It has love and war, “7th Heaven”-style religion and “Gossip Girl”-style scheming, and the mother of all intimidating actors in Ian McShane.
But watching the first four hours of “Kings” (the two-hour premiere airs at 8 p.m. today, KVBC-TV, Channel 3), I couldn’t quite shake a certain nagging feeling: Holy crap, I miss “Deadwood.”
It’s not that “Kings” is bad. The ambitious new drama is easily the most interesting new series NBC has rolled out in more than a year. It’s just that whenever McShane’s King Silas explodes in a rage, I keep waiting for him to start calling people hoopleheads, or one of the volumes of unprintable slurs and profanities he trafficked in as Al Swearengen, “Deadwood’s” sadistic saloonkeeper.
That’s the downside of playing a larger-than-life character on one of TV’s most mesmerizing series: McShane could single-handedly fix the economy, rid baseball of steroids and buy every man, woman and child on the planet a nice warm Snuggie, and his obituary still would begin and end with Swearengen.
But at least the “Kings” producers recognize he’s their greatest asset — seriously, the man is so good, he could recite the lyrics to Britney Spears’ “Womanizer” and make it sound as though he’d just signed your death warrant — and have cast him in a similarly powerful role.
The drama is billed as an updated take on the story of David and Goliath. But Goliath — in the form of a tank with “GOLIATH” not-at-all-subtly stamped across its front — is dispatched within the first 20 minutes. It’s really the biblical story of David and Saul, or, in this case, David and Silas.
Young soldier David Shepherd (Chris Egan) — Get it? The original David was a shepherd! — is plucked from obscurity by the king after the Goliath incident, because he also happened to save Silas’ captive son during that same daring race behind enemy lines.
David is welcomed into Silas’ court and given a role in his government, largely so the king can capitalize on David’s status as a tabloid darling. (And, yes, the headline really does read “David slays Goliath.”) But Silas soon begins seeing his new golden boy as a threat and, despite the fact that his daughter is smitten with David, orders him killed.
One of the pitfalls of updating such a famous tale is that a good portion of the potential “Kings” audience already knows how it’s going to end. More problematic, though, is just how easily those details can become a distraction.
When you hear Silas’ kingdom of Gilboa is at war with neighboring Gath, it sounds like some sort of Narnian fantasy world where orcs battle dragons or hobbits take on mermaids. But Gath was the biblical home of Goliath, and Mount Gilboa was where Saul died. From plot points to character names, the storytelling is complicated by dozens of other Judeo-Christian allusions too numerous to mention. (Also, every time I tried to confirm them by reaching for a Bible, it burned my hand. Weird.)
If you’re one of the dwindling number of viewers who’ve spent any time at all lately watching NBC, you’ve likely seen the cryptic promos for the show — they mostly consist of some vague imagery and multiple shots of a crazy-looking butterfly flag — and wondered what the heck was going on.
Well, the butterfly motif is everywhere in “Kings.” It stems from Silas’ favorite story, something about how God anointed him by sending a bunch of butterflies to land on his head. But it still doesn’t hide the fact that Gilboa’s flag looks like a tramp stamp.
As for the rest of it, that same goofy flag lends the series a sci-fi sheen that only adds to the confusion: “Kings” looks as though it takes place in the distant future, but the constant palace intrigue and royal machinations feel like something out of the Protestant Reformation.
“Kings,” though, is set firmly in the present, albeit some sort of alternate, butterfly-obsessed present constructed to answer questions such as how biblical characters would have handled the paparazzi, or how they’d have governed had they been beholden to a Halliburton-esque, war-profiteering conglomerate.
But those are just more distractions.
At its heart, “Kings” is the simple story of a small-town boy who has celebrity thrust upon him and tries to avoid being taken advantage of while making his way in the big city.
It would have worked just as well had its young hero been named Jim or Stephen or Blake. Well, maybe not Blake, but you get the idea.
At least then, viewers wouldn’t already know how the “Kings” story ends.
Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.ELSEWHERE
A casting call for the second season of VH1’s “Real Chance at Love” is set for Tuesday at the Hawaiian Tropic Zone inside the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood. Women must be at least 21. For an appointment, e-mail Vegas@RealTalentCasting.com.
A Las Vegas mother will be reunited with her five daughters, 18 years after they were taken away from her because of her drug use, on “The Locator” (9 p.m. Saturday, WE).