[02/12/09 - 07:17 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Kings" (NBC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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The network's description: "From executive producer Michael Green (NBC's "Heroes") comes a riveting new drama about a modern day monarchy. "Kings" is a contemporary re-telling of the timeless tale of David and Goliath. This series is an epic story of greed and power, war and romance, forbidden loves and secret alliances -- and a young hero who rises to power in a modern-day kingdom. King Silas Benjamin (Ian McShane, "Deadwood") is the well-entrenched king of Gilboa, whose flag bears a divine butterfly symbol. Gilboa has its capital in Shiloh, a clean new city that is unspoiled by time or litter. Silas must deal with the tensions rising between Gilboa and neighboring nation Gath. When several prisoners of war are taken, a young soldier, David Shepard (Chris Egan, "Eragon"), defies orders and crosses enemy lines to save them. Unknown to David, the soldier he saves is Jack Benjamin (Sebastian Stan, "The Covenant"), the son of the king. From that day forth, David's life will never be the same. Susanna Thompson ("Once & Again") plays Queen Rose Benjamin, a distant, yet supportive wife. Allison Miller ("Lucy's Piano") stars as King Silas' beautiful, intelligent and outspoken daughter, Michelle. General Linus Abner (Wes Studi, "Comanche Moon," "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee"), Reverend Ephram Samuels (Eamonn Walker, "Oz") and William Cross, Silas' brother-in-law (Dylan Baker, "Spiderman 2"), try to influence King Silas. From Universal Media Studios, "Kings" is executive-produced by Green, Erwin Stoff ("I Am Legend") and Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend"), who also directed the pilot."

What did they leave out? The subsequent installments (the show's March 22 and March 29 installments, "Prosperity" and "First Night," were also provided for review) put a human face on Gath (in the form of Mark Margolis and Miguel Ferrer) as well as introduce Brian Cox as a mad king whom Silas dethroned - but still keeps tucked away in a secret dungeon.

The plot in a nutshell: We covered the heavy lifting in our original script review, but here's the highlights: small town mechanic-turned-soldier David Shepard (Chris Egan) finds himself at the crossroads of history after his fearless rescue of King Silas's son Jack (Sebastian Stan) inspires the nation of Gilboa in their war against the Gath. Newly promoted by King Silas (Ian McShane) to Military Liaison to the Press Corps, David is thrust into the world of celebrity and political intrigue in the capital city of Shiloh. There he catches the eye of Michelle (Allison Miller), the king's firebrand daughter, and finds a friend in Reverend Samuels (Eamonn Walker), whose alliance with the King is wearing thin. The rest of the King's court aren't as forthcoming, whether it be Jack, who's secretly jealous of him; Queen Rose (Susanna Thompson), who thinks he's beneath Michelle's standing; or General Abner (Wes Studi), who's skeptical of him. But David has bigger problems - both seen (a ceasefire with the Gath may be short-lived) and unseen (William Cross, Rose's brother, has a different agenda for the kingdom). It's a world of Shakespearean scheming, Elizabethan majesty and lots and lots of butterflies.

What works: "Kings" is ultimately a show you're either going to dismiss as silly and pretentious or fall in love with because of its silliness and pretentiousness. I find myself in the latter category because I'm always a sucker for swing-for-fences serialized shows like this, especially when it looks (more on this in a second) and feels unlike anything on television right now. Green and Lawrence - who wrote and directed, respectively, each of the first four hours - have put a unique stamp on the show, whether it be small but revealing character beats (Reverend Samuels stops to tilt an oil painting of Silas just to screw with him) or a visual flair that's usually reserved for the big screen. I was originally apprehensive about the pilot script due to its somewhat ill defined timeframe (what year is it?), locale (where exactly is Gilboa?) and technology (monstrous tanks?) and while the finished product doesn't firmly answer any of these questions, it does end up fitting together in a "just go with it" kind of way (in short: it's 2009 New York City if it were its own country with a royal family).

For all its pomp and circumstance, the real draw turns out to be Ian McShane's Silas and Susanna Thompson's Rose, both of whom are given far more to do than I originally expected. McShane gets to do everything from make breakfast for his family like a proud patriarch to hold a knife to his scheming brother-in-law's throat (Al Swearengen fans rejoice!), unleash a frightening tirade against Jack about his disappointment about him being gay to reveal a tender side when he's on the lam from his royal duties. Thompson likewise gets to be a politics-is-for-the-men wife and a doting mother but also a general of party planning and a true architect of the royal family.

What doesn't: I'm less enthralled by Chris Egan's David as he essentially "Forrest Gump"s his way through history so to speak, all based on his I-can-fix-cars-but-I-also-love-classical-music-quasi-Midwestern ways. Multiple times the show bends over backwards to create a scenario where David "just happens" to show up in time to fix things - not due to any particular skill set, but because he's just a nice, regular guy. That's not to say he's not an interesting character, his actions just feel a little pat. The show also has a tendency to blindly turn over plot cards - the Gath and Gilboa are at peace... oh by the way William wants to continue to war because it's good for business; William pulls the gold from Silas's treasury to teach him a lesson... oh by the way Silas knows where to find a new stash of gold - without giving us a peek at the deck. It's one thing to surprise us, it's another to paint yourself into a corner and then casually mention there's a whole other part of the house you can still paint.

Again, it's not that these aren't interesting developments - the latter in particular opens up some neat avenues (more Brian Cox is always a good thing) - it just feels a little, well... pat at times. Characters also flip attitudes without hesitation (I lost count the number of times Silas switched from wanting to kill David to being impressed by him) while some visually indulgent sequences (most of which involve butterflies, slow motion or a combination of both) can be a little much. Like I said, you're probably either going to roll your eyes at all of this or think it's pretty darn cool. At the end of the day, Green, Lawrence and company have posited a distinct universe filled with colorful characters - there's even two chatty palace attendants (Jason Antoon, Joel Garland) for comic relief! - and a grandiose sense of storytelling. Like it or hate it...

The bottom line: ...it's definitely a show you'll remember.

  [february 2009]  


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