Mar 16 2009 4:00pm

Time to Begin: Kings

Last night, NBC premiered its alternate-history drama Kings with a two-hour pilot. Based loosely on the life of the Biblical King David, the series posited a modern-day New York as the capital of a kingdom at war, with David as the golden-haired war hero who would shake the rule of the reigning king in an archetypal story playing out the inevitable.

And inevitable it was. This show is a slickly-packaged Storytelling 101, feeding its audience one predictable twist after another. The moment you meet David’s rambunctious older brother, you know he’s doomed, and two scenes after someone mentions the woman the King gave up for the throne, we meet her; it’s that kind of show.

Equally predictable are the characters; from the African American Reverend to the Native American bloodthirsty general, from the princess feistily pushing a healthcare agenda to that sucker older brother, dozens of Central Casting stereotypes are present and accounted for. Chris Egan, as David, is the biggest stereotype of all, the Aryan poster boy for corn-fed guilelessness. He, of course, has no ambition of his own, but is anointed (like King Arthur or Buffy) by outside forces who can just see his destiny. In a pilot I’ll accept it, but he had better get ambitious in a hurry; I have no desire to watch this kid stumble around frowning manfully for an hour a week.

In the further adventures of Stock Character Bingo, look out for: crotchety yet helpful salt-of-the-earth security guards; the smooth and collected social secretary who can magically stay up 24 hours a day; and the mother who sees footage of the capital and tells her children to pay attention—“Your father died building this city.” (He did? I thought he went to live with a nice family on a farm!)

Some fare better. Ian McShane in particular makes the most of the admittedly meaty role of King Silas. Susanna Thompson, as Queen Rose, transcends her D-plot (oh heavens, a missing phone!) and coolly implies a seasoned manipulator. Most of her efforts go into handling son Jack, whose public skirt-chasing is a cover for his homosexuality—which Daddy McShane makes clear will have to go right back in the closet if Jack ever hopes to be King. It’s one of the more organic conflicts, and Sebastian Stan manages to make a compelling prince even as we understand exactly why King McShane has hung his hopes on David.

However, for all the as-you-know-Bob-ing that manages to fill two hours without really going anywhere, the series still seems thoughtfully executed; the pacing is workmanlike, the world-building thorough (the King’s monogram on the TV-studio doors is a two-tone NBC-esque butterfly). Some of the symbolism is spread on a little thick, particularly the oft-told tale of butterflies settling around King McShane’s head as a sign from God that his work should begin. It seems an attempt to make the symbol, mostly associated with Lisa Frank notebooks, into a manly emblem; in the pilot’s last few moments, however, the image is more literally applied. I’m not sure who looked more uncomfortable during those brief moments: Ian McShane, or me.

That said, the show has potential. With so many characters, the conflicts could get interestingly tangled, and as the pilot ended we were gearing up to see delegates from one of the other kingdoms, expanding the scope of the world. The characters might end up compelling, as well, especially if the show manages to pull away from the royal family (and the extremely milquetoast David) and dig into the machinations of court, which provided the pilot’s most interesting moments. I especially hope to see more of the woefully underused Wes Studi and Eamonn Walker, and a little less of David. I guess the bad news is that he’s the star of the show.

What did you think? Well-crafted or waste of time? (If you haven’t seen it yet, pull a Solomon and judge for yourself—NBC has the full pilot available on its website.)

Kings airs Sundays at 8pm on NBC.

Paul Weimer
1. PrinceJvstin
I think it has potential. Being freed of modern polites and geopolitical considerations allows them to tell the story they want to without regard to shoehorning America or England or any other real country into the equation.
Adam Rakunas
2. rakdaddy
I'm on board for now, though I think it's funny that this show is on NBC instead of the Network Soon To Be Formerly Known As SciFi. Note to Dave Howe: if you guys made shows like this instead of Ghost Hunters/Scare Factor/Yes, We're Deliberately Wasting Your Time, you wouldn't be losing viewers and have to resort to lame-ass rebranding tactics.

But this thread is about Kings. Ian McShane is in it, and I think he'd beat Wes Studi in an "I'm The Shit" contest.
Dave Thompson
3. DKT
I've always thought trying to cast (or play) David must be a huge challenge. You really have to balance a big heart with masculinity, innocence with ambition, and above all - charisma. Not an easy feat.
Heather Johnson
4. HeatherJ
I'm intrigued by the show, but not completely convinced yet. The pilot kept my attention and it definitely has great potential. I hope that 1) it gets better with each episode and 2) it doesn't get canceled due to the low rating it received last night.
Alan Stallings
5. astacvi
David appears to be the love-child of Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, but unfortunately inherited the acting talent of neither. I'll likely sit through another hour or two of this, but it had better improve rapidly to hold my attention. I almost changed the channel during the ineptly staged "rescue", especially when bludgeoned with the GOLIATH-stenciled tank looming over "David Shepherd." My English teacher called that "Chester-Goulding-It" (TWO-WAY WRIST RADIO) and I won't sit for much more of it.
Sandi Kallas
6. Sandikal
I watched it because I was absolutely intrigued by the concept of using a biblical story and re-interpreting it as a modern alternate history. However, the next episode had better have a much faster pace and stop bashing me over the head with the source material. I've gone to church my whole life. I know the story of David and Jonathan, David and Saul, David and Saul's daughter, etc., etc., etc. I'd say "Where's the harp?" and a piano would be delivered to David's apartment. Somebody better tell these guys that biblical allegory works much better when it's SUBTLE.
Fire Princess
7. Fire Princess
I completely agree with Sandikal- Subtlety is their friend here, I hope they realize that! I love that they've lifted the story out of all other contexts and that frees them up quite a bit, but they need to take advantage of that.

I re-watched it just now, after reading these reviews, and while I did get a bit tired of the 'butterfly crown' story, wondered if it wasn't a nice contrast to David's actions. All King Silas has left is this story, David has/ will have his accomplishments.

I'm intrigued and will probably watch a few more episodes, allowing them some wiggle room to get off the ground and hoping for some really good results.

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