After watching the first four hours of Kings (two-hour series premiere Sunday, 8 pm/ET), NBC's intriguing new drama from Michael Green (formerly of Heroes), I'm encouraged, but not yet enthralled.
What if present-day New York City was governed by a monarchy? That's essentially the premise of the show, a dense political drama set in the fictional — but awfully familiar-looking — kingdom of Gilboa. It's also a modernization of the Biblical story of David and Goliath: David is Pvt. David Shepherd (Australian actor Chris Egan), an ordinary soldier who rescues Crown Prince Jack (Gossip Girl's Sebastian Stan) from capture during a war with a neighboring country called Gath.
"Goliath," in this version of the story, is a gigantic enemy tank, which David naturally smites. But it's quickly established that David's real adversary is perhaps King Silas Benjamin (the inimitable Ian McShane, who practically invented blustery on Deadwood), who offers the young soldier half his kingdom for saving his son's life. David turns down his money, but accepts a promotion to captain, where he'll work as the military liaison to the royal press office. He's also attempting to improve royal relations with the king's daughter, Michelle (Allison Miller), a clear-eyed beauty who lobbies her father valiantly for healthcare reform in the kingdom.
As such, King Silas can't decide whether to exploit David to his full P.R. advantage or have him killed as his popularity threatens to eclipse the monarch. McShane plays this indecision with great relish; as of yet, it's unclear with whom our loyalties should lie. The king's fear is rendered in unsubtle symbolism when a crown of monarch butterflies encircles David's head, echoing a story the king had previously told about how he knows that God wants him to lead. The king's piety is a recurring theme, punctuated by a variety of ethical sidebars he has with the Rev. Ephram Samuels (Oz's Eamonn Walker), who fills his head with dubious ideas about duty and honor.
But it's not all war and peace. While Kings boasts sophisticated narratives not unlike, say, The Sopranos, it also has the potential to be a soapier, guiltier pleasure with, dare I say, a lighter side. The prince has a juicy secret about how — and with whom — he spends his late-night hours. The queen tolerates the king's many infidelities, but also leaks them to the press. Her treacherous brother, the finance minister, thinks nothing of emptying the royal bank accounts to protest the end of a war, effectively staging a coup d'etat. There's also Silas' deposed predecessor (Brian Cox), who acts as an amusing Greek chorus in his lonely prison.
It's unclear who will watch Kings; it's not an easy sell, but I encourage you to tune in, see how it develops. With a talented troupe of actors and several engaging narratives, it's fit for a king.
Will you be watching?
Watch clips of Kings in our Online Video Guide.