Kings -- An early look
by Danny Gallagher, posted Mar 13th 2009 9:01AM
My television has missed Ian McShane since Deadwood went buh-bye. His cunning and devious but seemingly moralistic portrayal of Al Swearengen made for a great complex character who could be a villian or an angel, depending on the situation and how evil you are.
He's born to play gruff badasses with gravely voices and icy cold stares that could land a bruise without him lifting a finger. That complex character has returned in McShane's new utopian morality drama Kings, much more toned down, of course.
After all, this is NBC, network television. They have enough money troubles without having the FCC breathing down their neck.
McShane plays King Silas Benjamin, the monarch (that explains all the butterflies) of the fictional kingdom of Shiloh located in a computerized New York City. His kingdom is at war with the kingdom of Gath where a young David Shepard, played by Christopher Egan, saves the king's unambitious son Jack, played by Sebastian Stan, who is held hostage behind enemy lines. Footage of David standing up to an almost indestructible "Goliath" tank turns him into the new Jessica Lynch.
David, a corn-fed good ol' boy from the sticks, doesn't know how to enjoy his new found fame and fortune or maybe he just doesn't want to after meeting and falling for the King's charming princess Michelle, played by Allison Miller. Either way, King Silas sees the inspiration David provides to his people even in the depression of war, and keeps him on as a military spokesman that helps keep his star shining in the slowly-scrutinizing spotlight.
It's a warped Biblical mirror of the story of David mixed in with some Shakespearian epic and political deviousness, which is redundant. There are power grabs, attempts to undermine and overthrow on every level and sometimes by any means necessary. There are struggles to maintain family unity in the face of diplomacy and private affairs. The plots use every facet of modern politics, family, global warfare and even the tabloid media to turn the stories left and right in ways you don't expect and sometimes can't predict. It's a toned down King Lear if he had to contend with The New York Post and Perez Hilton.
NBC has made an ambitious, fun and bizarre choice with Kings in their lineup. Heroes writer Michael Green got this series in under the wire before the writers' strike started in 2007 and used the downtime to grow and ferment the idea to its fullest potential. It shows in the first three episodes. He sets up some great cliffhangers that present some fascinating problems and change characters' roles from protagonist to antagonist from episode to episode.
NBC's promotion for Kings might make it seem like a political drama about the corruption power provides and the struggle to maintain authority in the face of human foibles and temptation. It is much deeper and more complex than just a monarchic West Wing.