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Television is packed with ambitious series right now, from the successful-- Lost, Heroes-- to the swiftly canceled-- Journeyman, Eli Stone, and countless others. Where Kings will fit in will probably depend more on the courage of the network than the viewers. It's a show tailor-made for a cult audience, with a deep mythology behind it and a plethora of Biblical references bound to be teased out by devoted fans looking for a plot clues. Then again, casual viewers will be perplexed again and again by this modern-day kingdom and its countless strange rules and customs.
The first three episodes, including a two-hour pilot, offer a ton to chew over, and viewers with the patience and the stamina to get through the ponderous pilot will be rewarded by this dense and intelligent show. Filmed in New York City but set in the fictional city of Shlioh, country of Gilboa, Kings is a sweeping saga centered around King Silas (Ian McShane), who built the country from ruins during a war with neighboring Gath, and has become a beloved ruler thanks to a flair for theatricality and a ruthless control over both his subordinates and his own family. Queen Rose (Susanna Thompson) is equally fearless, though unaware of Silas's secret life. Prince Jack (Sebastian Stan) has secrets of his own, namely his homosexuality, while Princess Michelle (Alison Miller) is a high-minded health care crusader.
The show is based on the Biblical story of David, so obviously the kingdom is shook up when a young soldier named David Shepherd (Christopher Egan) rescues Jack from behind enemy lines, and is photographed standing up against a tank in the process. The tank is called Goliath, in case you're still behind on the reference. The striking image ends the ongoing war with Gath immediately, and farm boy David is whisked away to a series of parties and press conferences in Shiloh. By the end of the pilot he has been commissioned as the military's official spokesperson, despite Silas's suspicions that David is a potential usurper of the throne. If you've read the Bible, you know Silas will probably be proven right.
Despite a lot of scenes set in a big royal conference room, and the threat from the Queen's brother and the country's biggest businessman (Dylan Baker) to keep the war going indefinitely, most of the drama on Kings is of the interpersonal kind. David has eyes for Michelle, Jack is jealous of David's popularity, Silas is constantly tormented by the responsibilities of his power, and on slow-burn is a growing rivalry between Silas and David that neither is capable of recognizing outright.
The religious aspects of the show will probably be the most difficult for audiences to follow, given how unfamiliar we Americans are with the notion of a monarchy rules by a king who speaks directly to God. Eamonn Walker represents the church as Reverend Samuels, and despite his constant assertions of what God is or is not thinking, it's really unclear in the first three episodes just what these people believe God is capable of. In fact, a lot of the details are fuzzy, and I found myself wishing that the first three episodes focused less on David and Michelle's flirting and more on the nuts and bolts of how this strange city actually came to exist.
But then again, there was nearly an entire season of Lost before we got into the nitty-gritty, and Kings has provided us with fascinating characters to follow as we're drawn deeper into their world. I don't think you can read the Bible chapters to find out what happens next, since creator Michael Green seems to be using the book of Kings for inspiration rather than adaptation. But I'm looking forward to what the series does next, to see how it balances its religious mysticism and hard-nosed political drama, and if it can convince audiences that a heady dive into this complex world is worth their time on a Sunday night. There's still a few things Kings seems to be lacking, but for the most part, I'm sold.