Arts & Culture

Give ‘Kings’ A Chance

NBC’s heavily-promoted new series, Kings, premiered last week to middling ratings. In an era where shows have to be immediate hits in order to last more than a season on network TV, Kings‘ fate depends on the next few episodes. … Read More

By / March 22, 2009

NBC’s heavily-promoted new series, Kings, premiered last week to middling ratings. In an era where shows have to be immediate hits in order to last more than a season on network TV, Kings‘ fate depends on the next few episodes. To the network’s credit, they seem to have realized that having a strong Web presence is one of the best ways they can attract – and engage – viewers interested in the show. In addition to robust forums and regularly updated dispatches from the fictional country in which the series takes place, the show has one other important asset – it’s pretty darn good.

Kings, which is based on the story of King David, takes place in a fictional modern kingdom where King Silas Benjamin (Deadwood‘s Ian McShane) wears business suits and conducts meetings as if he were a CEO instead of a monarch. His new country, Gilboa, is waging war with a neighboring nation called Gath, and one day a brave young soldier named David Shepherd (Christopher Egan) rescues two fellow men who have been taken prisoner. He faces a court martial – until it’s revealed that one of the men he saved was none other than Silas’ only son, Prince Jack. David, a simple country boy and the son of a tough matriarch named Jessie, becomes an overnight hero and is brought to the court of the King for a ball in his honor. Then he gets a glimpse of the King’s daughter. I won’t ruin the rest of the series for you, but let’s just say if you’ve read the Bible you can probably guess some of the spoilers.

What I enjoyed most about Kings is the way that it is both bound to and free from the original King David story. The show is a swirling blend of ancient and modern, well-known and newly invented. Gilboa’s capital, Shiloh, looks strikingly similar to New York City (where the series is filmed), yet the modern monarchy feels both timeless and anachronistic. Gilboa’s flag – bright orange with a butterfly printed on it – looks ridiculous the first time you see it, but the scripts and the actors so convincingly create an alternate reality that the flag seems entirely reasonable. The performances are spot-on, from Eamonn Walker as the King’s trusted spiritual adviser, Rev. Samuels, to Dylan Baker as a power-hungry government official whose similarity to Dick Cheney is not at all accidental. For Americans, who have a deeply-ingrained aversion to royalty, Gilboa is just believable enough to make you feel like you could be a character on the show, yet keeps enough narrative distance that it still seems like a myth. Characters reference the Internet, but they have an alternate history that doesn’t share anything with that of the United States or any other real place. King Saul’s modern counterpart, Silas Benjamin, is both a business executive and a man who genuinely believes that God chose him to rule. Goliath, rather than being a giant, is a tank that David manages to bring down with a simple slingshot-like weapon. It could hew too closely to the Biblical story and thus lose urgency, but the show also makes David appear in front of the paparazzi and makes sure both the King and Queen have personal assistants who never go without their BlackBerry-esque devices. It’s a gamble, to keep such a delicate modern/ancient interplay going, but it works.

I was lucky enough to attend a press screening for the show, where I got to watch the first few episodes. I’ll admit that, like at many similar screenings, I spent the first couple of minutes compulsively checking my text messages. But by the end of the first episode, I was totally sold. I can honestly say that I was actually sad when the screening ended, and that I watched the first episode again when it premiered last week. Kings‘ mix of Biblical drama and modern allegory is too good to miss. Don’t let NBC cancel it before you get hooked.

 

Kings airs on NBC Sundays at 8 PM/7 PM central. If you missed last week’s two hour premiere episode, it is available for screening on NBC’s website.