Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on March 3, 2004, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.


Any genre fan who’s been watching TV lately can’t help but notice how the commercials for Secret Window, based on Stephen King’s novella, make no mention of the author’s name, while it’s all over the spots for his new Kingdom Hospital series on ABC. For a while now, screen works adapted from King’s scary stories have proven far more successful with television viewers than moviegoers, even as the quality has remained at about the same hit-and-miss ratio in each medium. The next week or so will tell how Secret Window measures up, though it’s interesting to note how both that movie and the concurrent Kingdom Hospital deal with autobiographical material.

Window has a writer as its central character, while in Kingdom one of the leads is Peter Rickman (Jack Coleman), described more than once in the dialogue as “a famous artist” who is struck and critically injured by a van while jogging. This is obviously drawn for the author’s own real-life accident five years ago, complete with the driver being distracted by his dog, and the Rickman subplot is the most effective part of Kingdom, at least based on the two-hour pilot. The scenes with Rickman’s anguished wife (Suki Kaiser) carry a genuine emotional charge, and the accident itself is rendered vividly by director Craig Baxley. As the mangled, paralyzed Rickman lies on the roadside, we hear his thoughts in voiceover, and then a crow flies in to share an interior dialogue that feels satisfyingly right out of one of King’s written works.

Then the anteater shows up.

Kingdom Hospital is based on the Danish miniseries The Kingdom by Lars von Trier (credited as an executive producer on this adaptation), which won a good deal of comparison to Twin Peaks when it was released theatrically in the States. No doubt ABC was hoping for a bit of Peaksian buzz from this project—which, given its limited run (15 hours), would seem not to risk running out of steam the way Peaks did following the completion of the Laura-and-Leland-Palmer storyline. But Baxley and King don’t have as firm a hold on the tone as David Lynch and company did; the pilot, at least, comes off as either too weird or not weird enough, depending on how you look at it. A great deal of the show centers on the kind of hospital politicking familiar from the likes of ER and other shows, with occasional cutaways to odd-looking worker Otto (Julian Richings, who at least gets to talk after his silent demise in Cube and gruntings in Wrong Turn) and a couple of custodians with Down’s Syndrome, just to remind us how odd the place is.

And then there’s the anteater, which seems to have leaped out of one of Rickman’s paintings and pops up every so often to offer cryptic voiceovers. Instead of scary or mysterious, it just seems weird, a too-obvious reach for eccentricity. The other key paranormal presence in the hospital is a little ghost girl who, at this point, is detected only by Rickman and perennial patient Sally Druse (Diane Ladd). The child’s appearances result in a frisson here and there, but her effectiveness is blunted not just by the fact that spooky children have been done to, er, death lately, but because there’s little mystery about her. A prologue sequence establishes exactly what happened to her and where she came from, and all that’s left for the audience is to watch the rest of the characters catch up.

Judging a series, even one that will begin and end in less than a season, just based on its pilot is always a tricky business, since most shows take a little while to find their footing and get the viewer fully invested in their characters and story. On the other hand, that debut episode needs to grab you and make you want to keep watching, and Kingdom Hospital’s simply lacks the focus that would make it compelling from the get-go. Baxley and King sometimes put the emphasis in the wrong places—a scene of arrogant Dr. Stegman (Bruce Davison) being harassed by a bunch of street kids goes on far longer than it needs to—and the occult elements feel random, rather than integral to either the story or the setting. Having not seen von Trier’s original, I can’t say how faithful this version compares, but there are just enough intriguing elements to keep me checking it out for a couple more episodes.

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