Kings: Goliath (series premiere)
by Danny Gallagher, posted Mar 15th 2009 10:34PM
(S01E01) - "We give up what we want when we want power."
The two-part premiere of NBC's new political morality drama Kings kicks off in ways you would expect.
It's not just a political soap opera. It's a war epic. It's a family drama. It's a historical fantasy, even though such a thing sounds completely improbable. At times, it's even a comedy. All of these genres get their chance to shine in the show's first episode, "Goliath," and not all of them work, but they make for an interesting mix of television conventions.
King Silas Benjamin, played by the perfectly cast Ian McShane, speaks to the people of Gilboa on the inauguration of their rebuilt capital city Shiloh that he oversees in a golden high rise building that would look gaudy and over-the-top on the campus of Oral Roberts University. He tells them of the many blessings God has bestowed on him and his people, and the "crown of butterflies" speech, a speech that the exposition tells us has become the viseral equivalent of the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" speech to his family, but has become the cornerstone of his rule.
Of course, not everything is all roses and cherries. Gilboa has been trapped in a costly war with the neighboring land of Gath, and Silas finds himself as the flag in a tug-of-war between his gung-ho military allies led by corporate enforcer William Cross, played by Dylan Baker, who urges him to get medieval and fast, and cautious retractors, the chief voice of whom is Silas' spiritual advisor Rev. Samuels, played by Oz's Eammon Walker.
Baker becomes the King's corporate loanshark as he strives for peace and steals the show as the series' chief villain. His company fronts the nation's treasury and knows all of Silas' secrets, including the mistress and illegitimate son he hides away in a modest country home outside of Shiloh. He has had plenty of practice as the evil white guy in a $300 suit in movies like The Matador and The Hunting Party. Here, however, the level of douchebaggery his war mongering character exudes is almost visceral.
Despite its heavy overtones and thick political layers, the script does have brief and fleeting moments of wit and charm. The jokes mainly come down to two Laurel and Hardy-esque royal guards who should get some heavier screen time in future, less serious episodes, and the beleaguered king who, at heart, is still just a man in search of a comfortable pair of shoes and a chair that doesn't turn his spine into a pretzel.
Hostages are taken and Silas, initially refusing to give in to demands for their safe return, is forced to make an even tougher decision when his son, a "Paris Hilton with a penis" heir named Jack and played by Sebastian Stan, is one of the bargaining chips. Enter David Shepherd, played by Christopher Egan, a Midwestern-esque country boy who leaves his family days as an armchair mechanic with his older brother to join the war effort on the front lines. When word gets out about the hostages, he disobeys orders and mounts a rescue effort to get their boys back "all on a hunch" without knowing that one of them is the son of the most powerful man in the land. After defeating the almost impenetrable tank nicknamed "Goliath" (David, Goliath, get it?) and bringing Jack and his only remaining squad member back alive, the King turns the young soldier into his nation's newest hero and throws him everything but his own crown in his honor.
Egan does his best when he's the "aw, shucks" shy boy who doesn't know how to enjoy the hand that life has dealt him, but his heavy moments feel just that. David is supposed to be the moral rock of this story, the soldier who is hopeless devoted to his country and his troops no matter what corruption he witnesses or wrongdoing he sees. His heavier moments feel more melodramatic than genuine as he develops a flame for Silas' do-gooder daughter Michelle, played by Allison Miller, and reluctantly solidifies his hero status while trying to do the good thing in the face of overwhelming death and tragedy.
Still, he's a necessary and pivotal character in this "David and Goliath" parallelogram, even if he sometimes shifts the show's shape into an uneven trapezoid, but the entire script doesn't fall on his shoulders. It's one of many smart moves in the story, written by its creator Michael Green. It's an eclectic blend of scheming and political maneuvering that's full of hard curves that digs its tires into the road with every twist and occasionally loses a little friction along the way.
It may take a couple of tries for the show to land its mark, but it eventually hits its goal right between the eyes.