Like the recent miniseries Traffic, Kingdom Hospital is a remake of a brilliant foreign TV program—in this case, Lars Von Trier’s Riget, a/k/a The Kingdom. Von Trier’s Danish series (shown here a few years back in art-house movie theaters) played as a black-humored occult melodrama about a Copenhagen hospital teeming with eerie apparitions, loopy mystics, and dysfunctional doctors who secretly practice Masonic-style rituals, à la Matthew Barney’s slightly more cryptic Cremaster epic. The original Kingdom was so captivating that I’d have been satisfied to see an exact, Americanized replica, and even more thrilled to see Stephen King take the spooky elements of the series even farther out on a limb.
Instead, The Kingdom has been King-ified, literally. The novelist has inserted himself into the 13-episode series by conjuring a character who didn’t appear in the original: Peter Rickman (Jack Coleman, best remembered as Alexis Carrington’s son in Dynasty), a hugely successful artist who gets hit by a car while walking on the roadside of his small New England town. In other words, a dead ringer for King, who was badly injured in a similar accident. Executive producer Mark Carliner recently admitted that King “was so moved and driven by what he had experienced in the hospital” that when he came out, “he sat down and wrote 15 hours.” King’s near-death experience could have lent Von Trier’s surreal spiritualism a more personal thrust, but the heavy-handed rendering of Rickman’s brush with death in the first episode overshadows all else, derailing the delicate balance between the many interrelated storylines.
Still, I have hope that the egotistical Dr. Stegman (Bruce Davison) will be given a chance to strut his monstrous stuff later in the series’ run; ditto for Mrs. Druse (Diane Ladd), the psychic hypochondriac who hears the mournful cries of the hospital’s ghosts. Sure, something’s rotten in this Kingdom, but it’s such an ambitious project for a major network that I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.