It's easy to see why Christians might be excited about the new series Kings, premiering on NBC March 15. Since the golden age of the silver screen, Old Testament stories, with their sin, intrigue, supernaturalism, and redemption, have been the stuff of epic moviemaking. And a modern reimagining of the lives of Saul and David could hardly offer better fodder for the long format of the television drama. But like many other occasions when Hollywood has taken up the Bible, the producers of Kings appear to have missed the point.
Updating ancient Israel obviously requires a major overhaul of the source material, and there's nothing wrong with the way creator Michael Green (see related story in this issue) has gone about that. Rather than 1000 B.C. in the Middle East, we get Gilboa, a millennial metropolis ruled by Silas Benjamin (Ian McShane), a king whose anointing by God is signified with a miraculous crown of butterflies.
If the place and a few of the names are different, the plot points are basically the same. David Shepherd (Christopher Egan) faces down Goliath (here depicted as a kind of super tank) in a wartime standoff, Silas subsequently offers him a high rank in the military, the Reverend Samuel visits David to confirm that he is the Lord's chosen to inherit the crown, and David begins a romance with Silas' daughter. Yet for all that, the heart of the biblical narrative is turned on its head to suit modern ideologies.
Some of the revisions are obvious. The show depicts Jonathan, who is now called Jack (Sebastian Stan), as a spoiled, petulant homosexual, and the plot hints that the brotherly affection between the real David and Jonathan will be perverted into something else. Other alterations are more subtle.
While NBC's young David seems as innocent and noble as the shepherd-turned-soldier should be, he displays no particular love for the Lord. This giant-killer may play the piano, but he does so for his own enjoyment, not to offer any kind of praise or worship. Miracles occur here and God is spoken of, but only by the waffling, double-minded King Silas who uses the Lord of Hosts as a PR tactic.
Equally disappointing is what the story does to the image of the warrior king. The producers play current events with the heaviest of hands to make barely veiled political points. Silas is controlled by a huge defense contractor that wants to keep the war going so it can continue to land lucrative government contracts. Contrasted against Silas the warmonger is David the white-flag-waver. In the premiere's seminal moment, David walks out onto the frontlines not to challenge the enemy but to plead for an end to the fighting. He becomes a hero to the people not for his skill in battle but for his skill in negotiating. True peacemakers are blessed, but there's something rather ugly in the fact that NBC doesn't find David as he was palatable.
Even when he defeats Goliath, he doesn't do it for the Lord's honor and he doesn't do it with a sense of conviction; rather, like Forrest Gump, he stumbles into victory accidentally. A postmodern poster-child, there is no assuredness in David of his God or anything else. Of only one thing he is sure-that while he is a "good" person, as a hero he is a fraud. But this, of course, is what makes him the ultimate hero in a relativist worldview. Only because he knows he doesn't know anything for sure are we supposed to admire him. It is a sad, pale imitation of the heroism of the actual David: a man who knew his cause to be just because he fought on the side of the true God and, for the same reason, knew his victory was assured.