Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Underrated TV on DVD #17: The Kingdom

Series: “The Kingdom”, originally “Riget” in Denmark
Years: 1994 and 1997, 2 seasons, four 70-minute episodes each
Creators: Lars Von Trier
Stars: Ernst-Hugo Jaregard, Kirsten Rolffes, Holger Juul Hansen

The Concept: The goings-on at a Danish hospital are already contentious enough, but they only get worse when it starts to seem that good and evil forces are laying down the battlelines for some coming spiritual warfare.
How it Came to be Underrated: Even with all of Von Trier’s fame, this didn’t get a DVD release here until recently. Instead, it showed in arthouse cinemas in two five-hour showings for hardcore movie-goers only. Luckily the show is so involving and creepy that we all had a fun time.
Sample Episode: 1.1, The Unheavenly Host
Writer: Tomas Gislason
The Story: Perpetual malingerer Mrs. Drusse bluffs her way into the hospital by faking a brain disease, but she decides she has to find a way to stay when she communes with an angry sprit in the elevator. She comes up against a visiting Swedish surgeon with little sympathy for mysticism, but he has ghosts of his own he’s trying to outrun.

Why It’s Great:
  1. Von Trier already had a swiftly rising film career when he took this sidetrip into TV, but his inspiration was clearly David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks”. There were lots of American attempts to copy the creepy charm of that show but nobody got close. Only in Denmark could they recreate the magic.
  2. Unfortunately it also had something else in common with that show…The second season, like the first, ends on a cliffhanger, and the third season was supposed to wrap it up, but the two main stars both died a year after the second season wrapped, so it looks like that will never happen. That’s a bummer, but given how weird Von Trier is, isn’t it pretty likely that we wouldn’t have gotten much closure anyway? What we have is still a very satisfying show.
  3. What makes it all work is that there’s enough sturm und drang to fill a normal hospital drama, plus a healthy heaping of comedy. All of the horrific spookiness is just icing on the cake.
  4. It’s nice to finally to finally have this on DVD, but it’s crazy to think to that it arrived ahead of the greatest hospital show ever, “St. Elsewhere”—another show that wasn’t afraid to get seriously weird. Only the first season of that show ever made it to DVD, even though it has Denzel Washington in it—speaking English.
How Available Is It?: The whole thing is now available to watch instantly as well as DVD.

What the Remake Did Wrong: I have four words for you: “Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital”

But Don’t Take My Word For It:

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