"Kings" a royal calamity

Thu Mar 12, 2009 7:29pm EDT

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "Kings" helps make the argument for those who believe that irony is truly dead.

It takes an utterly straight-faced and painfully earnest approach to the kind of broad nighttime soap opera that once fueled "Dallas" and (especially) "Dynasty" through the 1980s, but to watch something so anal-retentive and full of itself in the new century can't help but play as unintended farce.

This wildly broad serialized series from NBC leaves you wondering whether what you're seeing and hearing is genuine or a mere figment, playing off parable and royalty to tell a modern-day fable about greed and David-vs.-Goliath symbolism.

The fact it has "Deadwood" heavyweight Ian McShane making self-important pronouncements and coded threats only adds to the empty-headed vibe of creator/executive producer/writer Michael Green's two-hour opener. It's less a pilot than an unwieldy and detached fantasy about the corrupting influence of power.

McShane, a gifted and dynamic performer, stars as King (yes King) Silas Benjamin, who presides over the mythical nation of Gilboa and whose capital is Shiloh (this here made-up place looks a lot like a major metropolis like, say, New York or Chicago). It's having problems keeping its hostile neighbor nation Gath at bay.

So it seems a war is going on, and it's left to young soldier and Matt Damon look-alike David Shepherd (Chris Egan) to save POWs and face down the enemy, including standing up to a tank.

The symbolism just busts out from every corner of "Kings," which comes complete with the J.R. Ewing-like megalomaniac in King Silas and the ready-made Alexis Carrington bitch in Queen Rose Benjamin (played with frigid menace by Susanna Thompson).

Pretentious and far too taken with its own sense of menace, the show casts every line of dialogue as a pronouncement, every action as an uppercut to the chops.

Subtlety is for the other guys. "Kings" is too busy trying to take us back to the '80s but succeeds only in transporting viewers to a place of make-believe where everyone walks and talks with the sort of rigidity that bespeaks the desperate need for a bathroom break.

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