March 23, 2009

TV Review: Kings

‘Kings’ is the kind of high-concept television show that might not be long for this world. Built as a religious allegory (the premise is the David story – as in versus Goliath, as in the eventual King of Israel), and heavy on symbolism, if this were on HBO and dirtied up with a healthy dose of cursing (The first episode, at least, centers on war. What’s war without swearing?), it’d probably be the next big thing. But, on basic cable – and airing at 8PM on top of it – its early fans have reason to be worried.

‘Kings’ has the feel of a post-apocalyptic movie, but where ‘Children of Men’ and the upcoming ‘The Road’ are all grain and grit, this is clean and glossy (and demanding of HD). With its setting in an unfamiliar civilization in an unspecified alternate future, the pilot reminded me quite a bit of Battlestar Galactica, but without the niche sci-fi plot that scares too many people away. Before we dive into it, can we just discuss how much the actor playing David looks like Rolfe from ‘The Sound of Music’?

Okay. About the actual show. There’s a King (Deadwood’s Ian McShane, keeping his brogue contained for the most part), who was called upon to lead the people of a nation called Shiloh. This country has been in existence for about 50 years, and has been at war the whole time. There’s an entire generation of children who lost their fathers during the “liberation” war, who have now grown to fight a new war against their enemy to the North, Gath. David was one of these fatherless children. In a move of questionable heroics, he breaks with military protocol to rescue 2 kidnapped soldiers. One of the men he saves happens to be the son of the King. The King is now eternally grateful to David, brings him to the capital city, and seeing some kind of potential in him (As a future leader? Or as a convenient puppet?) makes him military liaison to the press.

The big reveal at the end of the pilot is that, with the move that got him this new position of power, David wasn’t actually standing up to the tanks, but surrendering. “I wasn’t being brave,” he confesses to his brother. “So be brave now,” his brother advises him with his dying breath. And so David decides to stay in the city, and take on this new leadership role, under a possibly corrupt, possibly decent, possibly about-to-be-ousted King. And we have a new television show to add to the viewing schedule.

As with any royal family, there’s a host of intrigue behind the scenes that could keep the show going for years. In the first 2 hours alone, we find out that the King has a second family hidden away in the country (yes, the reveal scene was very ‘Mad Men’) and that he only married the Queen to gain access to her brother’s company’s money, which is essentially financing the entire country. Oh, also that the King is disgusted by his son the heir’s after hours sexual liasons (“If you were my second born son, I wouldn’t care”) and that David’s in love with the king’s daughter. And there’s a preacher who I really haven’t figured out yet.

I’m hesitant to issue a Twix bar rating, since I’ve only seen one episode (aka: Don’t hold me accountable if the next 5 episodes wind up sucking), so consider this a conditional 7.5. The 2-part pilot is available for free download on iTunes, and you can stream the first three episodes on, so check it out and let me know what you think. Here's a summary trailer for the season: