con International: San Diego.
The plot in a nutshell: If anything could possibly make architectural scholar Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor) and her lawyer boyfriend Henry Martin (Dave Annable) happier, it would be landing the resident manager position at the esteemed 999 Park Avenue building in New York City. And despite a somewhat rocky interview with its owner, Gavin Doran (Terry O'Quinn), they manage just that. Their bliss however is on track to be short lived as despite their elegant and generous facades, something's not quite right Gavin and his wife Olivia (Vanessa Williams). It seems that various residents have struck Faustian bargains with them, ranging from a talentless violinist asking for the skills to become a success to a widow wanting to bring his wife back from the dead. The price: well, it's called a Faustian bargain for a reason.
Jane and Henry of course are initially none the wiser to this, happily accepting everything from their invitations to the symphony to sessions at a high-end driving range. Along the way we meet a handful of other residents, including struggling playwright Brian Leonard (Robert Buckley) and his nagging photographer wife Louise (Mercedes Masöhn) as well as Nona Clark (Samantha Logan), a teenager who warns Jane about a petty thief in the building. It's Jane then who, after some "The Shining"-esque experiences, ultimately starts to get some perspective and asks what is exactly going on with the Dorans. The answer might lay in the history of the building itself (Jane being a trained architect and all), most notably an ornately tiled room in the basement.
What works: O'Quinn and Williams do restrained menace as well as anyone so it's nice to see all of their bugabooing with a minimum of mustache twirling. And aside from a few groaners - "As I understand it Mr. Hartwell moved someplace warmer...," doorman Tony DeMeo (Erik Palladino) notes about the previous resident manager. "Arizona." - the double entendres are likewise parceled out with restraint. As for our heroes, Jane and Henry, on one hand they're given enough smarts to ask questions when something doesn't add up but on another they'll charge into a dark stairwell alone and in their pajamas. Overall, it's not that there's anything glaringly bad with the show...
What doesn't: ...it's just collectively they don't form something great or memorable. The deals are just deals with the figurative devil, absent any kind of "Fantasy Island"-esque flair. Jane and Henry, despite Taylor and Annable's charms, are your standard aspiring yuppies. And the various subplots - Brian is intrigued by his gorgeous neighbor across the street (Helena Mattsson); Gavin strings along a particularly desperate resident (James Waterston) - add very little to the overall story. It's as ho-hum of a construction as you could ask for considering its theoretically fantastical potential. Even the closing moments, which should launch the audience into a hunger for episode two, just kind of say "we'll have more of this kind of thing for you next week." Not exactly a rallying cry, but considering the bevy of missteps in the upcoming freshman class...
The bottom line: ...take the ho-hum while you can get it.