In many films and television shows, you'll find Biblical undertones, themes, and references. After all, the Bible is thee most popular book ever printed. There have been quite a few features and programs that have tried to translate or interpret various events and stories from the Good Book. This NBC series can be added to that list.
If you're familiar with the Holy Scripture, then you know the title of this show is taken from the Book of Kings, known to the Jews and Protestants as the Book of Samuel, a subset of the Old Testament. In those books, the story is told of a prophet named Samuel who was responsible for anointing the first two Hebrew kings, King Saul and King David.
In this story, it's less anointing and more political, power plays. It's after all set in modern times with modern technology. King Saul here is actually called King Silas Benjamin and King David has yet to be called king. This present-day retelling of the Book of Kings was bound to have some changes and takes some liberties.
For example, in the Bible, David started out as a shepherd. Here, David only has the last name of Shepherd. In this Biblical re-enactment with SUVs and cell phones, David is actually a mechanic-turned-soldier who goes off to fight in a war. Goliath is not a nine-foot-tall man but a large military tank that David must slew. In the Bible, Saul doesn't plot to kill David until quite some time into their relationship. Here, that plot begins episode two.
However, one of the more controversial liberties is whether King Saul's son Jonathan was homosexual. In this show, there is no speculation. He hides that bit of information from the masses, but his father knows the truth. The only difference is that instead of being called Jonathan, Silas' son is called Jack, and, yes, Jack is gay.
It has been a source of contention for Biblical scholars over whether King David was also homosexual. In the Bible, David and Jonathan were close friends. Some would argue "too" close. Did they get physical together? That's a debate best left for theologians. For this TV show, it will only drive the titillation factor. I suspect a Brideshead Revisited storyline might be one possibility but that remains to be seen.
Beyond the political threads this show is inclined to wrap itself, this thing is very soap operatic with very stilted and official, and almost Shakespearean dialogue. It's a little off-putting, but, in the absence of NBC's The West Wing, the American airwaves, or, at least this particular network, were in need of some governmental drama.
What happens in the Old Testament sets the stage for what we know today as the Middle East conflict, the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The story of King Saul and King David certainly is a precursor. I'm not sure if the writers and producers will use this show as an opportunity to probe the topic, even with all the names changed.
So far, King Silas' nation is called the Kingdom of Gilboa. Currently, Gilboa is at war with a group of people known as the Gath. The premiere episode begins with King Silas' inauguration at the newly built Gilboa capital city, called Shiloh, a city that looks a lot like Manhattan and some parts Brooklyn. Most Kings don't get inaugurated. Do they? Presidents do. We perhaps assume that King here is euphemistic for President. No mention so far of a Parliament or Congress. So, was Silas elected? There's no clue how he got his position initially or if his power is absolute.
Silas has a wife, a Lady Macbeth-type called Queen Rose. They have two children. The homosexual and cynical Prince Jack and his straight, liberal and idealistic sister Princess Michelle. Michelle is still in school, I think, while Jack is a soldier in the war, a war that King Silas sees isn't going well.
David Shepherd, by himself, makes a great rescue and stops a Goliath. King Silas recognizes this and instantly David becomes a national hero. The King uses David's brief celebrity as a distraction by making him a military liaison, a sort of press secretary for the court. Despite his awkward fit, he wins over the press and everyone else with his charm and ridiculously handsome looks.
Yet, David is humble, polite and honest. He's immersed in this cutthroat world and is totally out of his element. He's a young, naive, and hopeful farm boy. He's a wide-eyed child up against a big, corrupt, conspiratorial system that seeks to maintain its power no matter the cost or casualty.
Ian McShane (Deadwood) plays King Silas and is not all evil. His shark-like tendencies are counterbalanced with moments of dolphin or even teddy bear-like warmth. He seems to be a man who wants to do well and make Shiloh great, but inklings of Macbeth's ambition at times propel him. He's not above lying, cheating and murder.
Christopher Egan plays David Shepherd, the likely successor to the throne, and the complete antithesis to Silas. Shepherd has no ambition. He doesn't seem to have a bad bone in his body. His blonde hair and blue eyes accentuate his angelic qualities. His only mis-steps may be his empathy and ignorance of certain things.
I feel he hopes to aspire to be more than just a pretty boy or the King's showpiece, a nice trophy. What will play out in future episodes are Shepherd's education of this world and preparation for his eventual ascension or inauguration as the new King of Gilboa. The question remains how will King Silas' exit be orchestrated and will it mean a new era for Gilboa or will Shepherd be corrupted by the system?Four Stars out of Five