Review: NBC’s Kings

Perhaps it was a flaw in the marketing plan, but when I first saw ads for the NBC dramatic series Kings, I thought it was about an alternate history in which the United States had developed as a monarchy rather than as a republic. Subsequent exposure to the ads left me wondering if the title might be metaphorical.

Having watched the two-hour pilot and the second episode, I now understand the show’s concept much better, and I love it.

Put simply, it takes the Biblical story of the decline of King Saul the ascension of King David and presents it in a modern setting. We are thrust immediately into the fictional country of Gilboa and the politics of its newly built capital city, Shiloh. This is a land that has been locked in a long war with its neighboring country, Gath, after fighting its own internal “Unification War.”

Shot in and around New York City, the series has so far demonstrated a lush and cinematic visual style coupled with exquisite production design. The images are poetic, the direction fluid and dynamic, and the music and CGI effects are first-rate.

Equally impressive are the writing and the performances. It captures the feeling of a Biblical legend in the making, yet it still feels modern. Ian McShane steals the show as King Silas (an analog for Saul), whose eloquence and verbal brutality evoke the best moments of his turn as Al Swearengen on HBO’s series Deadwood. Christopher Egan stars as David Shepherd (one might recall that the Biblical character was a sheep herder, and a seventh son of a seventh son), an auto mechanic with six older brothers. It cleverly recasts the tale of David vs. Goliath as an infantryman vs. a tank — then puts another, unexpected spin on that venerable legend.

All the members of the series’ large cast are well-drawn, from Reverend Samuels (played by the brilliant and charismatic Eamonn Walker, and based on the prophet Samuel, who was the interlocutor of the Lord in the original story of King David), to Queen Rose (Susanna Thompson), the king’s children, the queen’s brother (a scheming defense contractor played by Dylan Baker), and many more.

The plotting is very good, as is the use of symbolism. Though it gets a bit heavy-handed at times (especially in the second episode’s use of dream prophecy, and the final image of the slain dove), it remains thoroughly compelling.

I suppose if one wanted to spoil oneself on what’s to come, one could pick up a Bible and start reading from the Book of Samuel, Chapter 15, and continue through the First Book of Kings. Sadly, by the time you finish reading all that, this magnificent series will probably already be off the air. Like most shows that my wife and I really enjoy, it feels too smart for the general public, and its rating numbers seem to confirm that suspicion.

Much as I hope this show will stick around for a few seasons, I am dubious of whether NBC will air all 13 of the episodes it has already produced. I’m not a person of faith, but I’ll say a prayer that this show gets to stick around.

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