Kings: The Complete Series


On DVD: 
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What happens when network television airs a serialized drama loosely based on the biblical tale of the rise of King David?  You get Kings, which debuted with a lot of fanfare on NBC this spring, but after low ratings was shuffled off to Saturday nights to die.  It’s not surprising because the high-concept show did start off  slowly and with too much emphasis on religious symbolism, but it hit its stride soon enough and became an entertaining and engrossing series, and I think season two would have been even better.

Kings really is an odd sort of show.  Taken as a whole, it is epic in scope with all the politics, jealousy, betrayal, and passion of a Greek tragedy, but each episode has a self-contained problem with an often too-pat solution.  There is also a strange tension between the modern and the medieval.  Kings is set in the modern monarchy of Gilboa, which has current technology and conveniences, but the kingdom is supposed to have just been elevated from essentially the middle ages.  Royal protocol and courtly life are always front and center, but the princess battles for health care reform and faces scandal from suggestive photos on David’s digital camera.  Even the dialogue vacillates between near-Shakespearean and very modern, and while that is occasionally distracting, overall Kings somehow makes it all work.

The casting is mostly pitch-perfect.  Ian McShane is as mesmerizing as King Silas Benjamin as he was as Deadwood’s Al Swearengen.  He is the king: swaggering, sure of himself but not at all secure, desperate to hold on to his position while aching for the different life he could have had he not been chosen.  It is a fantastic performance filled with both broad gestures and subtle glances.  Susanna Thompson is also wonderful in her role as the perfectly controlled and controlling Queen Rose while Sebastian Stan brings nuance and sympathy to the role of desperately ambitious Prince Jack, torn between his desire for the crown (and his father’s respect) at any cost and the fact that he is gay.  Eamonn Walker and Dylan Baker deftly personify the battle between the spiritual and material (was Silas chosen to rule by God, was it simply a money issue, or was it both?) as the religious leader and the king’s scheming brother-in-law.  Even Macaulay Culkin is quite good as an enigmatic royal cousin back after a long exile.  The one glaringly weak link in the cast is Christopher Egan as David.  Since David is one of the two central characters, that’s a problem.  Egan has the necessary boyish charm and just-off-the-farm innocence but falters in the more emotional or serious scenes and he fades into the woodwork next to McShane, making it difficult to believe in his destiny to become king.

The season finale works well as just that: a season finale.  Some storylines are more-or-less wrapped up, but bigger and more interesting arcs are set up and relationships—especially the central one between Silas and David—are shot into fascinating new directions.  Because of that, it works less well as a series finale and the show definitely feels unfinished.

The DVD set looks fantastic.  Much of the show’s huge budget went to production values and it shows, especially in the transformation of Manhattan into Gilboa.  The scenery in Kings features everything from a lush palace to a dusty battlefield, and the video quality is excellent.  The colors are true and rich with no distracting grain.  The audio was equally good with well-balanced dialogue, score, and background noise.  Special features are sparse.  There is fun audio commentary on the pilot with Ian McShane, director Francis Lawrence, and creator Michael Green and several episodes have deleted scenes that flesh the story out a bit.  The deleted scenes for the finale were the most interesting as you got a small sense of what might have happened in season 2.

As much as I enjoyed Kings, it won’t appeal to everyone.  The anachronisms take some getting used to, some of the plots feel recycled, and the religious symbolism is occasionally forced, but overall this is a well-written and mostly excellently-acted (sorry, Christopher Egan) series with a fascinating central arc and an epic feel.  This is a creative, original show that deserves to be seen.


Review by Michelle St. James