TV

Kings: Series Premiere

Marisa LaScala

What's most striking about Kings is its ambition -- its wide-ranging creation of a world to surround its class-divided characters.

Kings

Airtime: Sundays, 8pm ET
Cast: Ian McShane, Christopher Egan, Susanna Thompson, Allison Miller, Sebastian Stan, Eamonn Walker
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: NBC
US release date: 2009-03-15
Website
Trailer
Amazon

Kings bills itself as a modern-day retelling of the David and Goliath story. The challenger, in this case, is farm-boy soldier David Shepherd (Christopher Egan), on the front defending his country of Gilboa. In the series premiere, Goliath is not a giant, but a tank from the opposing army of Gath. As in the Bible, Shepherd bests the tank.

Shepherd's act of bravery takes him to Shiloh, the crown jewel city in Gilboa's contemporary monarchy (a stark, corporate, alternate-reality version of New York City). There, he runs into another Goliath, larger and scarier than giants and tanks: celebrity. His folk heroism gains him access to the royal family, including the hard-partying prince, Jack Benjamin (Sebastian Stan) and idealistic princess, Michelle (Allison Miller). Shepherd has to decide if he should leverage his new fame to get a foothold into this upper echelon, or stay true to his values and help his widowed mother back on the farm.

An opposite view of fame -- looking down from the top -- belongs to King Silas Benjamin (the delightful Ian McShane, who acts like a benevolent Santa Claus one moment, and in the next, gives the most withering look to an underling who dares to stand up before he does). Having brought some semblance of peace to his country, King Benjamin has to juggle the wants of his people and the needs of his kingdom -- all while making sure he holds on to his crown. Symbolically, of course: he prefers business attire to robes and a crown ("My father likes suits," the prince says).

What's most striking about Kings is its ambition -- its wide-ranging creation of a world to surround its class-divided characters. Within the first three episodes, Gilboa's history is outlined, including major enemies and disputed territories. The place has a specific look: glossy, minimal, and bold, like its signature orange butterfly flag. We know about its treasury, major corporations, "free" press, health care system, the state of its arts and culture. (The bad news, parallel to our own reality, is that none of these institutions is doing well.) We learn as well the official views on religion, though that is because God -- and, just like in the Bible, God does have influence over the events -- has a mouthpiece in Reverend Ephram Samuels (Eamonn Walker).

While Gilboa's political theater plays out on a global level, there's plenty of soapy drama on Kings, which is executive produced by Heroes' Michael Green. Shepherd -- much like, say, a Minnesotan dropped in the middle of glamorous West Beverly High -- is an innocent negotiating a world of corrupting privilege. He knows he doesn't belong in Shiloh. "No one talks about the war here," he says. "And the city smells like trash." Yet he won't turn down an invitation for a night on the town with Prince Jack, knowing that all velvet ropes would be cast aside for him, and ignorant of all the trouble his changing status will bring.

Even without Shepherd, the royal family is rife with intrigue and spectacle. Perhaps the most fun to watch is Queen Rose Benjamin (Susanna Thompson, acting with perfect icy detachment), who functions as the show's Lady Macbeth. She enthusiastically tends to the position of Queen, commanding her household with a sense of her own destiny. "Battles have been lost for want of a dessert spoon," she warns the help before a big official dinner. Then, treacherously, she twirls around and pretends that her influence is meaningless to her. "You know that I don't get involved in politics," she says.

Repeatedly, Kings shifts from personal to political conflicts, intimating that they are, after all, the same thing. Whether disputes occur between two nations or two people, all the relationships here have to do with power. Players do what it takes to get and keep it, exploiting others and making sacrifices. King Silas and David Shepherd are alike in that they both wonder if, in the end, those sacrifices are worth it.

Kings is unlike anything else on television. There are no doctors, no lawyers, no procedures. The characters even speak differently; their dialogue sounds like updated Shakespeare. It provides mythology and symbology, like Lost, especially in Biblical allusions and references. On the other hand, even Gossip Girl fans can find something to enjoy in the personal and social struggles of the elite. Combing broad strokes and detailed color on an extensive canvas, Kings makes the rewards and costs of ambition plain for all to see.

7

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image