Debuting on the 15th of March
, 2009, NBC
is like some bizarre tonal clash of Gossip Girl
and Battlestar Galactica
. It tells the biblical story of King David, but set in another world not unlike Present Day Present Time
, in which the kingdom of Gilboa, where King Silas Benjamin (played by Deadwood
's Ian McShane) has just inaugurated the new capital of Shiloh. Two years later, when Gilboa is at war with the neighboring kingdom of Gath, a plucky young soldier named David Shepherd goes behind enemy lines to rescue hostages, singlehandedly destroying a Goliath
tank on the way. Then one of the hostages turns out to be Jack Benjamin, the crown prince... and so David's political life begins. Also stars Susanna Thompson
(the second Borg Queen
), Christopher Egan, Eamonn Walker, Sebastian Stan
, and Allison Miller.
Canceled due to extraordinarily poor ratings (no episode ever placed higher than 4th regardless of which night it aired) and an extraordinarily high budget (estimated at $4 million per episode
with the pilot coming in at a staggering $10 million), although the series creator disputes the second part
On a side note: the story of David and Saul comes from The First Book of Samuel
, not Kings
Kings provides examples of the following tropes:
- All There in the Manual: Quite a lot of Character Development for some of the less prominent characters ended up being deleted for time constraints, but their scenes are included on the DVD.
- Almighty Mom: Jessie Shepherd. Told off the king and lived to tell the tale.
- Arc Words: In "The Sabbath Queen", every time that some one mentions that "the lights are off," take a shot.
- Fridge Brilliance: Not operating lights (usually leaving them off) is part of Jewish/Israelite Sabbath observance.
- Affably Evil
- Meet Abadon, the king of one of the nations existing before Silas unified them into Gilboa, a real tyrant and monster, or so it is implied. He's played by Brian Cox, chats amiably with Silas, gives him advice on kinging, and shows real depth of humanity at one point...as well as a severe lack of it at others.
- Similarly, Cross, during an outbreak of plague, offers every medical lab he has in the city to the public, free of charge.
- To a degree, Silas himself.
- Alternate Universe: Either that, or a particularly enigmatic Alternate History. It avoids being a Never Was This Universe thanks to several references clearly linked to our real historical Earth (Franz Liszt apparently existed as a music composer in the show's setting as well, etc.). And there's even a theory that... Well, take a look at the WMG section.
- Ambiguously Jewish: Everybody, sort of. The specifics of religious life in the kingdom aren't addressed, although the line in the episode "Prosperity" wherein Rev. Samuels says to Capt. Shepherd "dreams are a sixtieth part prophecy" is a direct quotation from the Talmud, specifically Berachot 57b.
- Anachronism Stew: Given that the real King David is estimated to have lived in the 11th century BCE, only to be expected with a modern retelling.
- A particularly intriguing and possibly deliberate one occurs in the fifth episode (sixth, if you count the two-hour pilot as two). Jack references "cutting babies in half" as a somewhat cynical reference to supposed Solomonic wisdom. The Biblical King Solomon, however, was David's son.
- 21st century soldiers with modern gear and modern tanks fighting via World War One trench warfare tactics.
- The whole "autocratic hereditary king in modern times" shtick. Lampshaded in the finale. "Kings? A monarchy, in this day and age?"
- Animal Motifs: Gilboa's heraldric butterfly, Chekhov's pigeons, the sacrificial deer... the list goes on.
- Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence: Rev. Samuels after his murder.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning
- Silas loves to tell that story about the butterflies landing on his head in a perfect circle. Then, at the end of the pilot, the butterflies throw him over for David.
- Subverted in the last episode when Jack's near crowning is a spartan affair, with him fantasizing about the exuberant crowds he wishes were there, and an ersatz crown.
- Bastard Understudy: Andrew Cross. He's a fast learner.
- Battle Butler: Thomasina
- The Beard: Lucinda Wolfson, for Jack.
- Because Destiny Says So: Or rather, because God says so. Or Death.
- Blood Knight: Abner, to a tee. Live by the sword, die by the sword, I guess.
- Bodyguard Crush: Jack has an affair with his bodyguard Stu.
- Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: Belial.
- Broken Pedestal: How David's attitude toward Silas is quickly heading.
- Chekhov's Gun
- Comedy B-plot pigeons.
- The knife in "Brotherhood" is also a rather straightforward example. Silas is shown to sleep with it under his pillow. Later, he kills Abner with it.
- The Chessmaster: Rose
- Chessmaster Sidekick: Andrew Cross. He studies his father's doings, then throws him under the bus in order to ingratiate himself to Silas and Rose.
- The Chosen One: David, obviously.
- General Linus Abner, played by Wes Studi. King Silas has him arrange the deaths of anyone who annoys him. Including David in the second episode.
- A lampshade is hung on the fact that Thomasina, the king's loyal and incredibly powerful personal secretary, is actually his dragon as well.
- Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Nearly all the symbols and iconography related to Silas are orange.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: William Cross; he's willing to prolong the war to keep his company profiting.
- Culture Chop Suey/Setting Update: Gilboa is basically biblical Judea with an outer layer of 21st century North America. The kingdom's main adversary, Gath, is a stand-in for the Phillistine tribes, but with 20th century Commie Land attributes and a bit of Ruritania thrown in for good measure.
- David Versus Goliath: Oh, you have three guesses and the first two don't count.
- Deadly Decadent Court: Assassinations, machinations and politics, oh my.
- Deal with the Devil: For Michelle to live, Silas has to give up his crown to the better man, whoever he is, or face his name being wrought to the ground and dragged in the dirt. And general bad stuff.
- Depraved Homosexual: Subverted with Jack. He's both gay and a pretty bad guy, but the one thing has nothing to do with the other, and most of his Pet the Dog moments come when he starts to come to grips with his sexuality.
- Deus ex Machina: Some of David's escapes are a little too lucky to be anything else... but then, this being the story it is, that's only to be expected. Deconstructed when David is charged with treason, as his constantly being in the right place at the right time looks awfully suspicious to the court.
- Disappeared Dad: David's father was killed in combat, apparently on Silas's orders.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Putting aside the Biblical stuff for a moment, Gilboa and Gath.
- Older Than They Think: Gilboa is actually a mountain in the book of Samuel, and Gath is the city that Goliath came from in the Bible.
- Door Closes Ending: The fifth episode ends with David returning Ethan to their home where his entire family is unhappy with him for siding with Silas. Their mother welcomes Ethan home, then glares at David before shutting the door as the credits begin.
- Double Standard: Brought up in-universe. When racy photos of Michelle are about to leak, the Queen notes that people will attempt to shame her, while others will congratulate David.
- Driven to Suicide: Played Ambiguously. It's left deliberately unclear whether Joseph killed himself or if Rose had him killed and made it look like a suicide.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: Katrina Ghent. But handled so well that it's almost a Crowning Moment of Funny / Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Evil Chancellor: Inverted: Perry is the good chancellor to an evil king.
- Evil Mentor: Abbadon, to Silas.
- Fake American: Oh so many. We've got three Englishmen (Silas, Helen, and Rev. Samuels), an Australian (David Shepherd), an Italian-born actress (Michelle), a Romanian (Jack), and a Scotsman (Vesper Abaddon) all playing characters that are rather American in nature.
- Gender Flip: Jessie Shepherd takes her name from the biblical David's father, Jesse.
- General Ripper: Abner, who constantly argues in favor of escalation against Gath in any situation and begins secretly arming terrorists to attack them after Silas signs a peace treaty.
- Gilded Cage: Jack is confined to his well-appointed bedroom after his unsuccessful coup, in stark contrast to the dungeon Abbadon inhabits.
- The Good Chancellor: Perry
- Good Is Not Nice: Silas firmly believes this. God, however, has other ideas.
- Good Shepherd: Reverend Samuels.
- Grey and Gray Morality: There is one character who seems to be white and one who seems to be black, but the rest fall somewhere in between. In the end, not even the Reverend Samuels is completely pure, and even the vile Abbadon has someone he cares enough about to relinquish his hoarded gold.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Jack, by necessity.
- Heel-Face Revolving Door: Jack; Silas
- Hellhole Prison: Gehenna, the secret prison complex where Abbadon (and eventually David) is housed in 24-hour-a-day solitary confinement. The name is kind of a tipoff.
- Holy Halo: The crown of butterflies that bestow God's favor (and the kingship) on Silas and later, David.
- Hypocrite: Both Silas and Rose, when it comes to Jack's sexuality. Silas lectures Jack that he must stop having relationships with men because "we give up what we want when we want power," then hops in his car to go spend a few days with the Secret Other Family he was supposed to have given up to become King. Rose, meanwhile, gives Jack a speech on how the one thing she hates most of all is lies. Then he tells her he's gay, and she slaps him and starts shouting that it isn't true. Of course, Rose was probably knowingly demonstrating how one must believe and insist that the truth is a lie to maintain a certain public image, which Jack was refusing to do.
- Kangaroo Court: At David's trial for treason, Silas (who trumped up the charges to begin with) is both judge and jury. Jack sets it right.
- Knight Templar: Silas. He believes that doing evil things for a good cause makes them good, and is honestly flummoxed when God seems to disagree.
- Louis Cypher: Vesper Abaddon, kept prisoner in Gehenna. Was once king of Gilboa's neighboring nation of Carmel until Silas overthrew him in the Unification War, then sent down to reign in his prison. Made deals with Silas; money, knowledge, power, then laughed as he took two bullets to the chest, by his own hand. If that doesn't tell you he's Satan incarnate, what will?
- Lucky Seven: David mentions that he has six older brothers, making him the seventh son.
- Magical Realism: Seriously. Butterflies.
- Medal of Dishonor
- Mega Corp.: CrossGen, which is so rich and powerful that its backing installed Silas on the throne. During the course of the series, its CEO, William Cross, almost singlehandedly bankrupts the entire nation by withdrawing its gold from the national treasury, and blacks out all of Southern Gilboa with a single phone call. In the Grand Finale, he buys control of the entire Gilboan military, in order to install Jack on the throne.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Abbadon is the Bringer of Death in the Book of Revelations. Belial is a demon mentioned in passing in the Book of Corinthians. Depending how strong the viewer's association is, Jack might count as well.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Nice job, Silas, sending David on a suicide mission and succeeding only in giving him the idea to take your crown
- No Bisexuals: Jack has clearly had sexual relationships with women in the past, and at one point comes on heavily to Katrina Ghent, but Word of God is that he's gay, not bisexual.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: The queen. Subverted on a few occasions. She's surprisingly controlling at times.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Silas is very homophobic, which the writers use to mine a number of Kick the Dog moments in his interactions with Jack in the last three episodes.
- Preacher Man: Reverend Samuels, who certainly knows what he's doing.
- Prophetic Dreams: "Don't go!"
- Rags to Royalty: Silas, who started as a foot soldier. And presumably David, some time in the future.
- Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: Silas has a tendency to go very biblical in his speechifying.
- Rebellious Princess: Michelle. Although she keeps her rebellion within the system.
- Redemption Equals Death: Reverend Samuels
- Retired Monster: Vesper Abbadon
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: The whole royal family are either involved in governing or have their own causes to champion, like Michelle.
- Sadistic Choice: Katrina Ghent forces Rose to choose whether Jack or Michelle is publicly humiliated in "Pilgrimage".
- Screw Destiny: Silas tries this to save his own ass, then God shows up and explicitly tells him he can't fight fate.
- Secret Other Family: Silas' wife and son in the countryside.
- Secret Relationship: Michelle and David, Jack and Joseph.
- Single Precept Religion: The show is maddeningly vague on what sort of church "Reverend Samuels" heads, and why a population of no visible ethnicity thinks that "God gave this land to us."
- Smug Snake: William Cross. He plays a mean gambit, but not nearly at the same level as Silas.
- The Sociopath: Andrew Cross. After he arranges for pictures humiliating to Michelle to be publicly aired in order to hurt Silas, he describes what he did as "I broke his favorite thing," indicating that he sees her as an object, rather than a person.
- Stealth Pun: Yes, they are monarch butterflies.
- Straight Gay: Jack
- Tank Goodness: Gath's Goliath tanks (though, yeah, they're clearly Russian T-55s in all but name). David becomes a celebrated war hero after rescuing the crown prince and taking down one of the tanks single-handedly.
- Those Two Guys: The palace guards.
- Thrown from the Zeppelin: Jack has a government minister who questions his plan to be crowned king, even though Silas still lives shot in the back of the head in front of the others.
- Too Dumb to Live: Though informed somewhat by the revelation that she has vowed to do God's work regardless of the cost to herself, Princess Michelle falls into this trope with such stunning regularity that it's amazing she survives a season. One episode she's deliberately exposing herself to an incurable plague, the next she can't come up with any potential downside to David having naked pictures of her.
- Transparent Closet: Jack can fool the ignorant masses with his playboy act, but he can't fool his father.
- Unequal Pairing
- Michelle and David.
- Also, Tomasina and the palace guard.
- The Unreveal: What Andrew Cross did to be exiled.
- Unusual Euphemism: As hinted by Andrew Cross, and revealed in the final episode, "exile" actually means indefinite solitary confinement.
- The Uriah Gambit: Silas sends David on a solo mission to recover the stolen National Charter of Gilboa, armed only with a pistol and an envelope of cash, in the hopes that he will either be killed or refuse to return after failing. Ironic, considering David's Biblical namesake is the Trope Namer.
- Utopia Justifies the Means: Belial practically uses these exact words when questioned by Jack on his plan to bring down both Gath and Gilboa, ushering in a new order.
- Villainous Breakdown: William Cross has a bit of one after it turns out Silas is alive. And Silas has the full monty when God tells him that David is now his favorite, and a less extreme but more public one when Jack turns against him and accuses him of orchestrating the Kangaroo Court against David.
- War for Fun and Profit: William Cross firmly believes that war is good for business, and that's good for everyone. His decision to overthrow Silas is motivated entirely by his desire to keep the war with Gath going.
- What You Are in the Dark: "The Sabbath Queen" plays out the metaphor literally, with a regionwide blackout.
- Why Are You Not My Son?: Oh, guess.
- Wicked Cultured: Abbadon has fallen pretty far, but he can still tell a fine wine's maker and vintage from a single sip.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: The maneuvering between the Queen and the Minister of Information.
- Youngest Child Wins: David is the youngest of seven sons and had the series reached a proper conclusion he would have become king of Gilboa (and possibly Gath, too).