Sunday, March 15, 2009

Kings, "Goliath": The man who would be king

Spoilers for the two-hour series premiere of "Kings" coming up just as soon as I give some leftovers to the guards...

I said much of what I had to say about the pilot in Friday's column -- particularly my concern that it's more interesting as a thought exercise than it is as a TV show -- so I'll just highlight a few points and then open it up for your thoughts:

• I love the look of the show, from the butterflies to the gleaming, spotless, CGI-enhanced vision of Manhattan-as-Shiloh. There's a joke about Toronto being like New York, only cleaner. The way this series films Manhattan makes Toronto look like a dump.

• You don't need me to tell you that Ian McShane is a wonderful actor who has no problem taking dialogue that would sound like gibberish -- or, in the case of David's "You want blood! Come here and take it!" speech at the frontline, like a freshman college drama project -- in the hands of lesser performers and making it sing. Whatever other issues I may have with the show -- particularly my concern that Chris Egan's resemblance to Ryan Phillipe extends past the physical and ito acting ability as well -- it's a pleasure just to hear McShane speak Michael Green's stylized prose.

• While I have reservations about Egan overall, he handles himself well opposite McShane, and I liked his work in the press conference scene, particularly the way he said "Perhaps you heard the story about my father" when a reporter asked why his mother didn't want him going into the military.

• For the most part, I think Green's done an excellent job of both translating the Bible characters into a modern context (Jack being gay seems to match what I remember of the Talmudic interpretation that David and Saul's son Jonathan were more than just close friends during David's time in exile?), and of making this alternate reality make sense. Since they'll explain more details in upcoming episodes about how the monarchy was created and how it works, I don't want to say too much, but the one question I had was the way the king's court seemed to be conducting sensitive business like strategic planning in front of what seemed to be a public gallery. Maybe everyone in the crowd is also a member of the elite in some way, but it comes across more like average joes coming to get a look at how the king gets things done.

• This is a good gig for Eamonn Walker, who always comes off as slightly theatrical in his choices. That worked on "Oz," particularly as that show got stranger and stranger over the years, and it clearly works here, but on a show like "Justice" (a short-lived, generic Fox legal drama he did a couple of years ago), it makes him seem fake.

• Is a grenade, whether or not it's duct-taped to a wrench, really what you'd call the 21st century equivalent of David's slingshot? If not, what should he have used to take out the tank?

What did everybody else think?


Anonymous said...

Good, not great. But, since there's not much on TV to watch these days I'll probably stick with it. I agree with pretty much all the "flaws" you pointed out in your review. The one thing that seems odd to me is how the brother-in-law threatens to take away the king's crown by removing the money. Can't McShane just come out and tell the people his dirty secret of why he wants the war to continue? As politics go, the show seems pretty weak, which you noted in your reference of the large public meeting. Another question, if the king has a personal assistant write down his own interpretation of events as a diary, wouldn't this be more believable if he didn't do it in front of an audience?

Anonymous said...

I thought it was interesting enough that I'll keep watching. But how long can we expect Ian McShane's character to last? Suppose this show makes it to a second season---won't it seem like they're dragging their feet, Lost season 3-style, if McShane is still around by then?

On the other hand, would it be worth watching without him? I'm not sure yet.

Pamela Jaye said...

oh my goodness this thing is boring

Anonymous said...

It's not 24-speed, but damn it's nice for the changes they ring on their overseer Liberty Mutual's "Responsibility" meme. Like "you cannot be what God made you and take my place." Wow.

But there's a teeny problem here: This is a riff on the Judeo-*non*-Christian God, but not everyone's Jewish? Hmmm. Then a girl's gotta ask whether Israel exists.

And, Crossgen? I think we've got the next grand allegory between BSG and Caprica. And not a subtle one. And this Crossgen idiot couldn't have spoken up *before* the treaty was negotiated, like Blackwater would?

Anonymous said...

Still, a hell of a lot better than anything NBC has premiered this year.

And will be immediately undercut by the king of irresponsibility, Donald Trump.

Anonymous said...

I was intrigued by it, at least. It had some holes and it drug in a few spots, but I was interested in what was happening. Plus, its a little different than most of what is on television right now, for me. I'm going to stick with it for a bit... I think.

Paul Allor said...

I found the whole thing somewhat boring and predictable. This seems to be something Networks do a lot: they create shows that are wildly ambitious when it comes to setting and high-concept, but they they fill them with stock characters and predictable scenarios.

Michael Cowgill said...

I found it pretty interesting. I liked the visuals, and of course McShane (in pinstripes no less). As much as he deserves praise for his work with the language, the cold stare and little twitches in that last shot said just as much. I can't imagine the whole series will move at that "poetic" pace, though.

Anonymous said...

This pilot was certainly intriguing enough to warrant further attention. I'm not completely sold. But stylistically, it is impressive and it's much more watchable than, say, the Heroes pilot.

Even if the king stays the king, I'm interested enough to stick around to find out how in this version of the world, the king became the king.

Oaktown Girl said...

I was happy with the way things picked up in the second hour, and I think the scene between the King and his son on the steps was a pretty powerful one. So far, I don't have much affection for the actor playing David, but McShane and other cast members will either continue to outweigh that drawback, and/or the actor will grow into the roll over time (if NBC allows that time, which I hope it does).

My biggest disappointment was Susanna Thompson's character. She's an excellent actress who was given basically nothing to do. I hope that changes soon. I like Eamonn Walker in this, and I hope the writers will give his character some depth and not make him one dimensional. Finally, I wish the Kingdom and the Kings Court had more ethnic diversity.

Unknown said...

I agree with most everyone else so far - intrigued but with reservations. McShane is the main reason I watched it and he did not dissappoint. I did definitely see some Ryan Phillipe in David but also Matt Damon a couple times and in one scene a little Heath Ledger.

The story stays pretty close to the original (I wonder why they changed King Saul to Silas though - too Jewish?)with one notable exception. In the Bible David was VERY "spiritual", he prayed constantly, especially before he faced Goliath; in fact he recieved his strength to defeat Goliath from God. In last nights episode I don't recall David mentioning God at all. I don't know if they are planning on toning down the God-talk or if they are trying to make David some sort of reluctant-chosen one but I'm interested to see where they take this.

Anonymous said...

I'll keep watching because of Ian McShane who, in my humble opinion, is one of the best actors on this planet. I agree, Alan, that it's a pleasure to hear him speak Michael Green's stylized prose. I could listen to him all day.

Since I have an alarmingly easy ability to detach myself from reality when watching television, I bought all the "other worldly" settings and situations without any problems.

Anonymous the First asked how long we could expect Ian McShane's character to last. The Bible says it took David roughly twenty years or so to go from being anointed (or in the case of "Kings", being crowned by monarch butterflies)to actually sitting on the throne as king. Throughout that time Saul ruled as king, often doing everything in his power to destroy David. I suspect, if done right, there's a lot more story to tell, depending on how much of the Biblical account the writers borrow from.

Nicole said...

Not bad at all. I liked the show enough that I would watch it again. I agree that Chris Egan does look and act way too similar to Ryan Phillippe; it stopped being funny and ended up a little disturbing. I kept thinking of Reese Witherspoon (no joke). Egan did nail an American accent though, so maybe he was just concentrating really hard on that and will relax and inhabit the role better as time goes by. Plus, how much did he really have to work with? He got better material in the second hour and particularly in the last 10 minutes of the episode, and I felt that he acquitted himself adequately.
I thought the queen was perhaps the wiliest character on the show. Am I the only one who thought that she set up her secretary? The revelation in front of a reporter that the phone was found, along with a bra, in the back of the prince's car would go a long way to quash any rumors about his sexuality. Well played, your majesty.
I'm disturbed by how they're making it seem like the princess was only an advocate for social change because she didn't have enough (i.e. a man) to occupy her. I hope that this is an example of her parents' flawed understanding of her personality, and not the show trying to speak to the larger issue of why young women behave the way they do. Do they really want to say that you can control those overly sentimental girls by throwing a good-looking farm boy their way? It seems to facile an explanation, but if anybody wants to test the theory, please feel free to send me a hot country dude.
Randomly, I was really happy to see the actress from Mississippi Masala on this episode, and can't wait to see what they're going to do with that storyline.

Anonymous said...

My wife forced a change of channel five minutes into this. The dialogue was killing her.

A: A slingshot, of course.

Jon88 said...

A lot of "me too" here. And this: Who puts the top of a piano on the stick, but leaves the front flap down? Just ridiculous. And a little dangerous.

JakesAlterEgo said...

I actually thought Egan looked a lot more like Matt Damon than Phillippe.

But on the whole, I greatly enjoyed this show, much more so than I thought I would. Swearengen's face at the end, as he sees the butterflies descend on David was great. The man was blessed with ACTING TALENT!


R.A. Porter said...

Certainly good enough for me to give it a few more weeks, even given the weakness of Egan and my concern they're going to twist themselves into knots to keep the biblical allegories going. As much as I love McShane, I wonder how much more interesting I would have found everything if he and Eamonn Walker had swapped roles.

I've seen some people online question the Jewishness of everyone, particularly David. But the answer was given early on at the front. When asked what David and Eli's mother put in the brownies to make them so good, David said "guilt". That's my mom's special ingredient as well, and I can attest to its tastiness and ethnic origin.

Unknown said...

my concern they're going to twist themselves into knots to keep the biblical allegories going

First of all it's a Biblical story - so why not?

Secondly- have you read Kings 1 and 2. They don't have to twist themselves in knots - there's enough in there to keep a series going for years.

Lastly - and don't get me wrong I'm not a Bible-thumper - a significant part of David's story is his relationship to his God. It's a beautiful relationship and you don't have to be Jewish to appreciate it. If they lose that this will be another failure like Jon Voight's Noah.

R.A. Porter said...

@Bryan, I meant that the other way: not that the biblical allegory was a bad thing, rather that they'd make some bad narrative choices early on that got them off track. Then they'd have to manipulate the story in unnatural ways to get back on track.

Hatfield said...

Similar to something said above, I'd listen to McShane read the menu at Cheesecake Factory if they aired it on television, so maybe I'm a bit biased. That said, I really dug this. Yeah, it was slow, but I appreciated that it took its time, even if occasionally it took too much. The rest of the cast seems strong as well, even Egan, whom I think is getting unfairly blasted by everyone. Not that it was Emmy-winning or anything, but I bought his awkwardness as part of his character. Even his speech (yeah, I agree, how the hell did anyone hear him, but then again, Silas and Geronimo seemed to know what he was doing), and especially his scenes with McShane and when Eli was dying.

A couple other things:

- Any other DeadwoodHeads think of Al smacking Johnny Burns around when the messenger told Silas it was his son that was held hostage?

- I liked Eamonn Walker, and I hope he gets more to do soon.

- Jack was well-played, I thought, as the right mix of entitled, spoiled, resentful and self-loathing.

- How cute was McShane with his secret family? His giggling with his kid was the kind of thing I've never seen him do, and it made me smile.

- Does Marlyne Afflack being cast mean she'll be making a power play at some point?

This type of slowly-unveiled mythology-driven narrative always appeals to me, so sorry if I went on and on. I hope it gets a chance to tell its tale.

Unknown said...

Good point R.A. - and you're right that could be a problem esp if they start trying to please everybody.

Hey - I just went to IMDB to check on the actor that played Rev Samuel and he's not listed - anybody know why? (turns out it's Eamonn Walker)

Pamela Jaye said...

did someone *say* that they were all Jews? I don't recall even Israel being spoken. The (allegorical?) land is Gilboa I think.

Michelle was somewhat interesting but I didn't like Jack at all and I would have preferred to like David (why didn't they change his name too?) more.
What was the deal with the cellphone?
I did like the Reverend, and and curious about the butterflies.

I stopped in the middle to ease my boredom with Brothers & Sisters.

Alan Sepinwall said...

They seem to have changed any of the names that seem vaguely Jewish: Saul to Silas, Jonathan to Jack, Samuel to Ephram Samuals, etc. I guess they figured the subject matter would be an uphill climb for attracting viewers without making people think it was "that Jewish show."

And, based on last night's ratings, they would be right about the uphill climb part. A distant fourth place in every half-hour in the 18-49 demo, and it lost viewers every half hour.

Anonymous said...

Jack being gay seems to match what I remember of the Talmudic interpretation that David and Saul's son Jonathan were more than just close friends during David's time in exile?


Otto Man said...

What was the deal with the cellphone?

The queen handed it to her assistant like she'd thought, as shown by the fact that the assistant's bra turned up with the phone in her son's car.

All of this seemed to be an elaborate move by the queen to authenticate her son's heterosexuality. The big reveal about the bra and the cell being found happens in front of the press, and she lets them run with the story as long as they make Jack seem "a little rakish."

R.A. Porter said...

@Otto Man, Actually, I believe the queen just held on to the phone for a few days, making a big deal of it, then planted it with her assistant's bra in the back of Jack's car. The assistant seemed genuinely shocked at first, then understood she'd been used.

Oaktown Girl said...

That's bad news about the ratings. As I was watching the first hour, I was worried that the pacing might be too slow for many people.

Nicole - excellent point about the King's daughter. I hope it's not the case that all her caring for the have-nots was simply a case of not having a man in her life. Besides, from a plot perspective, it will be much more interesting (and realistic) if she continues being a strong activist.

To clarify my earlier comment about the Queen - it's clear she is cunning and a major political player, I just wish she'd had more screen time in this first episode.

Any other DeadwoodHeads think of Al smacking Johnny Burns around when the messenger told Silas it was his son that was held hostage?
Good one, Hatfield.

Hatfield said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Otto Man said...

That sounds plausible, RAP.

Hatfield said...

Thanks, Oaktown Girl. Admittedly, I'm kinda obsessive when it comes to Deadwood, so I may find more parallels than there actually are. Speaking of which, I realize that the language is difficult at times, and certainly different than anything else on TV right now, but I barely noticed.

Bad news about the ratings, as this show had clearly chosen to take time it may not have.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why it's relevant to interpret Biblical events with the 19-21st century (hopefully this is it's last century) social construct of "homosexuality" but in any case Jack is not Jonathon, who loved David when they first met ("the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul"). The Biblical Jonathon would seem to correspond to Jack's sister, Michelle. It appears they are setting the "gay" Jack up as, if not a bad guy, then manipulated into evil doings because of his "sexuality" and his and his father's reaction to it. The love "passing the love of women" replaced by guilty affairs with "boys." The gay mafia will likely not be happy.

Alan Sepinwall said...

The Biblical Jonathon would seem to correspond to Jack's sister, Michelle.

Except that Saul had a daughter named Michal, who wound up marrying David.

Anonymous said...

Except that Saul had a daughter named Michal, who wound up marrying David.

That's a point. Perhaps they've combined the roles of the Biblical Jonathan and his sister Michal since it would be difficult to recreate the masculine intimacy of the Biblical relationship between David and Jonathan without it being interpreted within the modern discursive constructs of sexuality.

Anonymous said...

I've heard the interpretation of Jonathan being gay, but I don't find that particularly interesting in this re-imagining (especially since it sounds like it's going to be every hackneyed cliche associated with a character for whom his/her family disapproves of his/her sexual orientation. I would actually prefer to see Jack and David become friends for whom blood is thicker than water, especially since I remember most of David's brothers being assholes.

sedeyus said...

Wow six million viewers for its premiere episode? That is bad. Didn't Friday Night Lights have better opening night ratings? And this show won't have half the critical acclaim. I don't understand who at NBC thought that this show would survive network audiences. A show like this begs for HBO. Hell the Sci-fi channel if it's lucky. It's shame too because Ian McShane was really rocking the Al-like Silas.

dark tyler said...

Jesus Christ that was boring and pointless.

Jerry said...

I felt the whole thing was too rushed and that the first two hours could have been an entire season.

Within the first 20 minutes David went from small town mechanic, to war hero, to hanging out at the royal palace. I felt it didn't provide enough time for character development and and even at the end I still didn't care what happened to any of the characters (except for Ian McShane since he's the reason I watched)

What should he have used to kill Goliath?
In the Bible David used a slingshot because that was the "tool" he used in his previous profession as a shepherd to protect his sheep. In this, when he picked up the wrench, I though he was going to take out the tank by using his mechanic skills and sneak under the tank and disable it.

Anonymous said...

@rks- I think that David was actually anointed by Rev. Samuel with the "you have something on your head"-motor oil?- move which would have been in keeping with the biblical story. I took that as the beginning of his being chosen by God.

Also, I could not agree more about the ease with which other worlds are accepted in my mind. It is far easier and much more satisfying for me to live in a world where dedicated spies work at the Buy More and Zen police officers patrol my streets than it is to co-habit a planet with the Housewives of Orange County and Bret Michaels. Now THAT'S unreal!

Anonymous said...

My biggest problem was the lengths they went to make the analogy between Biblical battles and modern day battles. Those scenes on the battlefront were hopelessly confusing from a modern military POV. Who does trench warfare nowadays? Who sits tanks out in the open like that and why wouldn't they be decimated by artillery and air support? Who houses strategically important POWs 500 yards from the enemy lines? Tortured logic like this is a real distraction for me. If you can't make it work within the context of the story, than abstract the details rather than expose the ridiculousness of it.

Compare this to BSG, which tends to handle military situations and tactics far more (if not completely) realistically (and it's frakkin scifi).

I was satisfied with most of the rest of the show and think the political manipulations and intricacies could be quite interesting, though a bit more over the top then West Wing or BSG. If they can hold in the Bibilical themes without being so blatantly forced, this could be a decent show.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and it wasn't a grenade that destroyed the Goliath, that was just a distraction to let David get away so he could blow it up with a Javelin anti-tank missle (or whatever the show's equivalent would be). So the Javelin is the slingshot?

Toby O'B said...

I'm wondering if we're to assume that this world was the same as ours up to a point in time as the world of 'West Wing' was, or is it supposed to be different right from the get-go?

There was mention of Liszt and that piece he wrote in 1848 (I looked that up - that was the beginning of his time under the patronage of the Duke of Weimar.), so we know our historical characters existed in their world.

But would this world have all of the same details as our world, down to something as major as Judaism? (Considering the remarks I saw about there not being enough Jewish characters, I wonder if they even have the same religions we do, or some equivalent?)

Do they have the Bible in their world, and the story of Saul and David? If so, would somebody see the similarity to Silas and Shepherd?

I'm thinking that even if they do have the same historical characters, there was some kind of major upheaval in the way the world evolved. Gath is north of Gilboa, which looks and feels like America, but the front lines are in a desert region.....

I hope these get addressed in future episodes, because the idea of a new world is what brought me to check out 'Kings'.

Pamela Jaye said...

Do they have the Bible in their world, and the story of Saul and David? If so, would somebody see the similarity to Silas and Shepherd?

No, actually the whole thinng is taking place inside a snow globe.

Ephram is a non-Jewish name? Really?
I think, to me, the girl who was not named Debra cause it was "a Jewish name"
- maybe it's the intervening 50 years. Saul is the only name in the bunch (except for Ephraim) that sounds "Jewish" to me. And even that may be due to Brothers & Sisters (granted, I've never met one person named Saul - but the boy I crushed on in 3rd & 10thh grades was named Abraham. Avi for short, and had sisters Sharon (not so Jewish, to me) and Miriam (now that sounds Jewish to me), his other siblings - David and Clara and one other brother named George - that one, I have no idea where it came from.

The butterflies were pretty... I thought the anointing was in the garage myself.

I apologize for not reading enough comments to get what Queen Mom was doing.

I find war intensely boring (my brother made me read two Tom Clancy novels just cause I asked him What do you mean "President" Jack Ryan? (and I never even saw the movies. I knew he wasn't President in them though.))

Silly me - for the past 30 years, I've been thinking that Saul was almost as young as David when he was chosen to be king. Today I read in (whichever book it's in) that *Jonathan* was old enough to be leading armies 2 years after Dad was crowned. I think I may have read way too much into "small in his own eyes."

As for the Jewish factor, how many people in this story would actually be Jewish? David and his family for sure. Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin (no, I didn't remember, I read it). Is there an exemption for Benjamites as they split off with Judah later on? I can't even remember if they are the ones who did. It's been a long time - and I was reading all the little purple You Are There boxes scattered amidst the two or three chapters I managed to read - which were mostly Samuel finding Saul and anointing him and possibly one battle. I could use a few more "tomatoes on the windowsill" - I'm the one who saw the Three Stories episode of House and didn't even blink when House went from his bed to the staircase or outside a Taco stand - I didn't think it was a dream, I didn't think he was using a transporter - I just thought it was the next scene.I tend to just not think about the things I don't see. I guess it's better to see them (tons of troops with (in this case) tanks. Unfortunately I still find it as boring as a list of begats.

Okay, anyone still here can wake up now.

The second half (or 3rd third) was less boring than the beginning.
The comments helped some, but not having looked up the actors names (my fault) added some confusion too.
Note to self: read with imdb in another window cause you're having the same problem with Dollhouse

Anonymous said...

The biblical David did *not* use a slingshot (a hand catapult). He used a *sling* (a pouch attached to a long cord) - much more deadly, like the difference between a BB gun and an actual rifle.

A sling in the hands of a skilled user was a cheap but effective military and hunting weapon used by most ancient armies, militias, etc.

What's the exact modern equivalent a sling? A decent high-power bolt-action rifle: like the ancient sling, a dual-use weapon suitable for either hunting (killing wolves, etc.) or use as a military weapon.

For an exact equivalent, therefore, David should have carried a sniper rifle and stopped the tank by shooting its commander when he popped the hatch.

But having him use an anti-tank rocket worked reasonably well.

aimee said...

Nicole -- that was unquestionably a set-up with the queen. Very skillfully done, too. She keeps saying she doesn't like to get involved in politics, but I was getting Lady Macbeth-ish vibes from her the whole time.

I think the pilot was solid. I agree with whoever said that they'd watch McShane read a Cheesecake FActory menu, so I'm biased too; but I actually really liked the stylized dialogue and thought the second half, in particular, was very strong. I'll watch again.