Oh what a tangled web we weave,
when first we practise to deceive
wrote some guy from days of yore who knew a lot about kings.
Now some guy from today has taken up the theme in NBC's sprawling Kings, not like anything you've seen before on TV (at least in its beginning), a show with a bright past, though perhaps a checkered future.
The old guy was Sir Walter Scott, whose epic poem Marmion, a convoluted tale of war and love and intrigue in the aristocracy and the church, was a great sensation 200 years ago. Its first edition of 2,000 copies, priced at more than $1,000 each in today's money, sold out in a couple of months.
The new guy is Michael Green, who spent even more of NBC Universal's money than that total on tonight's two-hour premiere about war and love and intrigue in the aristocracy, with religious overtones, a show that spins webs in the webs of the webs, laying out more oh-my-gosh instants than a season's worth of most series.
Sadly, as so often happens, the grandeur and surprise settle toward soapiness when the show moves into future episodes, as various high-level evildoers battle each other for power, money, and hot sex partners, while the good-hearted folk fret and risk their lives for more noble causes.
Kings is being touted as a modern version of David and Goliath, a story everybody knows, and early on, a handsome, brave country bumpkin named David (who is his mother's seventh son) single-handedly blows up a Goliath tank, the premier weapon of his country's enemies.
Half of us (or more), however, would have to go to the Bible, or the Internet, to find out what happened after the little fella slew the giant back in the day, and that story is the meat of Kings, altered, one hopes, to provide surprises for those who already know the original.
Come to think of it, those folks will probably all be watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. And, as some other old guy wrote long ago: Therein hangs a tale.
Kings had originally been slated for Thursdays at 10 p.m., about as cushy a spot as there is on the decimated NBC prime-time schedule, since all the zombies will continue to tune to the channel after ER closes forever in that time slot in a few weeks.
But no. Goliath appeared at the network's gates, and no one even thought of throwing a rock at him. Southland, a show about cops in L.A., a little (like 95 percent) less esoteric than what Kings is offering, and a lot more likely to succeed, took the slot. It comes from John Wells, TV production mogul and executive producer of ER. Michael Green may have worked on Smallville and Everwood and Heroes, but he's never been a show runner.
Sorry, David, if NBC hasn't had solid success, outside of football, for 30 years on Sundays at 8.
Still, Green's no creative slouch. He's heavy into superheroes, a regular contributor to DC Comics, with a deal to help adapt the Green Lantern into a film franchise, which, if he can give it the economic bite of Spider-Man and Batman, will free him forever from TV chores.
Kings is set not so long ago, like about a year, and very far away in the mythical kingdom of Gilboa, which just happens also to be the name of the ridge where part of the border between Israel and the West Bank was laid down in 1949, and also the place where the Bible's King Saul died in battle. Gilboa is battling a country called Gath, which just happens also to be the name of the birthplace of the original Goliath.
All of this comes in the category of things you can learn when reading articles about TV, giving you ammunition when idiots at cocktail parties say the entire medium is vapid and bankrupt.
Most of the action takes place in the magnificent new capital city of Shiloh (look it up), built, in the show, by King Silas Benjamin, played very imposingly by the usually scary Ian McShane (Deadwood), but created for television, in the long views, by a little computer work on New York City, and, in the short ones, by careful selection of Big Apple locations.
They drive Chevy Suburbans, among other recognizable American and European cars, in Gilboa, suitable for this place that has a contemporary Euro-American feel.
Except the immensely popular (for now, oh-my-gosh) king is all-powerful (almost, oh-my-gosh), and he has a fancy court, and a spiritual adviser who helps him decide whether God does or does not want him to be king, even if God is dead to most citizens of the land.
There's a queen and a prince and princess, all quite contemporary, various cabinet and military folk, and this David kid, who becomes a national hero. The characters, especially the king (thank you, Mr. McShane), are quite complex, and the story twists and turns relentlessly as people serially get caught in the spiders' goo and fight to release themselves.
Everyone complains there's nothing new on TV, with its endless string of doctors, cops and lawyers and 10,000 numbing examinations of what is supposedly real life. Not too many shows, though, about a made-up country and a guy who decided God wanted him to be king when a swarm of butterflies landed on his head.
Don't expect it all to make logical sense, but Kings deserves a look. Unlike King Silas' subjects, if you decide to withdraw your fealty a week or two down the road, you won't be executed.
Premieres tonight at 8