Those familiar with fantasy novels (I’m not, but some of my dork friends are. I kid, I kid) know a huge aspect of a fantasy series is the writer’s challenge to develop and establish a whole new world. In fact, one of my buddies recently told me the mission of fantasy authors is to spend the first couple of chapters (sometimes a whole book) “focusing on creating this new world, establishing the rules, introducing the major conflict and giving the protagonist one minor victory while the big enemy seems to still have control.” This same formula applies to movies like Star Wars and The Matrix.
Interestingly, this type of fantasy doesn’t often appear in major television productions. More importantly, very few producers or writers take the time, have the inclination, or possess the creativity to start from scratch and create a whole new universe for the characters. This could be for different reasons; most prominent being:
1. It is tons of work
2. Most often the theme and plot can be conveyed in a much simpler, real world way
3. Many viewers do not have the time, the inclination or creative mind to invest in a whole universe.
TV viewers are a fickle bunch. With so much programming out there, television shows need to hook and hold immediately for fear of said viewers channel changing to good old, reliable CSI: Scranton or Two and a Half Men. Most shows don’t have the luxury of spending the first few episodes establishing a new world while holding out hope the audience gets it, likes it, and wants to come back.
Take Firefly for instance. Joss Whedon’s cult classic was so brutally mismanaged in its debut that Fox didn’t even show the pilot first to the viewers. The execs didn’t think the first episode was “pilot worthy” even though two hours are spent developing back-story and rules for the show’s Wild West/ futuristic world. Viewers needed an introduction, but Fox skipped it, went instead to episode two and viewers thought, “What the f#$% is going on here?” Eventually the show was scrapped and fans were left without the chance to see what could have been a well developed and epic television show. Whedon was like that fantasy author who needed time to develop his world in order to really go places.
On Sunday, NBC releases the much anticipated (by me), Kings. Kings takes place in, what I presume to be, an alternate version of Earth where a monarchy rules the country of Gilboa. The show centers on the King, his son and a new young general in this monarchy. I think this premise is somewhat risky in that, even without any science fiction element or fantasy spin, just making a new Earth can pose problems. A new world comes with new rules, new names, new places, and new assumptions. Kings looks promising (I wouldn’t be writing about it if it didn’t) but it also looks like a show that may take some time to lock in to.
Most shows with alternate realities have their story set on an Earth with significant and pronounced differences: Buffy (vampires), Smallville (super powers), Heroes (ditto). These shows have wrinkles woven into the fabric of a world we already know. The adjustment as viewers is minimal because we already understand the rest of the world. Other programs like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly, have heavy science fiction elements with many different worlds but are confined predominantly to spaceships where the flood of new information is generally controlled and dispensed at a rate viewers can easily digest. Spaceship fiction, as I will call it, doesn’t overwhelm you with as much new information. The writers can slowly and methodically develop worlds, alliances, and creatures because they do not, and will not, appear all at once.
Not so with Kings, as we are immediately put into the lives of those living in Gilboa and come to learn of their feud with Gath. (I agree these names are terrible). This is ambitious, intimidating and exciting. I want to watch because it presumes to take risks other shows have avoided. We need patience with programs like this and must remember the first show is an introduction. We are seeing a new world and need to remember to learn before judging.
Do You Plan On Giving Kings A Chance?