Judge Eric Profancik is blue—royal blue.
"Half my kingdom, it is."
Series come and series go, and I've had a bit of a bad streak lately with new television shows. There was Cane, K-Ville, and Kings; three shows that I liked but apparently not enough other people did. All were chopped after one season. It does hurt when you invest time into a show you find enjoyable only to see it cancelled. But what can you do? Start a letter writing campaign? That's too passé and more often than not doesn't work. Send peanuts to the network, maybe sugar cane, or something else? Again, it most likely won't make a difference. So all you're left with is memories and wistful thinking. The question is when a show you like is cancelled after one season, do you want to see it on DVD or do you want to let it fade into obscurity?
Facts of the Case
Loosely based on the biblical story of King David, Kings follows the unlikely rise of an honest and good man—and soldier—David Shepherd (Christopher Egan, Resident Evil: Extinction), who ends up saving the life of the son of King Silas Benjamin (Ian McShane, Hot Rod). As David is plucked from his simple life and thrust into the tumult and complications of being in the royal spotlight, David finds himself at the center of attention of everyone. For some, David represents an opportunity to push their agenda; for others, he represents a threat and must be eliminated. In the Kingdom of Gilboa, King Silas rules the land; but after David slew Goliath, how much longer can Silas hold onto his divine position?
Many moons ago, I was raised as a good Catholic boy. I went to Catholic school through eighth grade, but I decided to attend public high school. At that point I began to sever my relationship with religion and my vast repertoire of religious dogma slowly began to seep out of brain. Today I thus have only the vaguest idea of the story of King David, the basis for the arc of Kings. Normally I would unjustly eschew anything with a religious foundation, but something enticed me to give the show a chance. I clearly don't recall what it was, but I'm glad I gave myself the opportunity. Kings failed to click with audiences and I understand why. While the underlying story was interesting, the evolving complications often felt trite and contrived. Simply, too often the story felt cliché. We've seen this all before, and problems came at such a rapid fire pace to destroy any immersion into the faux reality of the show. Even worse, most problems were fixed in forty-five minutes.
Despite the obviousness of many situations, I was immediately hooked by the story. Clichéd or not, I wanted to see how it unfolded, but not in the way the producers most likely desired. I wasn't so much interested in David Shepherd; I was interested in King Silas Benjamin. As portrayed by Ian McShane, King Silas was a brilliant character. He exuded an air of royalty, of power, of certainty. His every moment on screen was riveting, and you were transfixed by his performance. He elevated the series with his penetrating talent, and any scene that didn't involve him often felt flat. Yet that's a bit unfair to the rest of the cast, who often did well with their parts. Queen Rose Benjamin (Susanna Thompson, Star Trek: Voyager) took a role that initially felt vapid and empty and turned it into a slick character piece of the manipulative power behind the scene. Jack Benjamin was a complex character, one you weren't meant to like; yet we often felt pity for the homosexual son who could never be true to his heart. Wanting his father's respect and love but never feeling as if he received it, Jack would flip his loyalties at the drop of a hat to whichever way he felt would get him the crown as quickly as possible. Other characters were portrayed well in the series, but David is the weak link in the chain. Christopher Egan most certainly exudes the boyish naiveté; but anytime a moment of weight was necessary, it felt he was over his head and couldn't convey the needed gravitas.
We have an appealing story with compelling characters portrayed well, yet that isn't the reason I found myself coming back week after week. Oddly enough, in what I would call a first for this rationale, I watched Kings because of the production design. The Kingdom of Gilboa is stunningly beautiful and lush. I was constantly amazed and delighted by what I saw. Room after room, location after location was simply beautiful. To later learn that most of their locations are real only added to my astonishment and joy. This fictitious Gilboa is purely a redressed New York City, with some landmarks removed and others added in. To make this land seem real, the first episode was filmed in existent locations in New York City—and then later recreated on sets for the rest of the series. Oh the places you could see if you only had money and/or access. The ornate qualities of the locales or simply where they were and what you saw were breathtaking. The choice of locations cemented the fact that you were watching the new royalty, not cooped up inside an old musty castle. It's a delight for the eyes.
Kings arrives to the digital medium only as a DVD. This failed series does not appear to warrant Blu-ray treatment. I am saddened by that and will explain more on this later. The three-disc set boasts a pleasant 1.78:1 anamorphic video that allows the viewer to revel in the beauty of those locations I mentioned. Colors are rich, accurate, and bold; blacks are thick and deep; and contrast and detail are well balanced to add a healthy level of dimensionality to the presentation. I didn't see any significant errors to mar the presentation. I liked what I saw. Audio is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that offered a bit more vitality and energy than I expected. Dialogue is always clean from the center channels, and while the surrounds don't get heavy usage, they are used very well to create ambience. On some occasions, like the battle scenes, they create an excellent immersive experience.
Bonus materials are a bit skimpy with just one audio commentary, some deleted scenes, and trailers for some other shows on DVD. The one commentary is for episode one, "Goliath," and it features series creator Michael Green, director Francis Lawrence, and Ian McShane. It's a lively and entertaining listen, and the men cover a wide variety of topics from production to gossip. I enjoyed it and think the set definitely needed a couple more. At least they do mention the show's failure, but they never go into depth about it. The deleted scenes are scattered across the discs, and come from the episodes "Prosperity," "Judgment Day," "Pilgrimage," "Chapter One," "Javelin," and "New King, Part 2." As usual, most don't add more than a bit of flavor but the ones for the last episode give some small indication where the series may have gone. What this set truly needed was some type of discussion of the bible and the story of King David. Give the uninitiated some background; explain that story, and how it was modernized for television. Then perhaps toss in a fact tract or two to point out the parallels in the episodes. Maybe that's what led to its early cancellation?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
To my lament over the lack of a Blu-ray release, this again ties to my enjoyment of the locations for the series. While the DVD conveys the opulence and beauty of the environments, I was wishing for a Blu release. That extra definition and quality would have been an amazing experience. I can only imagine what I would have seen with a high definition release. Just think of the scene of the King fishing on the lake with all those glorious autumn colors…What a wasted opportunity.
Series come and series go, and I've recently picked a few that just didn't make the cut. What can you do when you invest the time and the series is yanked away from you? Not too much, but you at least are now sometimes given the choice to add the series to your personal collections at home. In the case of Kings I know there is quite a bit of re-watchability in it for me, trying to understand the biblical parallels and to simply savor the great acting of Ian McShane. I'd like to recommend this set to everyone. For fans, though weak on bonus items, the transfers are top-notch and will afford many enjoyable hours of viewing. For newbies, give the set a rental and catch a glimpse at an ambitious story told with lush detail. I wish this one had gone on a few more seasons.
Kings is hereby found not guilty of stealing the throne.
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