Turning up at the bottom of the ratings for its time slot each week, NBC’s Kings remains one of the better shows on network television to come along in a while. It takes a clever concept – a modern day update of the biblical Saul & David conflict – and embellishes it a tad to create an interesting parallel world of sorts, where a 21st century English speaking society comprises backstabbing treacherous paranoid royalty with overtones of spiritualism and intertwined divine destinies.
It’s well written, cleverly plotted, well-cast, cleverly directed, and the acting is fine all around – what else would you expect from a cast led by Ian MacShane at his snarlin’ best?
MacShane plays King Silas Benjamin of the fictional land of Gilboa. They are at war with Gath when David Sheppard comes along and stops a Goliath tank, prompting peace negotiations. David becomes a hero and royal advisor, romancing Silas’ daughter Michelle and developing a competitive relationship with Silas’ son Jack. Now, if you’re familiar with the Books of Samuel (and I know you are, you bible scholars, you), the story of David’s rivalry with Saul is some wonderful stuff – you have treachery, murder, paranoia, angry prophets and even spirits brought back from the dead to predict utter doom. It’s great stuff, sort of like I Claudius all with Jews, and Kings creator Michael Green has done a nice job with translating the basic set up to this fictional modern setting, adding a few items to the mix such as a secret second family for Silas and a brother-in-law who is a warmongering would-be puppetmaster to any usurper of the throne out there, played wonderfully by Dylan Baker in all his dweeb-sleaze glory.
Besides the power games and family plotting that evokes The Sopranos to a degree (especially the way that people inconvenient to the King regularly get whacked), what sets Kings apart is the way it unashamedly includes a level of serious spirituality within its universe – we have omens, divine interventions, a reverend character based on Samuel who has a direct line to God, who is spoken of by everyone, regardless of what side they are on, as an active guiding hand as to everyone’s destiny. I can only think of one other show that deals with religious themes as much and as well, and that’s The Simpsons. All in all, it’s very clever and thoughtful, even to people unfamiliar with the bible story.
So, of course, no one is watching it. As a friend of mine over at NBC said, “it’s obviously too intelligent for people to pay attention to.” NBC ran it for a few weeks last April and when it tanked in the Nielsens, it went on hiatus. Currently, the network is burning off all the episodes it shot & spent money on every Saturday night at 8pm, and if the show truly is to follow its biblical source material, there should only be a few episodes of this story arc left.
But I’m guessing it won’t be back in the fall. Not with five nights of Leno or Suitcase-or-no-Suitcase or Law & Order:Paul Blart Mall Cop Unit or whatever other cheaper-to-produce moving wallpaper will turn up. I can’t blame NBC for throwing in the towel, really – they’re not here to perform a public artistic service, they are there to deliver audiences to advertisers and show a profit, something they are not doing here because the audience has been dumbed down and fragmented sufficiently so that any form of serious drama other than lawyer/doctor/cop seems to be the kiss of death in the age of ADD.
I got an HDTV recently. The picture is absolutely beautiful – detailed, with depth and sharpness like I’ve never seen before. Everything looks better on it. I’ve been watching lots of sports & old movies.
An irony of our times is how our technology to broadcast television gets better and better with the same speed as the actual content of television gets worse and worse.
Back to programming my DVR for all sorts of stuff off of TCM…