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Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Kings" Review: All Hail King Ian McShane

In all the time I’ve been doing this, I don’t remember ever having to consult my Bible before writing a review.

But that’s exactly what I had to do after watching “Kings.” That’s because it’s a contemporary twist on the story of David and King Saul.

In First and Second Samuel, we read about Israel’s first king, Saul, who was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel. But as time goes on, Saul falls out of favor with God and God has Samuel anoint Saul’s future successor—a young shepherd boy named David. But in the meantime, David actually finds favor with Saul. And then David gains favor with the entire country when he slays the Philistine giant, Goliath.

Of course, Saul ends up getting jealous and eventually tries to kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son and David’s best friend, steps in on more than one occasion to help David get away. Eventually, Saul and Jonathan both die in battle and David becomes king.

In “Kings,” Israel is now the fictional country of Gilboa. But Gilboa is a modern country, as evidenced by its capital, Shiloh, which looks just like Manhattan (mainly because it is). King Saul is King Silas Benjamin (Ian McShane) who has been chosen by God to rule. His advisor on spiritual matters is Reverend Samuels (the phenomenal Eamonn Walker) who is greatly affected by a chance encounter with a young mechanic, David Shepherd (Christopher Egan).

Two years later, David is fighting in the war against Gath. When he learns that Gath has taken hostages, he bravely decides to face the Goliath tanks and rescue the hostages—one of which turns out to be Jack Benjamin (Sebastian Stan), Silas’ son.

That act catapults David into the spotlight as Silas decides he can use him in his court. David also catches the eye of Silas’ daughter, Michelle (Allison Miller). But Jack harbors nothing but jealousy and resentment for David—especially when his father gives David a promotion.

But problems for both David and Silas arise when Silas is forced to choose between what’s best for his people and what’s best for his supporters—namely his powerful brother-in-law William (the wonderful Dylan Baker).

And when Silas starts making the wrong choices, he may lose the favor of his most important supporter—God.

I admit that the very first time I heard the concept of the show, I snickered a little bit—okay, a lot. I couldn’t believe that NBC was going down this road. But something happened on the way to me writing a snarky review…

I fell for the show.

Now there’s no doubt that the pilot is a little uneven (The slightly off direction doesn’t really help.) as the show tries to balance its contemporary sensibilities with its inspiration. When the balance tips the wrong way, the dialogue can get a little verbose. But when it tips the right way, we get a real honest to goodness primetime soap opera. And you all know how much I love those…

Having seen the first three episodes, I can tell you that more often than not the balance tips in the right way as Silas continues to make more tough choices as he tries to do what’s best for his country and what’s best for his relationship with God.

As good as newcomer Christopher Egan is—and he is good—the real reason to watch this show is for Silas, played to the hilt by Ian McShane. McShane was born to play royalty as he gives just the right air of authority and arrogance necessary to be a king.

The only person who can come close to stealing a scene from McShane is Eamonn Walker, whose performance only makes me want to cry some more about the way too early cancellation of “Justice.” Walker is perfectly cast as Reverend Samuels as he plays both spiritual and foreboding beautifully.

And I have been a big fan of Dylan Baker since “Murder One,” so it’s great to see him in such a smarmy—and important—role.

The further the show gets away from its Biblical inspiration to come up with its own story, the better it is. And with such a rich cast of characters, there’s really no stopping where it could go.

And isn’t that what a good soap opera is all about?

“Kings” premieres Sunday, March 15th at 8 p.m. on NBC…

Photo Credits: Andrew Eccles/NBC & Eric Leibowitz/NBC