A correction was made to this article on Feb. 29, 2004.
No, “Kingdom Hospital” is not the place where they rushed Michael Eisner after Comcast’s hostile bid for Disney, though I suspect the show — an idea that doubtless looked better on paper — won’t make the Disney chieftain rest a whole lot easier. A limited series from horror maven Stephen King, this peculiar project — at times spooky but, at least initially, never remotely scary — is going to have to get significantly better fast to put any kind of a dent in “Law & Order” and make Mouse House execs feel sanguine about its Nielsen life signs.
King has been a reliable ratings draw with a parade of ABC miniseries, featuring splashy adaptations of his works “The Stand,” “It” and “The Shining.” Admittedly, most of them petered out creatively before the final act, but there were usually enough arm-grabbing thrills and jump-out-atchas along the way to make the trip worth taking.
Not so with “Kingdom Hospital,” whose aspirations appear to run more along the lines of “Twin Peaks” than previous King ventures — down to the talking anteater and the as-yet unconnected chattering between two hospital workers with Down syndrome.
Otherwise, the narrative generally feels like a compendium of earlier — and markedly better — King offerings, here including a mentally enhanced survivor of a near-death experience — reminiscent of “The Dead Zone” — and the ghostly presence of a little girl. (Can you say “redrum”? I knew you could.)
Then again, maybe this tale is a bit too personal to expect much restraint from its author. Although the show is adapted from a Danish project shepherded by “Breaking the Waves” director Lars von Trier, King has incorporated more-than-faint echoes of his own autobiographical ordeal five years ago, when he was hit by a motorist and seriously injured.
Sure enough, the miniseries virtually re-creates that interlude, involving a renowned artist, Peter Rickman (Jack Coleman), who is leveled by a hit-and-run driver and left a crumpled mess. Rickman is rushed to Kingdom Hospital, a place, we’re told in voiceover, that sits on “uneasy ground,” having been built on a spot where a 19th-century tragedy occurred. Apparently, real estate developers make it a habit not to watch “Poltergeist.”
In making this long-awaited dive into the series realm, King and his court have gone for a higher-than-necessary degree of difficulty. Filled with over-the-top performances and offbeat, demo-challenged casting (put it this way: No one here would feel comfortable dropped into a hot tub on “The Bachelorette”), the series’ choices are thus far puzzling at best. Andrew McCarthy’s surgeon, for example, is described as “eccentric,” which in the topsy-turvy halls of Kingdom Hospital is apparently a synonym for “annoying.”
Fleshing out the cast are Ed Begley Jr. as the hospital’s smarmy administrator, Bruce Davison as a tightly wound doctor and Diane Ladd as a patient endowed with strange psychic abilities.
Yet aside from the fact that Rickman possesses enhanced senses and the dead restlessly move about, very little is clear after the first two hours beyond the fact that, as Bill Murray observed in “Tootsie,” this is one nutty hospital.
Those elements alone might be sufficient to tempt hard-core King aficionados to check in, but unless “Kingdom” finds a sturdier foundation, it’s hard to imagine many visitors signing on for an extended stay.