The story of David’s conquest of the giant, Goliath, is timeless – the little guy defeating the much bigger guy because he isn’t taken seriously [and with the hand of God to guide him]. Of course, the rest of the story isn’t as well remembered because it can’t be boiled down into three words like “David and Goliath.” Once you get past the archetypal underdog tale, though, you find a rich story about how David rises from being a kid with a slingshot, to becoming King David – warrior, philosopher, musician and ruler.
Kings [NBC, Sundays, 8/7C] takes the story of David and translates it into a vaguely science-fictional alternate universe setting where it can be told as a contemporary drama. The result is American television’s first sci-fi/Biblical soap opera. It begins with King Linus Benjamin [Ian McShane] dedicating the newly completed capitol city of Shiloh – the story of how he became aware that God wanted him to become king and build the city is important. Shortly thereafter, war breaks out between Gilboa and its neighbor, Gath.
This is when David [Chris Egan] makes his entrance. He decides to ignore orders and venture into Gath’s territory to rescue three captives – one of whom is Linus’ son, Jack. Here, the giant Goliath is a make of tank, and David takes it out not with a slingshot but a bazooka. Somehow, this action is captured on film and David becomes a hero. Things get really complicated, really quickly following his act of bravery.
Kings is a strange bird – a soap opera that mixes war and peace with omens and portents. Its world is a world where God lives and, when asked nicely, does stuff. Stuff saving the life of a small boy whose unusual lineage could become fractious if known. Stuff like sending prophetic dreams – then following them up signs in the real world. It’s also a world where a giant corporation can prolong war to suit its need for profits in the fourth quarter – and the corporation’s CEO is the king’s brother-in-law,
Then there are the queen, Rose Benjamin [Susanna Thompson, Star Trek: Voyager’s Borg Queen] and Princess Michelle Benjamin [Allison Miller]. Rose is at least partly the power behind the throne and Thompson makes her as appealing a Princess Di and darker than the Borg Queen, depending on the situation. Michelle has been trying to get her father to introduce sweeping healthcare reforms and is the centre of a great scene between David and Linus [watch for a great throwaway line about “half my kingdom”].
Jack [Sebastian Stan] is the ambitious but scattered heir to the throne. His capture by the Gath forces isn’t quite what we expect – and we learn the hows and why of it in a dramatic confrontation between father and son. It’s a lesson in what is necessary to take – and – keep power. Jack wants to party and be king. Linus instructs him that such is not always possible. Stan makes Jack a seeming happy rogue, with darkness and despair crowding his ambition.
Egan plays David’s innocence without irony – and gives him an intelligence that is constantly challenged by his new surroundings when he’s transferred to a plum position in the capitol. McShane mixes the easy adaptability of Deadwood’s Al Swearengen and the lovable roguishness of antiques divvy Lovejoy into a complex character who really wants to do the right thing, but is frequently beset by forces that are seemingly beyond his control. The two characters play off each other in sometimes unexpected ways – and it’s clear that this version of the story of David will unfold in unexpected ways.
Kings’ big flaw is that its complexity makes it impossible to be told at the pace necessary for today’s ADD-plagued audience. In the eighties, it would have been considered fast-paced. Now, not so much. If you’re looking for a series that has a lot of meat on its bones, and are possessed of a certain degree of patience, you will find Kings to be a rewarding work.
Final Grade: B+