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Review: King's 'Kingdom' promising

By Ray Richmond
Hollywood Reporter

Andrew McCarthy, left, and Bruce Davison appear in a scene from ABC's
Andrew McCarthy, left, and Bruce Davison appear in a scene from ABC's "Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital."

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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) -- Horror novelist extraordinaire Stephen King and television have generally proved a compelling if occasionally inconsistent mix. And now the indestructible King is back, having survived illness and a brush with death after being hit by a minivan.

It's not surprising that he should be preoccupied with the world of medicine given his recent health history. So it is with ABC's "Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital," which was originally conceived as a limited series and has morphed into a weekly midseason drama surrounding life inside a haunted hospital. Its two-hour premiere is long on creepiness and somewhat short on plot development. But with the overemphasis of late on copycat reality, it's a welcome addition to primetime, indeed.

King himself developed the series and wrote the pilot, which is based on the Danish miniseries "The Kingdom." It's a tale about a medical center that's built on the exact site of mysterious fire that incinerated scores of children laboring in the basement in 1869 -- as we see at the outset of "Kingdom Hospital." And so now, patients hear the tortured sounds of a little girl crying from inside the elevator shaft. Moreover, all variety of spirits (both good and evil) inhabit the facility, darting just outside the consciousness of the mortal staff.

In the premiere -- directed with skill and eerie style by Craig R. Baxley -- a renowned artist (Jack Coleman) is run over and nearly killed while jogging by a loser driving a minivan. He's admitted comatose to the hospital, where he's operated on by the brilliant Dr. Hook (Andrew McCarthy). We know that Hook must be good because he sings the "Beverly Hillbillies" theme song while carving into bodies. He will stage a miraculous recovery, but not before encountering all variety of ghosts and fictitious beasts who harbor their own agendas. We also hear his own thoughts as part of this paranormal mix.

Meanwhile, a woman named Sally Druse (Diane Ladd) with some psychic powers is admitted to the hospital with tingling limbs and hears the cries of the trapped young girl/ghost. Of course, the hospital administration lives in total denial about this haunting stuff. They include the arrogant and mean-spirited chief neurologist, Dr. Stegman (Bruce Davison), and a vacuous hospital administrator named, uh, Jesse James (perfectly played by Ed Begley Jr.).

While the lead story of the opener is obviously patterned on King's own interaction with a moving vehicle, it's clear that the man is screwing with our minds (as usual). I mean, doctors named Hook and Jesse James? And then we have another hospital worker named Johnny B. Goode. Indeed, eccentric King elements abound, dancing in lock step with the fright to create a distinctively offbeat stew.

Baxley and director of photography David Connell conspire to create a disturbingly offbeat visual universe that finds fantasy and reality co-existing interchangeably. It bodes well for a series whose jittery pacing and oddball sensibility call to mind an ABC drama called "Twin Peaks." King is given plenty of leeway here to do what he does best -- that is, keep us divertingly off-balance. That should prove a good thing.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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