What to Watch prides itself on often offering a wide variety of material from TV seasons to On Demand exclusives to remasters of classic flicks. Not this week. All six of the New Releases that you may be drawn to in your favorite store or on your favorite service are movies, and all released in the last 18 months. But the variety within those movies is remarkable. A Best Picture winner, action flicks, a superhero, and two indie drams that waste talented casts. Pick your favorites. Here’s how we would rank ‘em.
TV Review: Ambitious ‘Kings’ With Ian McShane Unlike Anything Else on Network TV
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.