Friday, March 27, 2009

King of Kings

C’mon, face it, Ian McShane just simply kicks ass, and yup, I’d put down good dough to watch the guy read the phonebook. Once again, as the central figure in NBC’s shockingly ambitious and surprisingly imaginative new hybrid drama, Kings (Sundays, 8:00 PM.), McShane somehow gleams with prickly charisma as he spouts cheesy, quasi-biblical dialogue and (much like his one-of-a-kind Al Swearengen in HBO’s late lamented Deadwood) fascinatingly teeters between wisdom and amorality, between bleary-eyed self-recognition and razor-sharpened egomania. McShane, with his craggy features, his oratorial delivery, his leopard-like bearing, commands the small screen, and manages (again, as in Deadwood) to grab you up despite his readily apparent ruthlessness.
The series, a truly weird combo of familial soap opera, sci-fi fantasy, and mutated Shakespeare, takes place is a seemingly modern city called Shilo in the kingdom of Gilboa (McShane is the ruler, King Silas), engaged in an ongoing fight with the next door neighbors, Gath, over some thing to do with water rights. The main setting, a subtly tainted CGI Manhattan, yet it glows with a positively otherworldly sheen-- everything’s different, yet everything’s the same-- and the King’s court, a huge, looming space replete with grand ballrooms, glass-encased conference rooms, and bird populated turrets is equally visually engrossing. The whole deal squirts just this side of ridiculousness, and occasionally errs on the side of portentousness, yet it casts an almost Twin Peaks-like spell.
The cast, anchored by veterans like Eamonn Walker (as a mysterious religious adviser), Dylan Baker (suit-and-tie villain, coporate style), Wes Studi (imperious General) and Susanna Thompson (Lady MacBeth oh-so-perfectly coiffed), and is a little imbalanced by the pure out-and-out mainstream blandness of the two actors playing Silas’ children, the bad boy prince (Sebastian Stan) and the do-gooding princess (Allison Miller), although Chris Egan as the show’s other principle the a seeker/soldier named (uh-huh) David Shepard does show promise.
Kings, with its scintillating mix of familiar dramatic blueprints and chance-taking narrative modernism is flush with exceptional camerawork and sturdy, inventive storytelling. After a two-hour pilot and one subsequent hour-long follow-up, I’ve been drawn in. As far as the overabundance of cheese, it only adds to the flavor. Add in McShane’s eye-catching swagger, and it’s almost a must-see, or at least a must-try.

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