March 17, 2009

Of Butterflies and Kings

Sometimes, a little ambition can be a good thing. It means that a show can take changes, mix genres, be a little unsure...but yet, still be entertaining, providing a lot of promise and expectations. Heroes, in its first season, was that kind of show.

Kings, on the same network, is another. And quite frankly, I found it surprisingly good.

Much of the initial premiere (which you can watch either on the NBC site or on Hulu) has received attention for its 'retelling' of the David vs. Goliath story from the Bible...but it's much more than that. Part of what makes the pilot captivating is the premise - it takes place in the "Kingdom" of Gilboa. Is it parallel world? Alternate history? Possible future? There's enough familiarity (technology, language) to make it resonate with viewers, but it's different enough that it can seem...well, jarring.

The script itself is also an interesting mix - West Wing-style political dynamics with just a slight soap opera quality - enough that it makes it rather interesting to watch. As we see David Shepherd make his way through the "royal court", it's fascinating to watch. It's not perfect - there are some scenes that seem a little too cliche - but despite being delayed by the 2008 Writers' strike, Kings does deliver on what it promises - interesting television.

(And of course, it's telling that, essentially, Gilboa seems to be a religiously-driven country. Much of the script...had this gone on the air 'as planned', the right would have been in an uproar over it. It gets some mileage over that concept, and uses the image of butterflies a lot more sparingly than Heroes did the eclipse...or The Prisoner a pennyfarthing bicycle.)

Of course, the "star" of the show is Ian McShane - although it's tempting to see this as Al Swearengen redux, King Silas Benjamin has a different kind of complexity. Ruthless and compassionate - often within moments of each other - this could have been a role that would be played with great sentimentality...but McShane brings several different textures to the role, and turns what could have been a typical "background lead" into something a little more interesting.

Granted, this show doesn't appeal to the usual demographic...but it's interesting enough to warrant watching. Or at the very least, in my case, a second look.

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