So. Kings. Oh my holy freakin …
Silas is King in Shiloh, and his nation is at war. A young farm boy, the youngest of Jesse’s 7 sons, travels to the front, boldly confronts the enemy, and wins the heart and attention of the nation. He becomes pawn and party to the political maneuverings of the royal court, as the king becomes keenly aware that his young hero might be a legitimate threat to his own tottering throne.
Sound familiar? Yup. Kings is a modern day retelling of the story of Saul and David, with all of the sinewy mass and epic personalities of the original. Silas (Saul) is poised and articulate one moment, a snarling dog the next. For fans of Deadwood, Ian McShane brings a similar kind of larger-than-life swagger to this role that made him so perfect as Al Swearengen. David is the hero, the poet, the champion of the common man, but some of the dark tragedy of his broken soul is already poking through. Samuel … oh man, you just have to see it. Samuel is perfect.
It’s not exactly the story of Saul and David. There are changes, some big, some small, enough that it’s not just a retelling. It’s a … I’m not sure. A re-narrating maybe? A re-wrighting? If you know the story well, there’s an added dimension of anticipation to watching the show. You find yourself constantly fitting together the new pieces of the the puzzle with the old familiar story. Who is this character? Oh, that’s Michael, Saul’s daughter. Who will be Saul’s Abner? … ah, there he is.
As I was watching, I thought about the first audience to Homer’s great epic poems. Homer wove together well-known stories, characters that everyone had grown up with, events that everyone could recite from memory: no listener would be caught by surprise when Achilles falls. Yet the telling of it, the recasting, the re-wrighting brought a new vivaciousness to the themes. Because the unfolding events were familiar, at least in broad strokes, the listener is freed up to listen more deeply to the story, to watch the characters (who do not know their own story) march through their fated steps alternately succumbing to and rising above their own fatal flaws.
I think this is a bold thing that NBC is doing, embracing a show like this. It’s a little risky, not because it’s biblical (it barely is, though probably enough to scrape a few good sermon clips). It’s a risk because by retelling an old story, they raise the stakes on the storytelling. They give up the right to hold an audience by serial suspense, the way Lost does, and they push in their chips on a bet that they can capture and keep an audience by the force of sheer storytelling, in the grand Homeric tradition of the word.
I hope the show sticks around. If for no other reason, I can’t wait to see how they handle this scene.