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Crown of 'Kings'

March 12, 2009 By:
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David (Chris Egan) slays his Goliath Photos by Eric Liebowitz/NBC

Caesar might have taken a stab at canceling his appearance on the date, but "Kings" goes forth on the Ides of March.

But then, "Kings" is made of sterner stuff.

And what sterner a countenance to encounter than that of Ian McShane, the Dead-End kid of "Deadwood," who's now the lively epicenter of an epoch-echoing drama that reminds one not so much of Caesar and Brutus, but the brutal battle of David and Goliath.

The series, with McShane as the apocalyptic King Silas -- an avatar of King Saul -- slingshots its way onto the NBC schedule this Sunday night, March 15, with religious and biblical incantations that can't hide the fact that this may be broadcast TV's most incendiary attempt to burn cable at its core.

An energizing and engaging production that must have cost the network a king's ransom, "Kings" is epic, must-seize TV, an opportunity to grab greatness on a level rarely seen on a broadcast medium.

Set in a post-modern metropolis of Shiloh -- Shiloh, when it was young, was, in biblical times, a gathering point for Israelites -- King Silas' court forges power into an impenetrable silo, from which Silas offers entrance to an enchanted David (Christopher Egan), a young soldier who has saved Silas' son from certain death in combat.

For McShane, the McMaster of hard-edge characters -- whose fans swore by his duplicitous Al Swearengen of "Deadwood," which also won the actor a cavalcade of awards and acclaim -- it's good to be king.

Yes, he laughs with a salute to acting colleague Mel Brooks, it certainly is!

"It's marvelous to be king," he laughs in a smoky voice that is at once great and gruff.

In a shout-out to his past performance, who would win in a shoot-out between Swearengen and Silas?

"I think I'd find myself fighting myself," he chuckles.

The battle is joined; Shiloh is a shield for the power-rich, morally impoverished, run by a crowned king cowed by no one, mentoring David to walk among giants down roads rutted with danger before that young man is seen as more menace and genius than innocuous and ingenuous.

And it's all such a book of revelations.

But then, Michael Green, the "Kings" creator/co-exec producer, made book on that from the very start.

Religion and Politics
"It's a show where religion is as much a subject as politics is," says Green. "We drew from a lot of different sources."

The Source as a source? The king's ubiquitous brand is that of a butterfly, which, in the book of Corinthians, is a Christian symbol for resurrection, while some of the dialogue resurrects a line and theme of thought and charity from Talmud: "To save one life is as if you have saved the world."

Salvaging some lessons from his Jewish upbringing? Well, in the beginning there was the Bible. But the bible -- the source publication for any ongoing series, which lays out the direction that the series will take -- isn't really the genesis for this show's growth from point to point.

Point is, explains Green, "there's this mythology about television that there is actually a Bible that sits in an office ... a reference book that we've created.

"But for the most part, the show Bible is written based on what's been done rather than" serve as the Garden of Eden from which apples can be eaten or forsaken all season long.

Green likes his little green apples; he has sluiced this series with a stream of stunning visuals and vitality. Iconoclastic and idiosyncratically creative is the producer -- one would not expect him to be a hero worshipper.

No, he just created "Heroes"; it's his legions of fans who have set Green on a pedestal for picturing everyday heroes with fetes of clay in the notable series.

"I'm definitely drawn to heroes' journeys, big themes, archtypes in general -- and one of the biggest archetypes that yield the most story is the hero."

It takes some heroics to cut a David and Goliath story down to the size of a TV screen, but Green is colorfully suitable to do so. He is co-writing a big-screen "Green Lantern," due out in theaters next year, and is a revered comic-book writer besides contributing to "Superman/Batman" and producing "Smallville."

No small achievement for an accomplished producer concocting a story now of such biblical proportions.

And one with a King David dynamic and King Saul soul; Shiloh is situated in Gilboa, with the biblical Mount Gilboa being the site of King Saul's suicide in battle. "There's a lot to draw on," says Green of a biblical cast of characters that serve as progenitors for this playground of the powerful he has created.

But ... "This isn't a religious show; this is a show that's designed to tell the best story it can. To that extent, having religion as a subject makes for good storytelling."

The greatest story ever told? Uh, no, different version. But it does offer something to talk about ... and to ... as in early scenes in which the king connects in a conversation with God.

Dialogue with the Deity? McShane had his own question about that. "I said to Michael [Green], 'Who's playing God?' And Michael said, well, being a good Jew, God only talks in thunder and lightning."

And, in the kingdom that is TV, where Nielsen lords over one and all -- that role is played by ratings.  

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