by Angela Walker
Kings, the new dramatic series from NBC is being touted as a “contemporary parable and exploration of the timeless David and Goliath struggle.” Students of the Bible will know that David and Goliath’s struggle was short – a one-battle episode in the history of the nation of Israel. What Israel’s army couldn’t do in their fight against the Philistines, David accomplished with a slingshot and one stone.
If only this series had one shot, one blow to deliver. As a midseason start-up (well, does television really have a “season” any more?), it has a challenging timeslot and is up against perennial favorites on both ABC (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition) and CBS (The Amazing Race), let alone anything else on the hundreds of cable channels.
Described by TVGuide.com as a “dense political drama,” Kings is set in the fictional kingdom of Gilboa, whose capital Shiloh looks suspiciously like New York. In the opening episode, a new monarch is crowned (Ian McShane as King Silas Benjamin), his son (Sebastian Stan as Crown Prince Jack) is taken prisoner by Gath soldiers, then rescued by David Shepherd (Chris Egan). Meanwhile, the king’s daughter (Allison Miller) lobbies her father relentlessly for health care reform.
After David rescues Jack, the king offers him anything, up to half his kingdom, but all David wants to do is dance with the king’s daughter and play his priceless antique piano. The king decides to make David his PR liaison, much to the chagrin of his son.
A Night-Time Soap Opera
If all this sounds a little convoluted to you, just wait until you see it. It alternates between war-time heroics, the king holding court with his advisors, and the queen looking for her cell phone. The king is presented as a man of piety whose family is skeptical of God’s ability to help him. However, he doesn’t conduct himself as a man of faith. The Reverend Samuels (remember the prophet who anointed David king?) acts as the king’s conscience, but sometimes can only do that after he’s had a good stiff drink.
Many of the character and place names and positions either straight from the Bible, or vaguely Biblical, as though NBC is working really hard to tap into the faith market, which has proven to be lucrative for film in the last couple of years. But faith is not a central theme of this series, at least not yet. When the king talks about his blessing from God (which he does often), he quickly flows into a litany of his accomplishments, as though he did all the work, and God just blessed him.
Commentary on current events
Interwoven with the stories are many commentaries on today’s economy, the war with Iraq, and the relationship between big business and government. You’ll hear buzzwords from the recent political campaigns (Hope lies in bravery. Hope will bring about global change). There are a couple of other hot issues that are addressed, none of it too subtly.
That’s a hallmark of this premiere episode. There is no subtlety. David’s mother’s name is Jesse, his last name is Shepherd, he is a musician, and he is anointed by Reverend Samuels. King Silas possesses many of the same characteristics as King Saul did, and David and the king’s daughter begin a romance, like David the shepherd marrying Michel, King Saul’s daughter. (Let’s just hope King Silas’ daughter turns out to be a little more understanding than Michel.)
Another mark of this episode is bad lines randomly thrown in. The war is described as “a cancer on our economy.” The queen hates it that “Pretty people are so bad with details,” and the king’s daughter has a deep philosophy: “The human will can take ashes and turn them into ice cream.” What? It’s as though the writers couldn’t decide whether to be philosophical, politically correct (or incorrect, as it were), or corny.
They did choose a great source for the story. Like many people in the Old Testament, King David’s life was full of drama, mystery, war, and sex, all the ingredients of a soap opera. But where King David acknowledged God’s true position and work in his life, the inhabitants of Gilboa see God as a benevolent benefactor raining blessing down on them in the shape of butterflies.
Susanna Thompson, who plays the queen, said in USA Weekend, “They’ll either love it or they won’t [even] get it.” Well, I got it, but I didn’t love it.