Sunday, March 15, 2009

(Auto) Pilot: A Review of the Kings Pilot Script

*Simulposted on Pink Raygun.

Again and again you hear people complaining: “There’s nothing smart on TV. Shows talk down to their audiences. They don’t think we can handle nuance and complexity.” Okay, probably not those words exactly, but you know what I’m talking about. Well, people of the world, I present to you Michael Green’s ambitious Kings pilot script. And wish you good luck. Part West Wing, part Dirty Sexy Money, part Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, part Biblical/Arthurian/Carnivale-style grand mythology, Kings is a lot to digest on the page, so I can only imagine what it will be like to watch. But if you can absorb the complexity, wow, what a rich world you’re rewarded with.

Kings has the feel of a grand legend made gritty, realistic and modern. We begin with David Sheperd, a young soldier on the frontlines of the stalled war between Gilboa and Gath. His platoon occupies one hill; the armies of Gath, with their monstrous Goliath tanks, occupy the hill facing them. And so it has been for apparently quite a while. The Gilboans don’t attack the Gathans for fear of the tanks, and the Gathans seem content to hold their ground. Until a separate Gilboan platoon is overrun and soldiers are taken hostage.

Acting on feelings he doesn’t really understand, David disobeys orders and crosses enemy lines to rescue them. He succeeds, and the hostages make it back safely, but one of the Goliaths spots David and pins him down in the valley between the hills. What follows is not really an epic battle–call it luck, fate, whatever–but suffice it to say that David manages to take down the Goliath (get it?!) and return to his comrades a hero. Then fate really deals David the high card, as we learn that one of the soldiers he rescued is none other than Prince Jack, the only son of Silas, the Gilboan king.

From there David is whisked off to the capitol city of Shiloh, and the formal banquet in his honor is only the beginning of his meteoric rise. He treats with the king, wins the attention of the princess, generally annoys Prince Jack, and becomes the C.J. Cregg of Silas’ administration. Yes, crafty King Silas decides to make David the Military Liaison to the Press Corps and use his popularity and cute “aw, shucks” yokelism to deflect their scrutiny.

What follows involves a missing Blackberry, health care reform, an all-powerful pharmaceutical company, an all-knowing Reverend, hidden sexuality, war, sacrifice, and butterflies. Can’t forget the butterflies. You see, they serve as more than just the symbol of Gilboa–the same symbol you’ve been seeing on all the promos for the show–butterflies here are like The Sword in the Stone. The Lady in the Lake. They gave Silas the God-granted right to be king by alighting on his head in the shape of a crown many years ago… at least, that’s the story he likes to tell at parties. The exploration of this story’s validity–and whether Silas is still the chosen-by-God ruler–appears to be one of the central questions of the show.

So how is it to read? Fascinating. Page-turning. Amazing. And, by the end, a little overwritten and novel-like in the description. But those are problems that won’t show up on the screen unless they translate the action into dialogue. Instead, you’ll see an incredibly dense and beautifully crafted world being laid open to you, bit by bit. No one doles out the rules, you figure things out scene by scene, line by line. You want smart, complex, nuanced television? Look no further. But be careful what you wish for; this is one show that seems like it’s going to ask as much from its audience as that audience will ask from it.

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