The new 'Kings' of pain

Drama has no heart or soul, and one of the actors is out of his depth * 1/2

(1 1/2 Stars)

Tv Review

March 13, 2009|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,

NBC is heavily promoting its new Sunday night drama, Kings, as a modern-day version of David vs. Goliath. Actually, it is far more Fisher King Myth and Hero Quest than Old Testament.

But, hey, you don't need to be a mythologist to know this is a series without a heart, soul or hardly any entertainment value. Outside of the always-intriguing Ian McShane, of Deadwood fame, there is not an actor to be found in the four hours made available for preview who will make you believe for two seconds in the reality of their characters.

And the actor playing the hero, Christopher Egan, is the worst. He makes the gang in CW's 90210 seem like the Barrymores.

He has blindingly good looks, but seems incapable of making any facial expressions beyond the forced half smile of a high school football player posing for his yearbook. The one scene in which he is supposed to show grief is almost too painful to bear - and not because his anguish is making you feel sad. It's painful because he is so obviously not capable of delivering the goods in his big scene.

Didn't anyone at NBC know this kid was desperately out of his depth? The fact that he often shares scenes with McShane only makes matters worse; he is such a lightweight that it feels as if McShane is going to blow him off the screen each time he raises his voice.

Here is the Fisher King part: McShane plays an ailing monarch approaching the end of his reign. We open on one of his great triumphs, the dedication of a new capital city, Shiloh, which he willed into existence out of a barren landscape in the Kingdom of Gilboa.

The series is supposed to be set in the near future, but it feels like 1980s America on another planet. But, again, hey, maybe that is the result of the less-than-believable computer-generated graphics of skyscrapers - one of which is supposed to remind viewers of a World Trade Center tower.

By the end of Sunday night's two-hour premiere, Silas is an ailing king, abandoned by his god and cursed by a prophet. At this point in most mythic narratives, all that is left for the king is succession. The only question is whether it will come at the end of a blade, a sip of poison or the very hand of an angry god.

Enter David Shepherd (not too obvious I am sure), an incredibly handsome and joyously innocent heartland teenager who wants only to play with his collie and fix cars on his mom's farm. This is the Hero Quest part with a little Cincinnatus, the citizen-farmer-soldier of Rome, thrown in.

When evil King Silas (McShane) starts a war with the country of Gath (in a land that looks just like Iraq), Shepherd (Egan) is off to the battlefield where he becomes a hero in an event reminiscent of Wag the Dog.

Hey, the Bible, Greek and Roman mythology, Barry Levinson - creator and writer Michael Green (Heroes) isn't shy; he'll borrow from any narrative available in search of a little epic resonance.

If only there were some. If only Green had not made such a cold, bland stew of such rich and tasty ingredients.

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