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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2008-2009 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot - or in this new post-strike/straight-to-series world, reading the pilot script. We'll start with the ones that were actually filmed and move on to the others in the coming weeks.
With that in mind, it's even more important to remember that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. Plus: as an added bonus, we've got a backlog of passed over pilots - some from this season, some from last season - we'll be tackling as well. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[EDITOR'S NOTE: To read our review of the final product, click here.]
(written by Michael Green; 70 pages)
The network's description: ""Kings" is an inspiring exploration of the timeless David vs. Goliath struggle. The show is set in a modern metropolis under siege where the fighting has gone on for too long and cost far too many lives. When David Shepherd (Christopher Egan, "Resident Evil: Extinction"), a brave young soldier, rescues the king's (Golden Globe winner Ian McShane, "Deadwood") son from enemy territory, he sets events in motion that will finally bring peace. Suddenly, David is thrust into the limelight, earning the affections of women -- including the king's daughter. When he's promoted to captain, he becomes the reluctant poster boy for hope. But for David, the line between his allies and enemies will blur as the power players in the kingdom go to great lengths to see him fall. From the director (Francis Lawrence) of the blockbuster movie "I Am Legend" comes the ultimate story of David vs. Goliath, and there's no telling who will win. Sebastian Stan ("Gossip Girl") also stars. "Kings" is a production of Universal Media Studios; Michael Green (NBC's "Heroes") is the executive producer. Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend") is the director and executive producer and Erwin Stoff ("I Am Legend") also is executive producer."
What did they leave out: The first episode is dubbed simply "Goliath."
The plot in a nutshell: David Shepherd (Christopher Egan) is "young enough he's still called 'kid' by men of substance, old enough that it's wrong when they do." Above anything else though, he's a soldier in the war against Gath. Currently stationed on the Northern Border of Gilboa, his platoon - which includes his brother Eli, a Lance Corporal, and best friend Nathan - is about to be overrun by the monstrous Goliaths, legendary armed tanks used by the Gath. It seems they've turned down yet another cease fire ("They just want our oil. Then they can buy our way of life," says David.) and have just taken the 127th hostage, a platoon secretly home to the King's son. News of said events has just reached the capital city of Shiloh, where King Silas Benjamin (Ian McShane) is crushed to learn there's nothing he can do - the Gath don't negotiate. Back at camp, David and company are told no rescue attempt will be mounted as taking on the Goliaths is a death sentence. David however refuses to leave any of his brethren behind (court martial be damned!) and sets off on his own rescue mission. What follows is the stuff of legend - David impossibly manages to sneak into the Gath camp, rescue one of the wounded and single-handedly take on a Goliath tank (thanks to a Javelin - a handheld missile launcher - and a grenade taped to a wrench). Even more stunning - the wounded man turns out to be none other than Jack Benjamin, the King's son. Now dubbed a national hero (an iconic photo of the event is described in the script as "part Ruben's 'David Slaying Goliath,' part Tiananmen Square"), David is invited by the King to the royal home in Shiloh where a banquet is being thrown in his honor.
There we meet the rest of the King's court, most importantly Queen Rose Benjamin (Susanna Thompson), the King's headstrong wife who's obsessed with finding her missing Blackberry that's full of state secrets; Princess Michelle Benjamin (Allison Miller), their rabble-rousing daughter who's trying to get citizens better health care; Thomasina, the family handler who cleans up the Prince's messes; General Linus Abner, the protective head of the military and Silas's right hand; Reverend Hanson Samuels, an influential religious figure ("a prophet if you believed in such things") at odds with Silas; and William Cross, the Queen's brother and an industry magnate whose company CrossGen is helping foot the bill for the war. It's also where we learn a little more about the politics of this strange land - the war is taking its toll on the economy, the people are demanding decisive action and rumors are swirling Jack was responsible for his platoon getting ambushed. For David though, he's just a mechanic's son thrust into the world's stage. It's an attitude that impresses Silas, not to mention Michelle (with whom he shares a memorable dance). And so David is rewarded for his good deeds - a promotion to Captain and a new role as Military Liaison to the Press Corps. Among his first acts - dispelling the aforementioned rumors and giving word that troops have advanced across the Neutral Zone into Gath territory. It's a tactic that surprisingly works as the Gath offer up their own ceasefire. Peace at last... but for how long? Our story is just beginning as new battle lines are being drawn.
What works: Ambitious doesn't seem to do it justice. By far the thickest read I've experienced in a while, "Kings" proposes a world that's a mix of our 2008 and our times past, or as Green's script puts it (describing Silas's court), "We begin to understand that this is hardly Washington... or even a shareholder meeting. This is something else entirely." The King wears a tailored business suit... and sits in front of a mural of a jeweled crown; soldiers carry rifles, smoke cigarettes, play PSPs... and wear heavy body armor; and Shiloh looks like Lower Manhattan... with a touch of Renaissance Revival fare. It's an interesting mix...
What doesn't: ...one that's a little difficult to put my finger on from the script alone. Far too many basic questions are left unanswered for my taste - from what to call David's people (the Gilboans maybe?) to how they fit into the world as a whole (Slias only mentions that "we're a small nation under attack") to who exactly the Gath are (they might as well be alien invaders from space based on what little we're told here) to any sense of place or time (an alternate version of 2008 America I guess?). All we're told is that a young Silas - inspired by an experience in which a swarm of butterflies (the kingdom's seal, flag, etc.) formed a crown on his head - helped unite a bunch of nearby territories under his crown during something called the "Unification War."
The only analogy I can come up with is it's kind of like watching a show in a foreign language - you kind of get what's going on but it would be nice to know what to call everything and know how it's all related. Because of this it's even harder to get a handle on the show's larger mythology questions (the King apparently has an illegitimate child, William has his own agenda for the war, etc.), leading to several head-scratching moments. It's frustrating because the character dynamics definitely click - whether it be Silas as the proud father with a flair for the pomp and circumstance that comes with being King, David as the slightly self-deprecating do-gooder whose steadfast morality conflicts with the gray of politics, Michelle as the glass menagerie turned firebrand or Jack's struggle to win his father's love after being shunned because of his sexual orientation - as do its themes about how myths are created, the power they hold and what they mean to people. In the end though, we're never really given an adequate compass to help understand the show. I want to like it. I probably will like the finished product but for now, as is,...
The bottom line: ...I'm just confused.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: To read our review of the final product, click here.]