`Hospital' needs checkup

TVPreview

March 03, 2004|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Stephen King and ABC in the past have made some bad television together. Think Rose Red, the 2002 miniseries about a haunted mansion in Seattle that was so slow and dull it almost killed the genre altogether.

King and ABC are back tonight with Kingdom Hospital, a story about a haunted hospital in Maine. Sound frighteningly familiar? There's a big difference between the shows: At the heart of all the death, demons and cursed corridors in Kingdom Hospital, lies a human being who might be worth caring about for a few hours. Better yet, for the celebrity-obsessed, that person seems to be a version of the best-selling author himself.

The show opens with a spooky overture set in a 19th-century New England sweatshop that resembles one of the lowest rungs of hell. A fire sweeps through the factory killing many of the children who work in the locked basement.

Flash forward to modern-day Maine where a famous artist, Peter Rickman (Jack Coleman), goes jogging along a highway and is struck by a hit-and-run driver - just as King was in 1999. Left for dead, Rickman is visited by a black bird that wants to dine on his eyes and an anteater-like creature with horrifying teeth who offers him Darwinian advice on survival.

The animals in Kingdom Hospital don't speak, but their thoughts are heard in voiceover. After being hit, Rickman can neither move nor speak, but, as he lies on the side of the road, his dark imaginings are given voice in the same way.

Eventually, help arrives and Rickman is taken to Kingdom Hospital, a bleak institution built over the ruins of the 19th-century factory. Child workers killed in the long-ago fire still haunt the hospital in which Rickman now fights for his life.

King adapted Kingdom Hospital from a Danish miniseries, Riget (The Kingdom). He added the highly personal narrative of the famous artist arriving at a haunted hospital via an ambulance as a gateway for American viewers into the story. It's the best thing about tonight's first two hours.

Beyond Rickman, however, the series offers little more than a stale buffet of recycled King ghouls and refried hospital types from every dark medical drama that ever aired from M*A*S*H to ER. Chief among these characters is Dr. Hook (Andrew McCarthy), the cynical, anti-authority neurosurgeon who operates on Rickman. Call him Hawkeye.

Tonight's two-hour pilot works to a limited extent only because of the Rickman story line. The big question is where can the miniseries go during the next 10 weeks?

The network has not made any of those episodes available for preview. As much as I'm intrigued by what additional advice the giant anteater might have for Rickman, I don't think I'll be back to find out.

TV

What: Kingdom Hospital

When: Tonight at 9

Where: WMAR (Channel 2)

In brief: Stephen King gets personal in this miniseries about a haunted hospital.

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