Last night, NBC debuted it's modern-day monarchy series, with a dash of David and Goliath, Kings. And despite a few pilot pitfalls, we're intrigued and invested in King Silas' politics. Spoilers below.
How do you convince an audience to buy into an alternate reality ruled by Kings? Simple: make it so beautiful, people will want to return to the land of Gilboa, as long as it's governed by Ian McShane.
King Silas, as played by the intimidating McShane, is the big, shining star on Kings, he alone really sold last night's pilot, with long winding speeches, devious deeds and secrets of his own. It's McShane's piercing stare paired with his charming smile that makes you almost buy into this modern day monarchy. When we meet our King, he's doing what every silver-tongued politician does, telling the people that God chose him to be their ruler, with butterflies (which he 100% believes) and then manipulating secret deals to retain his success.
Silas is the King Saul in this modern day retelling of David and Goliath, and he makes the role work, but it doesn't jump too much into the Biblical text apart from a tank named Goliath that David helps disable, for a moment. This war is with Silas' neighboring country Gath. The war between the two kingdom has been going on for years (and it's no wonder, since their military tactics are laughable — but more on that later). Bottom line: the war has killed the hope of the people, which Silas tries to restore by puppet-mastering the hero David.
The entirely too sweet, David Sheperd (Christopher Egan), is a mere foot soldier in King Silas army. After saving the King's son on the field of battle and taking down a Goliath tank he is welcomed into the royal family with open arms. The writers want you to know this fresh faced aw-shucks farmboy is a GOOD PERSON. So to prove his golden star goodness, they beat the audience over the head with one morally conscientious act after the other. I wouldn't have had a problem if they gave David a few moments of "Look how great I am," but when you parade one after the other, the righteousness becomes so thundering that it waters down the character's actions as a whole. I get it - he's from the countryside, where people do right by each other and can't lie, but the moment where he sits down and starts churning out Franz Liszt's "Un Sospiro," I wished nothing more than the ground to open up and swallow him, and his 1800s piano.
Due to moments like this, I don't think the pilot really gave us a realistic look at what's in store for David - especially when the writers force him to end the war by crying in the middle of the battlefield. But despite the parade of ridiculous acts and obvious dialogue, I found myself rooting for this impossible-to-relate-to character. There were a few glimmering moments, where I saw some promise for the boy, especially around the King's daughter.
With David and Michelle (played by Allison Miller), it's the country mouse meeting and falling in love with the city mouse... with immediate G-rated chemistry. Oh, the adventures and arguments these two cherub-cheeked kids will surely have. The Princess wants nothing more than to give poor kids hearts, literally. And David is practically Jesus, so they're a perfect match. So God willing, they'll kick this relationship up a notch at future royal family breakfasts, where city mouse shows up in last nights rumpled clothes, while her brother longingly gazes across the table, wishing for just one night with the dimple-faced country mouse.
Oh, that's right: the King's son, Jack, is gay-gay-gay-gay - but it's a secret. Well, it's not really a secret, because his Dad knows about it and is none too happy. But Gilboa is a slightly tolerant state. So the King isn't exactly pissed because his son is gay - as the show so elegantly points out, Silas is mad that the kid is gay and in line to be the ruler of Gilboa. The writers make sure to include the sentence "what God made you to be," as to soften the gay-bashing just a bit. It's odd especially when Silas tells Jack to "ice it down," thus giving me the most ridiculous image in my mind ever. So what will Jack do? Will he rise up as the one true gay leader, or continue with this late-night-partying coping mechanism? Thankfully the show doesn't try and make Jack's sexuality the biggest issue for the King's son. In fact it's one of many challenges this character faces and the actor, Sebastian Stan, juggles it all very well. He was kidnapped and disgraced by getting pulled out of the war and now the Kings new "cocker spaniel" (so nicknamed by the Queen) is taking the promotions and attention Jack so rightfully deserves. It's no wonder by the end of the episode, we find the King's spawn lending an ear to his father's enemies.
The pilot episode spends the majority of its time focusing in on Silas and his children (now including David), but I'm much more excited about all the other characters seen running around on screen. First and foremost, the Queen, who brings out a surprising performance from Susanna Thompson. She sneaks up on you as this slightly snobbish Martha Stewart-esque housewife who destroys one woman's career, with the wave of a red bra. The Queen's manipulating mannerisms are so delicately handled, if you weren't paying attention you wouldn't have realized she was pulling all the strings. With a smile and a nod, she'll end your life and you'll be laughing your way to the gallows. I'm certain the first lady is fully aware of her King's short comings and secrets, but covers them all up with grace and an icy smile. Long live this Snow Queen - I hope we will be seeing more from her.
The same for her equally manipulative brother (Dylan Baker), whose federal funding might run dry, should the King stop listening to his advice. And if Baker's character is the King's devil, then Eamonn Walker's his angel. While the gigantic Reverend talked an awful lot in the pilot, I'm more interested to see what he'll end up doing in the future.
These are the characters I will most likely tune in for again, along with Ian McShane. Together they've all got a pretty healthy set of acting chops and I just hope that newbie David can stand toe-to-toe with this cast. As of right now, his future is uncertain.
Also, Kings has to get away from the war scenes. Each moment in those trenches was just a giant explosion of terrible ideas one after the other. You'll never convince me (or the viewing public) that a military foe would keep its hostages in a tent, so close to enemy lines and unguarded. Have the writers/production team not seen a single military movie ever? David would have been shot down with in seconds during his final battlefield stand. Moments like these chipped away at all the hard work the other actors contributed to sell the legitimacy of a monarchy in a modern day society. I'm sorry I just can't focus on the next monologue when I'm trying to understand how two soldiers ended a war by hugging it out.
If you remove the nonsense taking place on the battle field you've got one beautifully shot series, with great promise from its cast. If the pilot got all of the cliche introduction plot work out of the way, then Kings could be a very intense hour of watching Ian McShane rule over the rest of weekend TV. We'll tune in for sure, if only to see whom the Queen screws over next. Oh, and never ever make a CG crown of butterflies on a characters head again, ever.