TV Review: Ambitious ‘Kings’ With Ian McShane Unlike Anything Else on Network TV

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No votes yet Television Rating: 3.5/5.0
Television Rating: 3.5/5.0

CHICAGO – You won’t see many shows much more ambitious than NBC’s “Kings”. The multi-character drama borrows from the story of King David to create a tapestry piece about power, corruption, and war. It’s dense, layered, complex storytelling that you rarely see on network television. In other words, I don’t think it’s going to be on very long.

We give up what we want when we want power.” - King Silas Benjamin (Ian McShane, “Deadwood”)

In the two-hour premiere of “Kings,” directed by “I Am Legend“‘s Francis Lawrence (as are all of the first four hours) and created by “Heroes”’ Michael Green, we meet the popular King of Gilboa, Silas Benjamin, played with driven perfection by the great Ian McShane. His people have recently emerged stronger from a horrible war and the King lives with his Queen Rose (Susanna Thompson of “Once and Again”), outspoken Daughter Michelle (Allison Miller), and son Jack (Sebastian Stan).

Ian McShane and Chris Egan in Kings.
Ian McShane and Chris Egan in Kings.
Photo credit: NBC/Eric Leibowitz

After an intriguing introduction that nearly prophesies what’s going to happen (“Kings” is rich with prophecy and symbolism), the show jumps forward a few years and the kingdom has been pushed into yet another war with the neighboring nation of Gath.

Chris Egan in Kings.
Chris Egan in Kings.
Photo credit: NBC/Andrew Eccles

A commoner that we met in the introduction watching the King on TV soon becomes a part of his circle. David Shepherd (Chris Egan of “Eragon,” a dead-ringer for Matt Damon), a wide-eyed, earnest soul is fighting on the front with his brother. When the King’s son is kidnapped by the opposition, David leads a charge to save him, even facing down a Goliath tank. (Get it?!?! A soldier named David against a Goliath tank.)

When David’s bravery is revealed, he becomes an icon and is invited to the king’s castle to be honored. It’s there that “Kings’ really kicks in as our hero falls for the lovely Princess and watches as the peace with Gath that he has put his life in jeopardy to achieve falls apart. There are people in the king’s inner circle who don’t want peace.

The ‘A plot’ of a corrupt king and the young man looking to stop the war is merely one part of “Kings”. Silas is also torn in two by his militaristic brother-in-law (Dylan Baker) and his religious advisor (Eamonn Walker of “Oz”). His son Jack hides a secret of which his father doesn’t approve. And the great Brian Cox and Miguel Ferrer pop up in episode three. And that’s just the beginning but I wouldn’t want to spoil the revelations of future weeks.

Will you make it that far to discover them for yourself? “Kings” reminded me of a recent show that had a huge following and dealt with issues of corruption and warfare - “Jericho”. Not a bad critical comparison, but fans of “Jericho” know what happened to that show. “Kings” features the kind of storytelling that requires patience and commitment, two things less common in the era of “Deal or No Deal”.

Ian McShane and Susanna Thompson in Kings.
Ian McShane and Susanna Thompson in Kings.
Photo credit: NBC/Eric Leibowitz

On Sunday nights, do people want escapism like “Desperate Housewives” and “Family Guy,” or two hours of Shakespearian drama? Clearly, HBO has thrived on Sunday nights with rich, layered storytelling, but I have a tough believing that people are going to turn to NBC looking for the same thing. This is the same network that recently announced they were handing over five hours of primetime to a talk show host. They’re not exactly the first place you think of for something like “Kings”.

Why bring popular response to a review? Because network TV has something called the axe of cancellation. As ambitious and well-made as it is, “Kings” is the kind of show that I’m hesitant to get into or recommend because we’ve all been burned by devoting time to something that a network cancels before a satisfying conclusion can be reached. Unlike HBO, where at least one season is guaranteed, the likelihood of cancellation should play into network TV reviews. Why praise something that’s not going to be on by the time you read the review?

What’s truly tragic about the way I think people are likely to respond to “Kings” is that it gets better week-to-week. I’ve seen the first three episodes - four hours of the show - and it takes that long for the show to really cohere into something interesting. The first two hours drag a bit and feel overblown, but by the end of the fourth episode I was totally hooked on “Kings”. Let’s hope the show stays on the air that long.

‘Kings,’ which airs on NBC, debuts on March 15th, 2009 at 7PM CST. It stars Ian McShane, Chris Egan, Susanna Thompson, Sebastian Stan, Allison Miller, Wes Studi, Eamonn Walker, and Dylan Baker. It was created by Michael Green. content director Brian Tallerico

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Nancy's picture

I just caught the premiere

I just caught the premiere and I know I’m so looking forward to more and hope Kings is given a decent chance. It really is one of the best new shows. Could it be that we’re actually coming out of the craptastic hole of reality TV?

(sighs) Then again, this is NBC.

I’m cautiously optimistic that NBC pulls it’s head out of it’s own ass and sees what a potential gem they have in Kings.

Alex's picture

LOVED IT!! Don't be fooled by the bad marketing!

I went into this show with a very bad attitude and was immediately drawn in. Kings is AWESOME!! Great storytelling, great pacing, great twists…and horrible marketing. The Watchmen movie should have taken a cue from this show’s director/producer/writers.

I know it will likely get cancelled…but hopefully, a cable network will pick it up.

Don’t let the “half-open-mouths-kissing-while-smiling-and-glancing-away” scenes from the previews disuade you…trust me, KINGS is great!

Anonymous's picture


I had my doubts about NBC having anything supposedly based on the Bible, but I gave them one chance. They blew it. For one thing David and Jonathan were best friends. Jonathan was not resentful of David. Most of all, JONATHAN WAS NOT GAY! It would have been better if they’d stuck to the Bible. Read on from I Samuel 17 - it gets plenty exciting!

Nozem Zmog's picture

If you’d want to see a

If you’d want to see a bible show, you should look elsewhere (I presume you’re from the US of A, so you’ve got lots of choice there) The book of Kings was just an inspiration for this show, not a screenplay!

This show just rocks, in my humble opinion even better than Jericho, it’s plain fantasy, mixed with some biblical elements, everyday life and subtle critics about modern society.
Like many people before me, I don’t believe this show wil last though, but if NBC marketed this show outside the USA, it could be here to stay..

CinemaFanAnn's picture

Kings TV series

Love this new NBC series “Kings”. It plays like a movie on free TV. Ian McShane’s character is multilayered. The new, blond male lead/Hero looks alot like the actor from “The Prince & Me”, dontcha think?

Still intrigued by the whole “butterfly calling” part — the actors play that so seriously but it’s kinda hokey.

All in all, this one is action packed and riveting. Hope it doesn’t get cancelled and then replaced by another, lame reality show. Pleeze!

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