Is anybody else out there watching Kings?
After an abortive stab at latching on to the television viewer’s consciousness in the spring, NBC declined to pick up the show and moved its remaining episodes into the graveyard of summer saturdays. The move bummed me out because I think the show is all kinds of awesome.
It’s a retelling of the Book of Kings from the Bible, set in a kind of modern day alternate reality. In the pilot episode a young farmboy-turned-soldier named David singlehandedly destroys a Goliath tank, rescuing the King’s son and setting off a chain of events that insinuates him with the royal family. I have a soft spot for anything that remixes, re-imagines, and updates a familiar story in a novel setting. MacBeth as a gangland crime saga or a dark comedy set in a fast food burger joint? I’m in. Emma, as experienced by high-fashion Beverly Hills teenager? Yes, please. I’ll even see a version of Othello that takes place on basketball team. I’m not sure why, but any kind of alternate take on a familiar story intrigues me. I once unsuccessfully tried to write a screenplay that was The Tempest set on a strange planet before losing interest the way I always do.
But even if Kings didn’t have its biblical pedigree, the show would still rock. Perennial badass and Deadwood alumni Ian McShane stars as the current King and serves up his usual dose of awesomeness. The dialogue is an odd mixture of modern-sounding plain English mixed with a grandiose and poetic style, tinged with just a hint of faux-King James Shakespearian flourish.
The rest of the cast does an able job, even the slightly bland lead who plays David but this was the kind of dialogue McShane was born to deliver. The plot is grand and sweeping, with royal intrigues taking place alongside romantic subplots bolstered with the occasional action scene. The cinematography and set design are top-notch. Every shot is both beautiful and lived in.
The alternate history of the world of Kings is doled out slowly. It is a modern world with skyscrapers, cell phones, tanks, and television. Most of the action takes place in Shiloh, the capital city of Gilboa and obvious stand in for New York. It is the power base for King Silas, from which he plans his war with a neighboring country called Gath. Silas is a King, and rules by divine right although he has an array of ministers and advisors to help him keep public opinion up. There is an element of the supernatural at work, as God apparently takes an active hand in affairs of state, usually by sending dreams and omens. Its understated and highlights the source material even as it adds a dimension of grand fate to the story. And I am no theologian, so many of the biblical allusions go over my head but the show still works even without them.
The characters are engaging, from the Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern like palace guards who comment on the action around them to the semi-creepy industrialist borther-in-law who makes life hard for King Silas every background character is well-drawn. The leads are pitch-perfect. Silas is conflicted but assured, while the potential upstart David is innocent, but not too innocent. He gets in a tabloid sex scandal at one point. The King’s son Jack is a closeted and power-hungry villain, while the Queen is both mysterious and capable. Dimensions, people.
But it all adds up to naught because I seem to be the only person in America who even knows this show exists. When the show first premiered people stayed away in droves and it seemed to exist just under the radar of the zeitgeist. That’s a shame. I haven’t really been upset at the loss of a show since the underappreciated Carnivale went off the air. For the last few years, the shows such as Heroes and Lost that I have liked have stuck around and I have been indifferent at best to shows like the Sarah Connor Chronicles and Journeyman that have been canceled. But Kings was different. While I am enjoying the remaining episodes, I do so with a certain melancholy, intensified by the reality show dross that encrusts our television screens while great scripted dramas go ignored. Plotlines will dangle for all time, and I will never get resolution to any of the stories. It’s no fate for a King.