Lookit: There’s plenty to dislike about the new NBC drama, “Kings,” but there’s reason to cut it some slack, too. It’s a network television show that is neither a procedural, a reality show, nor a bland, laugh-track heavy sitcom. Add to that acting heavyweights Ian McShane and Dylan Baker, and at least your starting out in the black. By the end of the two-hour pilot, it’s still on the right side of the ledger, if barely. It’s just a shame that the alternate universe that “Kings” exists in relies on names and places that sound like they exist in a Biblical Sci-Fi novel, which is bewilderingly distracting in a show that otherwise seems to strive for a fictional reality.
The show — based on the David and Goliath story, intermingled with Shakespearean themes — is set in Shiloh, the capitol of Gilboa (see what I’m saying?), which looks a lot like Manhattan. It revolves around King Silas Benjamin (McShane), who runs his country like a corporation, replete with a PR machine, a cabinet that looks more like a board of directors, and even an opportunity for a few unimportant stockholders to make token suggestions about the direction of the country. The wealthy country of Gilboa is engaged in a war with the military heavyweight Gath, which has tanks that are called Goliaths, although it’s difficult to parse the purpose of the war, except perhaps to line the pockets of William Cross (Dylan Baker), the King’s brother-in-law and the country’s biggest source of wealth (which is in gold, believe it or not).
Enter David Shepherd (Chris Egan), a modest farm boy who can fix a car, play the piano, and talk the skirt of a lady. He lost his father in the unification war (whatever that is), but nevertheless signs up for service with his brother. Early on, David stands up to a Goliath tank and defeats it with his little rocket launcher (it’s not exactly a subtle drama). In the process, he saves the life of the King’s son and only heir, a whiny, privileged sniveling asshole with a wandering penis.
For saving the King’s son, the modest, unassuming David is treated with a big to-do in his honor at the King’s mansion, where he meets King Silas’ daughter, Michelle (Alison Miller). As a public-relations stunt, the King also assigns David as the kingdom’s military liaison with the press, and David somehow manages to use the post to end the war. So, half the kingdom will soon be David’s, right? Not so fast. William Cross wants the war to continue, and he threatens to empty the royal pockets, so to speak, if he doesn’t get it. There’s also the fact that Cross could probably expose the King’s second life, with a poor housemaid wife and a little kid. Because that’s how Kings roll.
“Kings” is little more than a grand, deadly self-important soap opera, but Ian McShane does self-important better than anyone. Here, he exchanges the profanity of “Deadwood” for bad, modern Shakespearean language, but it’s hard not to be taken in by him and his political machinations. The character is not too dissimilar from Al Swearengen. Chris Egan, as the hero David, is a lightweight by comparison, but he’s likable all the same, although the King’s dickweed son (Sebastian Stan) and Alison Miller — as the King’s socially conscious daughter — feel out of place among the rest of the cast, as though two cast members of “Gossip Girl” wondered onto the set of a “Rome” and asked to buy a rabbit.
Most of the dialogue feels blustery — pompous, speechifying. But that’s sort of what we want from McShane, and “Kings” is just the type of vehicle that allows him to be an arrogant, grandstanding cocksucker that he is. The show’s mythology is vaguely compelling, although it’s a little too dense for how ultimately uncomplicated it is. It feels as though creator Michael Green (“Heroes”) created enough intrigue to get you through five or six episodes, but — like “Heroes” — the nuke the fridge moment is already in the show’s headlights. “Kings” nevertheless gets points for ambition, and even if it’s too heavy-handed and the storylines seem incapable of sustaining themselves for the long-term, perhaps the characters — and McShane in particular — can carry it long enough to answer the show’s first round of questions before NBC gives it the axe for not being a procedural, reality show, or sitcom.
Dustin Rowles in the publisher of Pajiba. You can reach him by email or leave a comment below.