Kingdom Hospital

Kingdom Hospital was a fifteen hour television mini-series written by Stephen King based on a series by Lars von Triers. Jack Coleman (“Peter Rickman”) describes the series as “ER on crack.”

Set in a hospital – could you tell from the name? – we find a wide ensemble cast of characters reacting to working in a haunted hospital plagued by regional earthquakes, a big anteater, and a corpse running around looking for his severed head.

We’re introduced to the hospital through Peter Rickman, after the character (America’s best known artist) is involved in a hit-and-run similar to the accident which nearly killed Stephen King in 1999. Rickman is left for dead but is rescued by Antubis – a big anteater who likes to say, “I do you a solid, you do me a solid.”

At the hospital we’re quickly introduced to the two main characters – Doctors Hook (Andrew McCarthy) and Stegman (Bruce Davison). Rickman, as might be imagined with a cast this large, falls rapidly into the background for much of the series, his only contribution being his relationship with Antubus and the ghost “time keeper” Mary.

No time is lost in showing the hatred that Hook and Stegman feel for each other. Stegman, we quickly learn, left Boston General under … not so great … conditions. He feels banished to Kingdom Hospital, located in what he would probably consider the backward wilderness of Maine. Hook, who in his spare time enjoys gathering evidence of malpractice by the doctors at Kingdom Hospital (including himself), frequently gets Stegman’s goat, provoking an ongoing feud over the fate of Mona Klingerman and the botched brain surgery Stegman performed.

“Kingdom Hospital” isn’t scary in that – Oh! – sense. There are very few genuine scary moments. It much more focuses on suspense, and the growing frequency of the quakes which threaten the hospital. As we learn, Kingdom Hospital is built on a site where in 1869, a mill fire claimed the lives of numerous children workers. Seventy years after that, a hospital on the very same spot burned as well. Inhabitants of both haunt the halls of Kingdom Hospital.

But here’s the thing – the cast of living characters is so strange and weird that even without the whole supernatural angle, the show would still be compelling to watch. Where do I start?

You’ve got Dr. Elmer Traff (Jamie Harrold), a young doc who tries to gain the romantic interest of Dr. Lona Massingale (Sherry Miller). And, really, when it comes to the lovely Sherry – who wouldn’t want her romantic interest? Elmer also had a perpacity for decapitating corpses leading to some of the most light-hearted moments of the series.

Diane Ladd plays Sally Druse, a woman with connections to the “other side.” Ed Begley, jr., plays the overly cheery and creepy hospital administrator, Dr. Jesse James. A whole slew of guest stars – including Wayne Newton – portray maintenance men (none of whom, to Stegman’s ire, are “Johnny B. Goode”, the hospital’s chief maintenance man).

Rounding out the supporting cast are Julian Richings as the almost-blonde German security guard Otto, Del Pentecost as orderly Bobby Druse, and Brendan Bauer and Jennifer Cunningham as Able and Christy – two (as Stegman calls them, “feebles”) adults with down syndrome who work in the bowels of the hospital and seem to know everything about everything.

It’s an addictive ride.