All Souls

Mr. Reindeer

White Lodge
Apr 13, 2022
One common misconception to correct about this show right out of the gate: Mark Frost did not create the show. It was created by Stuart Gillard and Stephen Tolkin. Gillard is best remembered, if at all, as the director of RocketMan (1997) and TMNT III: Turtles in Time (as well as the Forbidden Island pilot Frost executive produced). Tolkin has even less prestigious credits to his name, mostly writing for long-forgotten network and basic cable shows, as well as several TV movies, including the 1993 HBO movie Daybreak starring Moira Kelly (which he also directed) and the 1997 Fox movie Intensity, based on the Dean Koontz novel and featuring Piper Laurie. Frost executive produced All Souls as part of his two-year deal with Spelling. It appears that Tolkin was released from the show or at least demoted following the pilot: he serves as executive producer on the pilot, but is subsequently credited as a consulting producer and has no further writing credits following the pilot. Presumably, Frost stepped in as co-show runner with Gillard following the pilot. Frost is credited with writing two of the six episodes (the fourth and fifth ones aired), and Scott Frost (who serves as co-producer) writes one, so between them, the Frost brothers are responsible for writing half the episodes of the show.

Gillard directs every episode except for the fifth one, and also writes or cowrites the first two. The most noteworthy trademark he injects into the proceedings is a wild gimmick where he will periodically start on an object (usually someone's face), then as the camera pulls quickly away from the subject, the frame spins in a circle like a kaleidoscope with the object/face staying at the center of the frame.

A second misconception: The show is not an adaptation of Riget. Wikipedia and a few contemporary reviews state as fact that it is, so I'd always accepted that (and was confused by the fact that Stephen King then made another English-language adaptation of Riget just three years later). However, aside from the basic premise of a haunted teaching hospital, the characters and storylines bear no resemblance to Riget beyond some superficial overlap inevitable given that they're both part of the same genre (e.g., ridiculously vast labyrinthine structures under the hospital). It is certainly possible that Gillard/Tolkin/Frost took some basic inspiration from Riget in terms of the initial concept (in fact, I personally believe that is the case), but none have acknowledged it, and All Souls is content to be much more of a straightforward genre work in a network TV model, with none of the playfulness or weirdness of the Trier show.

The show is set in Boston's fictional All Souls Hospital, a huge hospital with 3,000 beds and its own nuclear reactor (one has to imagine that the reactor, casually mentioned in the pilot, would have come into play in the story down the line given enough episodes). The hospital also has several abandoned wings which formerly housed psychiatric wards, and are now rumored to be haunted, of course. In fact, the series apparently filmed in a real functioning psychiatric hospital in Montreal, using patients as background extras! (According to Wikipedia, anyway, with no source cited.) The show revolves largely around Dr. Mitchell Grace (yes, his name is Dr. Grace), who in the pilot starts his first day as a fellow at All Souls. We learn in the pilot that Mitchell's father was a janitor at All Souls, and that he died in the hospital when Mitchell was eight, impliedly under mysterious circumstances (while somewhat ominously telling his son, "I found out who they are! They're coming for me!"). So Mitchell is on a bit of a mission, wanting to be a doctor for altruistic reasons, but wanting to practice at All Souls in particular to investigate his dad's death (although that isn't really mentioned much after the pilot). We also learn very early on that Mitchell apparently worked at the hospital in a prior life, although he doesn't remember this, as we see a group photo from 1864 (yes, the ending of the pilot shamelessly rips off The Shining). There are at least two other current staff members who also appear in that photo: Lazarus, a freed slave who acted as an orderly in both the past and present, and is mostly seen lurking in the backgrounds of shots, essentially a glorified extra; and Dr. Ambrosious, a brilliant surgeon who went nuts when all his sons died in the Civil War, and took to deranged unethical experiments (all of which seem to involve cutting people open and placing live rats in their innards). Dr. Ambrosious is the head of the hospital board in the present day, and acts as the shadowy opponent to Mitchell...albeit not shadowy enough. You get the sense that the writers were going for a Cigarette Smoking Man-type figure, but he plays too prominent a role in most episodes to be effective as that kind of antagonist.

Our protagonist, Dr. Mitchell Grace, is a typical blandly sexy TV doctor (he rides a motorcycle but he's also great with kids! And he's single, ladies!), played by Grayson McCouch, who is best known for his soap opera work, particularly a long stint on As the World Turns. His casting feels very much of a Spelling touch (he also starred in the Forbidden Island pilot, also for Spelling): a photogenic, generically charming guy whose acting skills rarely go much above or below the level of "serviceable." Indeed, really, none of the cast stands out at all, except a few guest stars who stand out for the wrong reasons. (John LeClerc, who plays the aforementioned villain Dr. Ambrosious, was also a soap opera guy, with a long run on All My Children.)

Other series regulars are Dr. Grace's fellow fellow, the perpetually horny and flippant but good-hearted Dr. Brad Sterling (Daniel Cosgrove, yet another daytime soap guy known for long runs on All My Children and Guiding Light); Nurse Glory St. Claire (Irma P. Hall, from Soul Food and The Ladykillers), who easily has the most effective screen presence of the series regulars but is reduced to playing a stereotypical "Magical Negro" role where she pops up in one or two scenes an episode to give Mitchell some ridiculously obvious advice about his supernatural investigations; Dr. Philomena Cullen (Reiko Aylesworth), a psychiatrist and a bit of a free spirit (she's just gotten back from a prolonged stint in the Amazon, and embraces some questionable procedures such as hypnosis, and a controversial procedure that involves drilling into the subject's brain, or something); the steely Nicole De Brae (Serena Scott Thomas), a prominent doctor on the hospital board who plays both sides (she seems at times to be betraying the sinister board and helping Mitchell, but in equal doses, she sells Mitchell out to the board); and Pat Fortado (Adam Rodriguez), Mitchell's paraplegic best friend and roommate (they live together in an RV in a trailer park), and also the requisite hacker (it was 2001, there was a law that you had to have a hacker in every script). The show doesn't really know what to do with Pat after the second episode, which centers around secrets in the past of his friendship with Mitchell. Orderly Joey Passamontes (Christian Tessier) is credited as a guest star but appears in every episode and has more screentime than some of the regulars. He is the one who initially sucks Mitchell into investigating the various conspiracies at the hospital in the pilot, although he is inconsistently written afterwards, sometimes being an unwilling participant who has to be strong-armed into helping while other times seeming much more invested in the cause.

The pilot, which has a few nice macabre touches, kind of oversells the horror/ghost angle, which becomes pretty incidental in most of the following episodes, actually. Given the realities of network TV at that time, perhaps they wanted to dole that stuff out slowly, but it seems weird to sell a show as a "haunted hospital" series and then barely have any ghosts show up. Most of the episodes instead deal with the corrupt hospital board and the seemingly endless series of schemes they have going on to use poor, underprivileged patients as test subjects in bizarre (occasionally occult) experiments meant to benefit the board in one way or another (a Frostian preoccupation: dealing with class struggles in a genre context). These would have probably played better if the various schemes were all connected together in some way, so that there was some sense of Mitchell progressing closer to the heart of a larger mystery over the course of the season, but instead the series is completely episodic, with each episode generally involving some villainous doctor we've never seen before and will never see again. Mitchell has "the sight," the ability to see ghosts and also to prognosticate the future in his dreams (in typically Frostian/Jungian fashion, although we only really see this in the second episode, and the dream is depressingly literal). For their part, Dr. Ambrosious and the board are fully aware of Mitchell's probing, but they are happy to allow him to continue because they hope to manipulate him and eventually use his abilities for their own ends. It's kind of hilarious how the opening scenes of the pilot sell this idea that All Souls is such a ridiculously busy hospital that Dr. Grace and the other fellows won't have a moment to themselves for the next four years, and yet throughout the rest of the series, they spend 90% of their time acting as amateur sleuths and only occasionally do anything vaguely medical.

The first episode written by Mark Frost, "Bad Blood," is the most entertaining one besides maybe the pilot, and also the goriest (the first to get a TV-14 rating after the prior ones were PG, and it's a pretty gory 14 at that!). It revolves around a flesh-eating bacteria from the Amazon that causes people to melt in seconds, and despite a fairly predictable twist, it's a fun one. The other episode written by Frost, "Running Scared," is less successful. For some reason, all three of our doctor good guys are transferred to the hospital's Sports Clinic for a rotation at the same time, conveniently allowing them to become embroiled in the mysterious deaths of several pro athletes who have trained at the facility since childhood (another preoccupation of Frost's: pro athletes). Our stalwart do-gooder hero Dr. Grace comes dangerously close to becoming romantically involved with a patient, and we get corny dialogue like, "I'm not running from anything...I'm finally running toward something" (yes, the love interest is a professional runner). The latter is the only episode not directed by Gillard; Richard Rosenthal, of Halloween II and Halloween: Resurrection fame, handles that one. (The episode also includes a joke about Mr. Rogers: Frost worked on Fred's show in the 1970s and considered him a mentor.) The final episode aired, "One Step Closer to Roger," has the central Frostian idea (although Frost isn't credited with writing this episode) of an ancient Babylonian entity named Roh-Ghay-Er (or something like that) psychically manipulating people into committing murders, using the more approachable name Roger. It is sort of weird how in some episodes (particularly the "Roger" one), Mitchell is so dismissive of supernatural stuff, even though he's already seen very definitive proof of it and seemed pretty on board in earlier episodes. The "Roger" episode also has a very stupid sequence where Mitchell is pressuring Philomena to check out a nurse's ass in the ladies' locker room to verify whether she has a tattoo a patient saw in a vision. You get a sense over these six episodes that the show hasn't really figured out what it wants to be or what tone it's aiming for, and this is probably the silliest and most awkward sequence. The "Roger" episode overall is kind of fun, though, as the most overtly supernatural episode since the pilot. Too bad it was the final one, as UPN canceled the series…and Frost has claimed that his experience with UPN was even worse than his experiences with ABC on Peaks and On the Air, Fox on American Chronicles, and CBS on Buddy, in other words, really really bad. Incidentally, with his time on Hill Street Blues on NBC, that leaves the WB as the only 1990s broadcast network Frost never worked with.
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