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TV Series Review

It took less than 30 seconds watching the first episode of NBC's Kings to realize the show (March 15) isn't your standard TV drama.

"Is [Dad] doing the God thing?" Prince Jack asks his mother.

"Oh, I hope not," the queen answers. "God's not popular right now."

"He doesn't care," Jack says. "He likes God."

Whoa. In an entertainment medium where faith is occasionally ridiculed and often ignored, that's an opening bit that'll make me put down the cheese doodles and take notice. Kings, a sociopolitical drama loosely based on the biblical story of Saul and David, wears religion on its tailored, cuff-linked sleeve. It takes place in a fictional land blessed by God, and the nation's Maker is never far from the script.

But if you think all that God talk is bound to make some of society's secularists nervous, just wait until Christians get an earful.

"We Want a King to Rule Over Us!"
Dad in the above conversation is Silas Benjamin (Ian McShane), the king of Gilboa. He rules from his gleaming new capital Shiloh—a city he says God commissioned him to rebuild from rubble. He feels God has blessed him—an anointing confirmed when scores of butterflies (he tells his rapt subjects) alighted on his brow and formed a crown.

But God, we're led to believe, isn't all that pleased with Saul—I mean, Silas—these days. And neither, for that matter, is the Rev. Samuels (Eamonn Walker), Silas' spiritual advisor. On the way to Shiloh for its grand ribbon-cutting ceremony, Samuels' car breaks down beside a bucolic farm, where a blond, ruddy-cheeked lad named David Shepherd (Christopher Egan) finds him and asks if there's anything wrong.

"The car," Samuels says (though he could be talking about Silas, too). "It used to work and then it stopped." A hose is cracked inside the engine. So David binds it up with a bit of duct tape.

Fast-forward a couple of years, and Gilboa is at war with Gath—an aggressive country bristling with state-of-the-art tanks called "Goliaths." The Gilboans don't have any giant tanks, but that doesn't stop David from crossing into enemy territory to rescue a pair of POWs. In the process, he throws a duct-taped wrench (love that duct tape!) into a Goliath, somehow destroying it.

Suddenly, David's a war hero. Turns out, one of the hostages was Silas' son, Jack. And to properly reward David, Silas promotes him to captain and brings him to Shiloh, believing the young man can become a public-relations prodigy.

"This court needs a new face to look up to," Silas says. "Now we can use him."

Well, we'll see how that turns out. Oh, wait: We already know.

"Why Did You Do What the Lord Said Was Wrong?"
Maybe it was just a matter of time before a television producer stumbled on the story of Saul and David. The biblical account is dramatic and sordid, filled with palace intrigue, insanity, betrayal and counter-betrayal. The source material is as rich, dramatically, as any tale told in The Sopranos or Mad Men, and the idea of a divine anointing only enhances its complexity.

"Since you have cast aside the word of the Lord, He has cast you aside as king," Samuels tells Silas in the pilot. "God wishes a man after His own heart."

Creator Michael Green told USA Today that, "Strangely enough, they've not yet asked us to censor the Bible. The stuff we've done that's most challenging is also straight out of the text."

Or some interpretations of the text. And therein lurks the controversy.

For centuries, biblical scholars have debated over just how close David and Jonathan, Saul's son, were. Close friends? Or more than that? It's been suggested by more than a few that they were actually engaged in a homosexual relationship. And Kings introduces Silas' son, Jack, as a semi-closeted homosexual who hides his dalliances with a sham, lurid nightlife.

So, while most Gilboans think Jack's an irresponsible womanizer, Silas knows the truth. "Wrestle it to the ground, numb it with ice," Silas tells Jack. "But you can't be who God made you—not if you mean to take my place."

The fact that the show deals with such subject matter at all will push most Christian families away. But Silas' line about wanting his son to reject his God-given desire for homosexual relationships goes even farther. Where will David and Jack end up, then? It seems their choice of paths has already been marked.

"I Am Only a Step Away From Death"
Can such a show survive on the meager viewership network TV now struggles to maintain? On one level, it would be interesting to see the rest of the story unspool: Saul's impending jealousy, insanity and suicide; Bathsheba; Uriah; Absalom.

"One of the things that interested me is that David is one of the most classic heroes of all time and one of the most complicated," Green told USA Today. "He starts out as a real innocent and becomes a very complex person later on."

But from a spiritual perspective, reinterpreting passages to satisfy modern modes of expression is questionable at best, dangerous and damaging at worst. And in the case of Kings, even David and his duct tape couldn't fix all that ails it.

Episodes Reviewed: March 15, 2009

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Paul Asay

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