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With "Kings," NBC Does Something Different -- And Interesting
March 12, 2009  | By David Bianculli
 
KINGS-march.jpgThe best thing about NBC's new series Kings, which premieres Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, is how unusual it is. It's like Dallas, but with a biblical spin, and with lots of allegorical undertones. It's not subtle, but it IS different. On NBC, which seems hell-bent on churning out enough TV guano to choke itself to death, that makes it almost shockingly intriguing.

And, best of all, it stars Ian McShane, the powerfully magnetic star of HBO's Deadwood...

A dry summary of Kings threatens to make it sound more simplistic and uninteresting than it is. It's set in modern times, in a city named Shiloh that's not unlike a spiffed-up New York -- but a city whose nation is in the midst of a volatile border war (like the current Israeli-Palestinian standoff) with Gath.

KINGS-Goliath.jpg

As soon as you put fictitious names to these lands and events, it sounds sci-fi silly, especially when the young hero of the piece, David Shepherd, goes singlehandedly against an enemy tank named Goliath, and wins.

Yes, it's David vs. Goliath. And yes, David has six older brothers, which makes him the proverbial seventh son. And yes, the last name of Shepherd is symbolic, too, just as the warrior Goliath in the biblical account came from Gath. And so on.

KINGS-david.jpg

David was a busy guy, and not just with a slingshot -- or, in this telling, a hand-held missile launcher). He later was crowned king (thousands-year-old spoiler alert!) and had an illicit, child-bearing affair with Bathsheba. David, as a religious leader, figures in stories revered in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

And now here he is on NBC, as played by Chris Egan. By slaying Goliath, and simultaneously saving the life of the king's son Jack (Sebastian Stan), David is ushered instantly into the opulent, treacherous royal court of McShane's King Silas.

KINGS-michelle.jpg

David isn't seduced by the big city, but he IS seduced, or at least enchanted, by the king's daughter Michelle, played by the very enchanting Allison Miller. (The Old Testament calls the king's daughter Michel, and the king Saul, but the broad strokes are familiar.)

Other prominent players in this TV court include Susanna Thompson as Queen Rose and Eamonn Walker as an influential reverend, Ephram Samuels. (Quality TV lovers will recognize them both: her from Once and Again, him from Oz.) Almost no one is to be trusted, and even David, in the first four hours, shows he is capable of being tempted by less than noble virtues.

"We give up what we want when we want power," King Silas tells his closeted son at one point. "Hope lies in bravery," another character intones in another scene. "We need hope."

In Kings, the lessons learned and the topics tackled -- uneasy peace negotiations with hostile enemies, a nation's rebirth through dynamic leadership, and cynical opportunists threatening to stifle progress at every point -- may be biblical in origin and inspiration. But they're no less timely than the Middle Eastern conflicts recounted in both biblical and newspaper accounts.

KINGS-butterfly.jpg

Michael Green, who wrote for NBC's Heroes, is the creator of this unusual new series, and populates it with characters who are often duplicitous, seldom saintly, and almost never predictable.

The entire enterprise, in tone and scope, feels like an attempt to make a weekly TV series by modernizing, in diluted but recognizable form, both the Bible and Shakespeare. And there's symbolism almost everywhere, especially in the butterflies and pigeons.

As aspirations go, you could aim a lot lower. NBC almost always does, so give it credit for Kings, and give Kings a chance.

 

6 Comments

 

Dan said:

Dave,

Looking forward to this one. Anything with Ian McShane is worth a look. I had the pleasure of watching him act live on Broadway last year, and it was sheer pleasure watching the man work.
Maybe the networks will follow cable's lead and get back to quality programming? Maybe we can finally put some of these horrific reality shows on the "Chopping Block?" (Heh, heh. Very funny -- which is how we old farts say, and type, LOL. -- David B.)

Comment posted on March 12, 2009 5:04 PM


Greg Kibitz said:

You lost me at "Like Dallas."
But with Ian McShane in the mix I may just have to peek at the first episode and see what I find.
But then again, loved I Dream of Jeannie but could never stomach Dallas.

As to NBC doing quality programming, now that the entire 10-11 time slot is filled with yet another talk show and most of the truly best shows don't air until 10, what chance is there for NBC? Is Law And Order (reg and SVU) moving to 9pm or being cancelled or getting relegated to the wasteland that is Saturday Night? (Good questions all.. we'll see. -- David B.)

Comment posted on March 13, 2009 5:53 PM


Capt. Walt said:

Well, off to a slow start but given the quality of the cast I will give it the full two hours. Bring back Deadwood and I would give it two thumbs up. Capt. Walt

Comment posted on March 15, 2009 9:23 PM


PATRICIA said:

i just watched the first part of the series Kings and I found it fascinating and entertaining. I have to say that being a Heath Ledger fan I found it quite a coincidence that Chris Egan who looks like he could be Heath's younger brother is also an Aussie. Not only that, they both appeared in the Australian TV series Home And Away at different times.
When you said this is like the biblical Dallas...I agree and I get it!
I will be watching this show every Sunday or any day they want to air it! I'm hooked!

Comment posted on March 15, 2009 11:12 PM


Greg said:

Not that impressed. Some cool scenes but it all seemed very dumbed down and overly simplistic, and lacking in the sort of nuance and complexity I have come to expect from my HBO and Showtime Series or NBC greats like "ER."
To me it was all far too non-credible (not to be confused with incredible which oft means great which this was not). Surely not the same quality of say, an Aaron Sorkin series like "West Wing." Even blew off most of the middle of it, just watching the first 40 minutes or so and then the final half hour (but I sort of listened to it from the other room while doing some cooking).
As far as the allegorical part of it goes, that was all too in your face obvious. A good allegory is one where you have an ah-ha moment (like when you see Kurosawa's "Ran" and get that it is "King Lear"). In this case, when you have such obvious names for things the whole allegory idea is just a joke especially this idea of Goliath. My bets are on the new NBC Cop drama "Southland." Hopefully that will deliver.

Comment posted on March 16, 2009 6:48 AM


Jim Forkan said:

Hi David
I too have been enjoying this new drama.
It has its shortcomings, but it's far better than many shows now airing on broadcast and especially on NBC. Let's hope NBC has the patience of previous regimes and keeps it going, despite its less than royal ratings.
Cheers,
Jim

Comment posted on March 23, 2009 8:03 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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