by Deborah Harter Williams
This supernatural drama series (ABC, Sunday at 10 p.m.) stars Terry O’Quinn (Lost) and Vanessa Williams (Desperate Housewives, Ugly Betty) as the rich and creepy Dorans, owners of the fabulous Drake apartment building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Rachael Taylor (Charlie’s Angels, Transformers) and David Annable (Brothers & Sisters) play Jane and Henry, the young couple who land the plum job of resident managers for this elegant Beaux Arts building.
The pilot laid on the creepy with a heavy trowel, introducing several of the building’s tenants who seem to have made a pact with the landlord that involves dire, not-of-this-world consequences. Enter our cute and naive couple in a wonderfully beat-up Volvo, who thinks they have won the real estate lottery and that they are about to live a golden Manhattan existence.
It doesn’t take long before Jane discovers a mysterious mosaic in the basement. This starts her on a dangerous path to research the history of the building and its inhabitants. She will become more and more involved in both her waking and sleeping hours. Her dreams feature dead bodies and her daytime activities involve such things as blackbirds flying out of a wall.
Production values are lush, from the symphony orchestra, as a visual and dramatic metaphor for rich and upper class, to the loving shots of the building’s metal work and stairwells. The music is powerfully evocative, using Nelson Riddle-esque arrangements to take us back in time as we learn the building’s macabre history. Unfortunately the dialogue doesn’t achieve the same level. You could almost watch the show without the sound and get the gist of the story in kind of a gothic novel way.
The wall-to-wall creepiness tends to dull the senses. For me, it was a great relief when the character of Louise (Mercedes Masohn, late of The Finder) showed up. As the workaholic wife of a voyeur playwright, she is one of the few who comes off as a real person. Naturally, she gets attacked by the elevator. On Ugly Betty, Vanessa Williams’ Wilhelmina Slater, had way more fun being evil, and showed some insecurity as a chink in her armor. On 666 the Dorans seem too obviously bad. Williams has said that she imagines Gavin and Olivia Doran as a “supernatural Bernie and Ruth Madoff”.
Quite probably the building is the best character. In real life real estate it is the Ansonia Building, which has a long and colorful history. It has been home to a rooftop farm (with eggs delivered daily to the tenants), a gay bathhouse, and the swinger’s club Plato’s Retreat. Its residents have included Babe Ruth, Yehudi Menuhin, Ezio Pinza, Igor Stravinksy and Florenz Ziegfeld.
More recently the building (actually located at 2109 Broadway) has housed Angelina Jolie, Natalie Portman, and Eric McCormack. It had key supporting roles in the movies Single White Female and The Sunshine Boys, with guest shots in Hannah and Her Sisters and How I Met Your Mother.
The series was created by David Wilcox (Law & Order, Fringe) based quite loosely on the novels by Gabriella Pierce. There are two novels in the series with a third due out early next year. The author is a bit mysterious herself being listed only as an American living in Paris with her two dogs.
Halloween promises a big opportunity for the show to get a second start with the audience. (Its ratings were down 19 per cent from the first episode to the second.) The Dorans will host their annual Drake Halloween costume gala with the lobby decorated in appropriate style. Jane will encounter “the spirit from the staircase” and discover the story behind a 1929 murder in the building.
To add punch there will be upcoming guest stars such as Whoopi Goldberg and Nick Chinlund, who has had villainous roles on everything from Law & Order, to House and Castle, join the cast as the Doran’s adversaries. Things could spice up as the Doran’s invulnerability is challenged by threats and a theft. The network ordered13 episodes and the show will have to use that time to get viewers to renew their lease at 666 Park Ave.
Learn more on the show’s website.