In one scene of UPN’s new hospital-set chill-fest “All Souls,” a beautiful blond woman leads our hunky hero physician into the basement and suggests they “play doctor.” As the two, shall we say, begin the examination, the blond transforms into a corpse, surrounded by other corpses in this former lunatic asylum. This doctor-zombie pairing couldn’t be any stranger than the marriage of two prominent executive producers behind this show, the venerable Aaron Spelling and Mark Frost of “Twin Peaks” fame. Their progeny resembles both its parents, a merging of the beauty and the beast: Spelling provides the former, the sleek and superficial good looks; Frost delivers the surreal, beastly creepiness. It’s too early to say whether this series will grow up to make its parents proud, but it’s a precocious toddler nonetheless.
Created by Stuart Gillard and Stephen Tolkin, “All Souls” centers upon newly minted surgeon Mitchell Grace (Grayson McCouch), who has dreamed his whole life of following in his father’s footsteps and working at the fictional Boston hospital from which the series takes its name. Opening scenes of the pilot show us the culmination of Mitch’s desires, as he enters “All Souls” as a resident, immediately thinking back to his father’s unfortunate, and mysterious, early demise.
The series doesn’t dilly-dally. There’s something eerie about All Souls from the get-go, and by the end of his first day there Mitchell has seen the ghosts of the asylum past and begun to suspect questionable experiments are going on at the hospital, probably with the back-handed assent of the institution’s morose-looking board of directors.
He finds an ally in Nurse Glory St. Claire (Irma P. Hall), who seems to be the only one able to see the woman in mourning costume parading through the hallways with a baby carriage. Nurse Glory quickly lets Dr. Grace — mmm, those names might have meaning, no? — know that the forces for good in the hospital, where “the dead have power,” have been awaiting his arrival for decades. Grace’s other human allies include hospital administrator Nicole De Brae (Serena Scott Thomas), fellow intern Brad (Daniel Cosgrove) and his computer-savvy paraplegic buddy Pat (Adam Rodriguez).
Cinematographer Tom Burstyn and production designers Michael Joy and Collin Niemi provide a lot of shadows for the basement scenes and make effective use of the more sterile environment of the hospital proper. Gillard directs with a fairly taut hand, and the pilot episode delivers some genuine horror, particularly a scene where a jarred fetus starts moving. The iconography here isn’t especially original — in many ways, this seems like a compilation of Stephen King stories, the Hugh Grant thriller “Extreme Measures” and every movie ever made about a former lunatic asylum.
There’s certainly much more of a superficial gloss to this than to the Frost-David Lynch collaboration “Twin Peaks,” but it’s also a lot more accessible than that memorable but short-lived series. The Spelling touch is present mostly in the very pretty faces, starting with McCouch, who comes off as a good combination of tough and sensitive, driving a motorcycle, wearing a leather jacket, shaving seemingly every third day or so, and yet also writing his pager number on the hand of a boy whose mother has been admitted. Even with its contrived packaging, “All Souls” is potentially the scariest network show since “The X-Files.”