KINGS. 8 p.m. Sunday, Channel 10.
IT'S NOT often that I'm left disoriented by a TV show.
Teenage vampire slayers, terrorists invading the White House, bachelors who persist in proposing to strangers: I pretty much see it all.
My workdays? One long suspension of disbelief.
But in the weeks since I first watched the beginning four hours of NBC's new series, "Kings," I've been oddly haunted by the landscape laid out by creator Michael Green in what he describes as "a contemporary retelling of the King David story."
Strange enough that it's a world without discernible brand names but where people drive cars, talk on cell phones and engage in the kind of consumerism NBC is generally eager to capitalize on with product placement.
Or that Shiloh, the capital of the kingdom of Gilboa, is a new city that nevertheless looks a lot like the very old one the Dutch used to call New Amsterdam and we know as the Big Apple.
But it's the central conceit, that Gilboa is a monarchy, whose king, Silas - played by "Deadwood's" splendid Ian McShane - came to power through the grace of God and/or the military-industrial complex, that makes "Kings" both seductive and a little off-putting.
Like CBS' "Jericho" after the bombs hit, it offers up a world of infinite possibility and infinite corruption and leaves us to wonder how much effect a system of government actually has on the nature of the governed.
At the same time, like many another New York-based show, from ABC's "Ugly Betty" to the CW's "Gossip Girl," it's a soap opera, taking us inside the lives of the rich and fabulous.
Except, of course, for the God part.
"It's not popular to speak of God," intones Silas at the inauguration of Shiloh as the new capital. "But I do so, now and publicly, because I feel blessed."
But is Silas the only blessed one? And how much longer will his blessings continue?
As the king speaks, a young man named David (Chris Egan) watches at home with his family. His full name's David Shepherd - get it?- and, yes, there's a Goliath in his future, though not the one you might be envisioning.
Though Silas has a wife - Susanna Thompson of "Once and Again" plays Queen Rose Benjamin - and children (Allison Miller and Sebastian Stan), hereditary monarchies can be tricky to get started.
That "Kings" is supposed to be about a new king's rise could be its greatest weakness, given the force of McShane's personality. No one will mind seeing David slay Goliath, but to root for this upright but so far not very interesting youngster against Silas is like siding against J.R. Ewing: No fun at all.
The show's greatest strength? That it's here at all.
Green, who was working on NBC's "Heroes" when he pitched "Kings" to the network, told reporters last summer that "we'd just done a scene where a guy came back from the future to tell someone to save the cheerleader and thought, well, that worked. May as well try something, you know, crazy."
NBC execs, he said, "told me to go for it."
It's not popular to speak of risk-taking in a nation becoming more risk-averse by the day. But NBC, which could have ripped off yet another "reality" show for 8 p.m. Sundays, instead bought into something imaginative and intriguing and, yes, a little crazy.
Reason enough for now to feel blessed, I'd say.
Ladies and the tramps
Remember "Calendar Girls," the British comedy about a group of Women's Institute members of a certain age who raised money for cancer research by posing nude?
Seems that's not all members of that venerable federation of women's clubs are up to.
After the Hampshire chapter of the WI, as it's called, suggested the British government take steps to protect prostitutes, reporter Nicky Taylor prodded two members to investigate with her. The result, "Brothels: The Ins and Outs" (9 tonight, BBC America), is an earnest yet undeniably hilarious documentary that probably deserves its own movie. At Taylor's urging, Jean Johnson, 62, and Shirley Landells, 73, embark on an international tour of legalized houses of prostitution that takes them to the red-light district of Amsterdam, a "bunny ranch" in Nevada and to a small worker-owned outfit in New Zealand.
Meanwhile, back home, Taylor sets herself up in a shop window - the way some women are in Amsterdam - to gauge public reaction and finds a surprising lack of chill in the air of a country we tend to think of as stuffy.
It's Johnson and Landells, though, who shine, as they learn, yes, the ins and outs of the sex trade, from the use of small appliances to the importance of placing sinks at the height of customers' "dirty bits."
If there is a movie, I'd love to see them played by Helen Mirren and Judi Dench.
Maybe Judd Apatow could direct. *
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