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Kings: Premiere

Kings is a new, high-budget show on NBC about a superpower (Gilboa) led by a king (Silas) who is assisted by a young farm boy (David). It’s full of biblical allusions, and is something of an allegory for modern America…well, no. It’s set in a place that’s basically the same as modern America, but this alterna-verse isn’t really saying anything groundbreaking about, y’know, the state of our nation.

And what better way to deconstruct a weird allegory than to offer a play-by-play? In the spirit of “if it’s new, I’ll review it,” I offer you two solid hours of my thoughts on this compelling show. With commercial breaks.

8:00 Okay, we’ve got a farm boy named David and a…

8:01 My goodness, a king! And it’s a king who likes God (and is liked back).

8:02 The king appears to be a good father: “You won’t be warm enough” is classic Parent Talk.

8:03 This America-imitation country is called Gilboa, and its new capital is Shiloh. Gilboa sounds Portuguese (if there’s a biblical analogue, I’m not catching it), which is interesting—it hints at a possible re-writing of the history of conquest in the New World. In other words: Take that, Spain and England!

8:05 My attention is drifting. Time to Google. According to Wikipedia, Gilboa is the mountain range where Saul battled the Philistines. In other words: I’m sorry, Spain and England. You may have your colonialism back.

8:06 Wow, in this imaginary land, touching people you’ve never met on this face is evidently a-okay. God bless real America.

8:08 Gath is Canada. It’s pronounced “gaaath,” like it’s being uttered by Robert Forester (Peter and Nathan’s dad on Heroes). It’s also an allusion to the home of Goliath, whom David slew. Here, a Goliath is a tank. And I think our farm boy might be up to something.

8:13 Is this show actually about how duct tape can save the world? Because I’m a fan of that premise.

8:16 David is rescuing the king’s son Jack. And David defeated the Goliath.

8:25 Wow, look at all those spoons.

8:26 I should email Billie and tell her how much I like the new banner on the home page.

8:27 Jack the Prince is not-so-much a prince. More of a spoiled brat. The LA Times review compared him to Chuck Bass, and I really can’t top that.

8:30 King Silas is quite the tyrant. He disregards his daughter’s petition and feels like he owes nothing to no one, as John Wayne surely said once. Will David help him learn something about himself?

8:37 Interesting…we got some back-story on this Nation of Allegory. There was a unification war less than a generation ago, and army service is not compulsory. If this series lasts a season, I’ll wonder if we’ll get a flashback episode.

8:38 David looks like he’s a fan of the king, but we know from the opening that he puts work and duty (repairing that guy’s car) ahead of admiration and star-gazing. Since that guy is the Reverend, this could be useful for David, who of course wouldn’t think of it as pragmatically “useful”—the good guys are never that plotting.

8:42 Leonard Cohen was right. David does know the secret chord that pleased the Lord. Well, the Lord’s daughter.

8:52 Commercials? I shall defeat you, Mammon of capitalism, by catching up on my Bible reading. The David and Saul story, which is pretty long by Bible standards, looks like it will indeed make for good TV. Jealousy, lust, dancing…and something going on between Jonathan (who is Prince Jack, right?) and David. The story starts at I Samuel 17, but beware of spoilers!

8:54 Ian McShane does chew the scenery, doesn’t he? Every thing he says is a declamation, even in the family kitchen. This drove me crazy about Deadwood, too.

8:59 David now has the most important position in the military. Homeboy hero made good! His role is mostly that of a figurehead, of course—he’s just supposed to read what’s on the teleprompter.

9:00 Or maybe he’s supposed to go off-script and answer in a way that, unintentionally on his part, makes the royal family look good. Sneaky. Don’t those royals know that corrupting the innocents always just gives them the ammunition they need to eventually topple those in power and usher in a glorious paradise of donuts and puppies?

9:05 David’s brother is potentially in trouble, but Gath is offering a peace treaty. I imagine any mid-season replacement has both a thirteen-episode plan and a five-year-or-so plan. Where’s this show headed? Are we supposed to hope for the end of monarchy, that evil beast so inimical to quality of life and reserved for such backwards places as Norway? Is this going to be a show about revolution?...

(9:10 Well, it’s certainly going to be a show about David and Silas’s daughter.)

9:11 …Revolution, or the actual horrors of war, seem a bit too messy for this show. It’s so glossy, and focused so specifically on the royals, that a revolution would feel distant—assuming, of course, that this tone and premise stay constant.

9:12 Is Jack gay? His dad certainly seems offended by his homosociality, if not his homosexuality. The role of young princes and kings with too many male friends who have too much fun is pretty interesting. Edward II died a brutal death. Richard II was deposed and killed. Yes, my mind wanders.

9:17 The proclamations are written in pseudo-Shakespearean archaisms on a PDA. Why?

9:18 CrossGen, which stands for the entire military-industrial complex, has a stake in war with Gath, and that evil CrossGen guy has just bribed King Silas into continuing the war for the sake of a war economy.

In an essay on the mode of allegory, Erich Auerbach notes that true allegories are always a bit unsatisfying: the story that stands for something else is filled with irrelevancies—his example is of the knight Yvain who, while on a journey, turns left. Left has no relevance for the reader. It doesn’t refer to any absolute direction the reader could relate to, like north. It’s just in there to make the point that Yvain isn’t on the right path.

This CrossGen thing feels the same way—a bloated allegory of the modern American dependence on the manufacturers of war. But it’s not an allegory that tells us anything new: the symbolism is just describing what we already know, and not very well.

9:27: “We are king, and we do what seems right in mine eye.” Just because it sounds old, doesn’t mean it’s poetic. It just means it’s derivative and not innovative.

9:29 The Reverend is getting hot under the collar. I wonder if this is a Christian society. The obvious answer is yes, but no one’s mentioned anything particularly Christian, and there haven’t been any crosses. It would be kinda cool to see them invent a new religion to go along with their imaginary country of Gilboa.

9:34 David is surrendering. That’s pretty gutsy, and a damn interesting twist. I thought he was going to bring King Silas the foreskins of the Philistines.

9:36 Shakespeare, great guy that he is, has bequeathed us a horrible legacy: generation upon generation of overwrought actor has convinced us that the height of art—grand art that describes the human condition in epic strokes—is composed of shouting, declarations, and heroic last stands. This can sometimes be true, but isn’t there something at least a little heroic in the casual, non-self-aggrandizing gesture? Great art doesn’t have to be stiff.

9:52 Shiloh is a bit more than a capital city, isn’t it? It’s really the metropole, as though the rest of Gilboa is just the provinces. Is Gilboa really a superpower? Or is it a much smaller country than the US?

9:55 Help! I’m being attacked by butterflies!


  1. Ha ha! Great review. I really want to support this show because its taking an old story and putting a modern twist on things much like Ian McKellan did with his Richard III.

    But I felt that we would have been better served with narration similar to what Heroes did. Especially with a brief refresher on this world they have created. Some title cards like "The year is 27 of the reign of Silas...here is a map of the world and here lies Gilboa..."etc. Just a few minutes of that would have invested me more than the questions that linger as I watch things unfold.
    PLUS, the narrator could be the kings historian with his PDA. This would give us a neutral character that we could identify and sympathize with. Because let's face it, later on in the story, King David acts like a dick.
    So its going to be difficult to root for anyone.

    Oh and I get that budgets are low, but even Baz Luhrman's Romeo & Juliet came up with some changes from our modern world. I think NBC can too.

  2. I love this review, Josie. In fact, due to your efforts, I now have a good idea of what this series is about, and strongly suspect it's not for me. So I can now delete my DVR recording and save myself two hours of valuable time. :)

  3. "Are we supposed to hope for the end of monarchy, that evil beast so inimical to quality of life and reserved for such backwards places as Norway?"

    Norway is quite at the center of things from where I'm standing!!!! ;)

    Thanx for your review - fun to read, and you saved me the trouble of watching and discarding the pilot :)

    Bye from us in Norway :D

  4. Hi, Citten!

    I spent a week in Oslo in 2005, and I loved it. Everyone I met was kind to me. I was very impressed with how progressive the government was. There are so many things we should be doing in the United States that Norway is already doing.

    (My Norway trip photos)


  5. Hi Citten.

    Yes, the Norway-as-backwards thing was sarcasm! I've never been to Norway, but I'm under the impression that it's clean, well-educated, civil, and has decent health care.

  6. OK, I'm not totally sold on this series yet, but it has potential.

    The story seems to progress at a slow pace, but I like how little, seemingly innocuous details return later. King Silas' kitschy story about how God crowned him with butterflies? Returns at the end when David is "crowned." Jack (the king's son) furtively sharing a glance with an unnamed man across the room while he is supposedly living the life of a playboy? Returns when Silas confronts him about his proclivities. David even uses a duct tape contraption to blow up the Goliath tank.

    And those people following around the king, queen, and company with PDAs, I believe that they are the press -- or historians -- whatever they are, they record the happenings of the royal family. The manipulation of the press ranges from blatant to subtle, blatant when Silas declaims that his brother-in-law congratulated him on ending the war, subtle when Jack (the king's gay son) supposedly has a fling with one of his mother's assistants (another subtly that's easily missed), adding "make him look rakish" -- I'm assuming this is an attempt to separate him as far as possible form his secret gay lifestyle.

    So there were bits about the pilot I liked, and I saw a lot of possibilities. There were a few twists in the pilot that I did not see coming -- not huge twists, but enough to keep me interested. At the very least, this show is very unlike anything else that's on, and for that I'm going to give it a few episodes to try to win me over.

  7. Hi Billie, nice photos - hope you had a nice trip :)

    Josie - sarcasm... what's that? :D

    Anyway - I do appreciate you all doing so many reviews these days - always fun and interesting to read.


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