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'Kings' Mines The Bible For TV Drama


This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand. "Kings" is a new TV series. It starts Sunday on NBC. It's a modern-day retelling of the biblical King David story. It also mixes in today's headlines. TV critic Andrew Wallenstein is impressed.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: How's this for a triple play? "Kings" manages to create a fictional future inspired by the ancient past as a commentary on current political realities. The show even borrows the names of ancient biblical cities to tell its story. The name of the fictional kingdom here is called Gilboa, and its capital is Shiloh. Rendered here is an urban center that could be easily mistaken for Manhattan. Shiloh is the seat of power of King Silas Benjamin, a megalomaniacal monarch, played by Ian McShane from HBO's "Deadwood." Just about any role this guy takes will be a comedown from the uniquely dastardly saloon owner he played in that bleak Western. But McShane brings just the kind of dark weight needed for the part of a compromised king.

(Soundbite of TV show "Kings")

Mr. IAN MCSHANE (Actor): (As King Silas Benjamin) We give up what we want when we want power, believe me. Now, you want to show me you have the heart to be king? Show me you can control it. Wrest it to the ground, numb it with ice, but you cannot be what God made you, not if you mean to take my place.

WALLENSTEIN: King Silas has enough problems with Gilboa embroiled in a war with a neighboring country, but his rule is further undermined by the rise of a handsome young war hero named - everyone together now - David. He's played by Christopher Egan, an Australian actor who could pass for Matt Damon's younger brother. Just in case the battle of wills between these two figures doesn't seem dramatic enough, "Kings" bathes just about every shot in portentous quantities of shadow and light. Overwrought? Yeah, but there is something admirably old-fashioned about the show. Its unabashedly epic sweep is more common to a genre all but forgotten on TV these days, the big-budget miniseries. But "Kings" has more on its mind than updating the Bible. While Ian McShane wouldn't be mistaken for George Bush anytime soon, the king and former president share a few traits that seem more than mere coincidence. Kings Silas, for instance, isn't above blurring the line between church and state, frequently invoking God. And he seems especially beholden to certain corporate interests. Here, specifically, a defense contractor referred to as CrossGen(ph). Might as well been called Halliburton.

(Soundbite of TV show "Kings")

Mr. DYLAN BAKER (Actor): (As William Cross) Everything this country needs is wrapped in peace, you heard the parades, the people want peace.

Mr. MCSHANE: (As King Silas Benjamin) And they can have it, say, in a year, then you could end the war. CrossGen has too much invested in the military right now. This war needs to continue.

Mr. BAKER: (As William Cross) Oh, this isn't some government contract, building a bridge or a pipeline or a helmet. People will die.

WALLENSTEIN: That's McShane with the terrific character actor Dylan Baker as the King's Cheney-like adviser. Palace intrigue is ever more intriguing when the Royal Court is populated with such a strong cast. The real-world relevance of this fiction may be hidden behind biblical names and places. The "Kings" borrows an ancient story to pose contemporary questions.

BRAND: Andrew Wallenstein is digital media editor at the Hollywood Reporter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Wallenstein
Andrew Wallenstein is the television critic for NPR's Day to Day. He is also an editor at The Hollywood Reporter, where he covers television and digital media out of Los Angeles. Wallenstein is also the co-host of the weekly TV Guide Channel series Square Off. His essay on Holocaust films was published in Best Jewish Writing 2003 (Jossey-Bass), and he has also written for The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Business Week. He has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.