"War, it asks the heart to freeze at room temperature." -- Silas in Kings
I was really looking forward to NBC's new show, Kings. It has an interesting premise that caught my attention -- a retelling of the biblical tale of young David's heroic journey to the throne of Israel.
The show sets the saga in an alternate reality of our world. Instead of King Saul, we have the brilliant Ian McShane as King Silas. I've been a McShane fan since the first time I saw him in the role of Judas Iscariot in Jesus of Nazareth. And who could forget his incredible performance in Deadwood? He does a fine job in Kings too, but unfortunately, the drama itself doesn't live up to his talent.
There are many flaws in Kings, but the saddest thing is the missed opportunities. This could have been a powerful, groundbreaking series. Instead, it comes across as a mediocre program that never lives up to its potential and never comes close to matching the source material that inspired it.
So what's wrong with Kings? I can't blame the cast. They're solid. I already mentioned McShane who commands every scene he's in. Even Christopher Egan, who plays David, is pretty good in my opinion. (Although I was perplexed at the opening credit that proclaimed "Introducing Christopher Egan." Introducing? I guess he and the producers want audiences to forget his previous work: Home and Away, Eragon, Resident Evil: Extinction. If only we could.)
The culprit for the show's mediocrity is the writing. David's speech on the battlefield is almost embarrassing, and even the great Ian McShane seems to have difficulty at times delivering some of his overwritten lines with believability (and that's coming from me, the self-proclaimed king of overwriting!)
The writers set up an alternate world, but fail to be bold enough to flesh it out. Sometimes I feel like it's equivalent to our present, other times I feel like it's set in a future reality, and still other times it feels almost anachronistic, as if the characters are trapped in the past. I have no problem with reinterpretting Shakespearean or biblical epics in timeless settings, but be consistent.
The writers parallel the basic storyline of David's rise from a shepherd boy to a national hero and potentially the future leader of the kingdom. But they don't explore the rich complexities of that classic story, instead falling into bland and stereotypical plot devices that I've seen countless times before.
Allison Miller, for example, seems to be a talented young actress who is wasted in the role of Michelle Benjamin, the daughter of the king who lobbies for causes that conflict with his policies and who becomes the show's predictable star-crossed love interest. Eamonn Walker, another good actor, is also mostly unused as the Reverend Samuels (based on the prophet Samuel).
I know that saying "here's how I would have done it" is a lame form of criticism, but in this case I think I need to mention the missed opportunities.
Ian McShane is without a doubt the star of the show. His backstory should have been fleshed out. It would have been far more interesting to reveal the details of how he became king. (Sorry, but the butterflies parable wasn't enough for me). It would have been more fulfilling to show the circumstances of how power changed him and led to the tension with Reverend Samuels, instead of beginning the series at the point they did. The biblical story of Saul (and the story of Samuel becoming a prophet who feels a divine calling to bring his nation a new king) is full of potential, making David's entry into the tale all the more meaningful.
I've heard others say that this would have made a good mini-series instead of an on-going series. I agree and take the criticism a bit further. I think Kings should have started as a mini-series about Silas and Samuels, concluding with David's climactic battle against Goliath. Then there could have been a follow-up mini-series about David's trials as king, from his romantic dalliances to his heartbreak as his sons challenged his authority. Another miniseries could have followed if the first two proved successful with the story of David's son, King Solomon.
The writers don't need to be bound too literally to the text of the Books of Kings in the bible, but if those stories inspired them, then they should use them more fully. Instead, they abandon subtlety with character names like "David Shepherd" and resort to making the formidable Goliath an average-looking tank.
This could have been so much more. But I'll continue tuning in for a while at least, in the hope that some of that potential might be reached. With Macaulay Culkin scheduled to guest star in an upcoming episode, surely great things are in store for Kings? Forgive my sarcasm and disappointment.