Stephen King Presents Kingdom Hospital is the haunting new 15-hour drama series developed directly for television by the award-winning, bets-selling master of horror. Using Lars Von Trier’s Danish miniseries “Riget” (a.k.a. “The Kingdom”) as a point of inspiration, King tells the terrifying story of Kingdom, a hospital with a bizarre population that includes a nearly blind security guard, a nurse who regularly faints at the sight of blood and a paraplegic artist whose recovery is a step beyond miraculous. When patients and staff hear the tortured voice of a little girl crying through the halls, they are dismissive of any suggestion of mysticism of unseen powers…but at their own peril.
Kingdom Hospital 5.5
eyelights: Andrew McCarthy. Bruce Davison.
eyesores: Diane Ladd. most of the performances. the editing. the corny humour. its lack of focus. its overall incoherence.
After watching ‘Riget‘, I discovered that Stephen King had made his own version of the series, and even based his screenplay on Lars Von Trier’s three original scripts (Von Trier only produced two of the three, but King got access to all of them for his adaptation).
My partner and I were immediately curious to find out what that would be like. Since ‘Riget’ had a David Lynch flavour to it, I salivated at the thought of Stephen King being thrown into the mix. King meets Lynch. Think about it: the weirdness of Lynch crossed with the masterful writing of King crossed with a decent production budget!
Sweet! My imagination was alive at the prospect.
For weeks I scoured the interwebs and local stores to find the darned series – and in full, not just the individual discs (which is how it’s frequently offered). I got my eager hands on it soon enough, at a decent price – and in a collectible tin, no less. I immediately put it on my list of things to watch, and we got started as soon as possible.
Sadly, the end result is such a mish-mash affair that it was dead on arrival. In fact, it is so uninspired and unenjoyable that my partner dropped off after three episodes – and this is someone who can binge on a series and watch a whole season in a weekend! As for me, I dragged myself through the last 10 episodes over the course of a few weeks, being completely unable to motivate myself to watch them back-to-back.
Finally, I’m through. And thank goodness for that.
The key problem with the series, and there are a few, is that it has very little focus. And I don’t just mean plot-wise, I also mean tonally and with respect to the characters: it’s as if Stephen King had no idea what he wanted the show to be about or where he wanted it to go in the end. The problem with this directionless approach is that it really goes nowhere at all.
Whereas the original brought together a dozen or so quirky characters, allowing us to familiarize ourselves with them via their casual interactions, and tying in a mystery and a few side stories along the way, ‘Kingdom Hospital’ tosses a dozen characters at us, but distracts us with guests and their own unrelated stories – stories that rarely contributed to the overall plot of the show.
Furthermore, many of the show’s events don’t have any repercussions; many episodes feature significant incidents or developments that don’t trickle into the following episodes.
For example, there’s an episode in which a priest gets crucified and miracles happen after his death. Not only was it a simple-minded concept, but the episode had throngs of people amassed around the hospital to witness his miracles and potential resurrection – only for them to disappear by the next episode, as if it had never happened. How is this possible? How could something so mind-boggling fall off the radar like that? Even if it were no longer news, which is unlikely, at the very the characters would still be talking about it!
Nah… not in ‘Kingdom Hospital’.
In ‘Kingdom Hospital’ everything appear to be thrown in haphazardly, in some random fashion, with no real focus on the bottom line. It’s disjointed enough that I started to question the idea that it was conceived as a 13-episode mini-series – as I was lead to believe. After all, why was the main plot ignored for so many episodes? Why were some characters important in the beginning and then pretty much discarded later on? It felt totally aimless.
Right before being done with the series, I discovered that it was originally supposed to be a mini-series, then it was turned into a full-blown series, after which it was cancelled, lasting only one season. Urgh. No wonder it’s as inconsistent as it is: the focus of the series changed twice, not giving the writers a chance to map out the plot the way that they should. It really should have been kept it as a mini-series and left to unfold the way it was originally meant to. Whoever meddled with it should be fired.
The core concept behind ‘Kingdom Hospital’ is that the hospital itself was built on the very location where a terrible fire killed many, leaving a few souls unrested. The present-day hospital is subject to bizarre earthquakes and apparitions, which go unexplained until a regular visitor of the hospital, a medium, comes in contact with the ghost of a little girl, Mary Jensen. But what does she want? Why is she there?
The show is a peculiar blend of melodrama, frights, comedy and unusual touches, such as telepathic animals communicating with humans. The cast is the central force of the series, of course, given that it pretty much takes place in one location, but there aren’t any truly sympathetic ones in the whole lot – I found myself unable to connect with any of them and only found one or two of them remotely interesting.
Dr. Hook: as incarnated by Andrew McCarthy, this surgeon had an enigmatic presence. His motivation was unclear and he had no background to speak of (this is typical of the series). He is pretty much the central figure of the show in many ways, always coming in to save the day or to lead the rest of the crew, for lack of any other leadership at that hospital. What truly makes him stand out is both the weakness of his peers and the solid performance by Andrew McCarthy, who reminded me of a palatable Richard Gere. Seriously, I was mildly impressed with him.
Dr. Stegman: Bruce Davison plays the egomaniacal, unethical and slightly imprudent neurosurgeon who has been transferred from another hospital because of some undisclosed trouble he’s had in the past. The character is a frustrating one because he’s rude and his ego is larger than it deserves, but he’s interesting because of his complexity. For instance, despite the ego, he has self-esteem issues and has to make conscious efforts to stroke his self-esteem. The character falls into caricature by the end, but Davison keeps Stegman afloat with his unflinching turn.
By far, these are the two most interesting players in the series, with most of the others coming off as bland and unremarkable. Even Ed Begley, Jr. who plays the part of the hospital’s Chief of Staff comes off as a weak iteration of the original – what was an amusing secondary part that could easily have perked up the series ended up being squandered due to the writing and characterization: in ‘Kingdom Hospital’, instead of seeming wily if distracted, Dr. James comes off as vacant.
But at least he isn’t irritating. There are a few cast members I could have done without. I can’t tell if it’s the way that the parts were written, but the performances certainly didn’t help one bit:
Sally Druse: This character was central to the original series and, despite being slightly annoying, like a popcorn shell stuck in one’s gums, she was brought to life quite spectacularly by Kirsten Rolffes. Here, she’s turned into a scenery-chewing cartoon by Diane Ladd, who delivered each of her lines as though she was a drama class novice. Every single moment that she was on screen, I was reminded that she was playing a part, not inhabiting a character. It was bloody awful and, for me, it ruined every scene that she was in.
Dr. Elmer Traff: The original character was a douche-bag, but this guy came off as a complete dunce. Jamie Harrold delivered a whiny, Novocained performance that really got on my nerves. Again, I don’t know if another actor could have made the part work as written, but Harrold certainly did it no favours. I would sooner shoot him out of a canon than watch him perform in any other role after this one.
(As a side-note, a gag that this character pulled in the original series, the beheading of a cadaver, was milked to death by Stephen King – going for the purported laughs well over the coherence of it all. Le sigh.)
Then there are the parts that are decent, but are marred substantially by lackluster performances:
Mary Jensen: the mysterious ghost girl should have been the central figure in the series but, in this iteration of the story, ends up being a secondary character, showing up inexplicably from time to time with her pet Anteater-like monster, Antubis. Obviously, Mary was weakened by King’s distraction, but what didn’t help was that Jodelle Micah Ferland delivered her lines anemically and without conviction. One could write off the performance as being a mark of her ghostly character, but when she plays the live Mary, she is even worse. Too bad, too, because this little girl had the potential of being an incredibly memorable character.
Paul Mordock: Let’s be frank, here: Kett Turton isn’t all bad as Paul, but what he does most is gaze creepily and grinning – he doesn’t inject the needed charisma and aura of evil that would have made the character memorable. And, as the alter-ego of Antibus, he plays it down too much. Really, the key issue with the part is that one moment he’s an essential component of the danger lurking in Kingdom Hospital and then the next he just disappears for a few episodes at a time. The writing’s lack of focus is (again) the culprit, where the character is concerned, but a strong performer would have made something of the part. Turton didn’t.
The nicest thing that one can say about ‘Kingdom Hospital’ is that at least it preserved some of the original characters’ names in some fashion and wrapped itself up in some of the ‘Riget’s many subplots. At least it was somewhat recognizable, even if it is a shadow of its former self. But there’s not much worth recommending the series for. Even at only 13 episodes, it’s too long to warrant the investment – it’s like waiting hours on end at the clinic just to get your prescription filled. It’s a drag, and there’s not much satisfaction to be had.
This is the last time I will ever visit ‘Kingdom Hospital’.
Date of viewing: January 16-February 26, 2013