I gave two hours tonight to watching the first episode of Kings, the new NBC show loosely based on the biblical story of King David. I mostly did this because I was half hoping that it would feature Ian McShane in a business suit, talking to an unattached head in iambic pentameter. That didn't happen--although there were several speeches with Shakespearean themes (Shakespearean lite) littered throughout the two hour premiere.
This is a strange show. And I don't know yet if I'm interested in it or not. One problem is that part of the premise is that the action takes place in a world that is very, very similar to ours, but that clearly is not ours. This is a form of fiction I don't do well with. I either want my fiction to take place in the "real" world, or I want it to be utterly fantastical. (I prefer the former, in general. But if I'm going fantasy or sci fi, I want the created world to be fairly "otherworldly". This was, by the way, one of the reasons I initially had a lot of trouble with the Pullman His Dark Materials series. Too in-between-y.) Another problem is that, like with a lot of fantasy/sci fi (and I actually would consider this show to fit in that category), Kings might, in fact, prove really cheesy. For example, leaders are "chosen" by a swarm of butterflies that form a crown around the head of the elect. This event is actually shown at the end of the first episode. It is silly. And also pretty heavy handed. These considerations might prove deal breakers, but I can't tell yet.
On the positive side, the show has the potential to create a world somewhat like that in Carnivale, a series that I loved. To me, the strength of that narrative was that, while it felt like an epic showdown between good and evil, individual characters were ultimately too morally ambiguous to wear either black or white hats. If Kings moves in the direction of subtlety and ambiguity, it might actually be very good. I am also intrigued by the fact that there is a gay villain. (Or at least, I think that the character is going to be a villain, and, after the first episode, it is clear that he is gay.) There has been some discussion about this already in the media, and I'm interested to see how this particular character is developed.
Finally, Ian McShane is awesome, and it might just be worthwhile to watch it for his performance. He plays a king, but he is a political leader with real power, and not just a figurehead. There is a moment in the first episode that reminded me of what I loved so much about Al Swearengen. At the end of a meeting with his cabinet, he makes gestures toward dismissing everyone, but before he is done, one of the cabinet members stands up. It is clearly a premature move on the member's part, and he has clearly broken protocol. The king stares at the man. There is a very long silence, and the whole shot depends on the power of McShane's stare to create a kind of dramatic tension. The cabinet member is clearly terrified, and the rest of the room is perfectly still in anticipation. McShane never speaks. And I don't think that I exhaled until after the unfortunate man sat back down again.
So, we'll see. I'll at least watch next week . . .