By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
All Souls is a new UPN series (from Aaron Spelling, with Twin PeaksBuddy Faro vet Mark Frost as executive producer) about a creepy old Boston hospital haunted by ghosts and evil spirits, possessing an improbable number of empty basement rooms and disused wings, and staffed by the literary descendants of Doctors Frankenstein and Moreau, classic mad scientists funded by Satan and engaged in perverted experiments each hopes will make his name in the medical journals. Given the terror and suspicion with which many people, and myself in particular, regard hospitals, the medical profession at large and the cutting edge of biological research, this is a natural, if somewhat lily-gilded, alliance: Doctors are scary enough without being actually contracted to the devil, hospitals are famously places people do not leave alive, and the unpleasant side effects of untethered science are there to see in every corner of the modern world. But All Souls does not comment on this situation -- the series is insufficiently satirical, I’d say, though it‘s really no business of mine -- so much as simply exploit it.
Into this heretofore well-functioning mill of pain steps significantly named Dr. Mitchell Grace (the blandly handsome Grayson McCouch), a brilliant first-year resident with a winning bedside manner and a karmic appointment with significantly named nurse Glory St. Clair (Irma P. Hall, as one of those sainted special African-Americans now common to Hollywood fictions -- the kind of “good” stereotype the industry points to with witless, if not actually hypocritical, pride). “You didn’t come here by choice,” she tells him, “you were called. Listen to me now, this is a special place . . . The dead have power here” -- pretty much giving the game away right at the top.
You can bet that Dr. Grace, if the ratings grant him time, will get to the bottom of things, though never so near to the bottom that the show will have to end. Anyway, the truth about spook series, up to, including, and after The X-Files, is that they‘re more effective when they’re most obscure, when you can‘t really tell what’s going on: Because when you do get to the bottom of these things, there‘s either the devil or the men from space, and in either case, you will have seen them before. (Mark Frost should have remembered from Twin Peaks that knowing who killed Laura Palmer was not nearly as satisfying as not knowing was fascinating.) With the proliferation of sci-fi and horror on the big and small screens over the last three decades, there are no surprises left, only shocks; all that changes are the particulars of the gross-out, and new turns even on that account are few. All Souls offers, for instance, the novel sight of a rat let loose in the body of a living man, but it also trots out the old noodles-change-into-worms gag -- as creaky as a mummy’s joints, if never less than revolting. But the series is well-made within the limits of its ambition, and until that point when it shows itself to be critically less than the sum of its parts, it may, like any halfway decent roller coaster, afford a few thrills, a few chills and some moments of real nausea. Have fun.
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