This post is happening because last night I started watching Kings. It is a TV show that ran a single season on NBC a few years back before getting pulled (woe, alack, etc.); it is a retelling of the story of King David in a fictional version of the modern world. And it’s really interesting.
Kings tells the story of the fictional kingdom of Gilboa, a triumvirate of countries very recently unified under one king after years of bloody war. The main character is David Shepherd (IT IS MAYBE A LITTLE HAMHANDED IN PLACES), the seventh son of a single mom and a soldier, who gains instant fame and power when he bravely crosses enemy lines (Goliath is a tank, and I still can’t decide whether it’s the best or the dumbest thing ever) to save the king’s hostage son. He’s got an obvious Destiny Narrative, and of course begins shaking up the corrupt and frightened government as soon as he gets there, with his Bravery and High Morals and Chosen-ness; the story revolves around David’s alternately bewildered and divinely-inspired attempts to walk the line between maintaining his integrity and not being executed.
I am not in the target audience for religious media. I have not picked up any religious fiction or watched any Christian-aimed TV show since Veggietales (though I am always up to watch Veggietales again, because it’s incredible). I started watching Kings because a friend came over and put it on, and my feelings about it are a pretty even split between I will not sleep until I have watched every episode of this that exists and I HAVE SO MANY FEELINGS ABOUT HOW THEY PUT THIS TOGETHER.
I am leery of media that tries to tell me about God. Media – especially pop media – usually comes with a single message attached. You put a story together to make a point. Religious media, for me, tends to be boring, because the message is either one I have seen before, or one I don’t agree with. I don’t need it as a tool for evangelization (or even particularly like it used that way), and because I’m used to engaging with books and television as a critic as much as a fan, it feels pointless to watch something whose presentation isn’t intended to be critiqued. That isn’t the point of religious media, because it’s not about the media, it’s about religion.
While I’m only a few episodes in, I would not call Kings a religious show. And I think that’s what I like best about it. Kings feels like… like mythology. It is a really, really good retelling of a myth, one that relies just enough on our ingrained mental associations with it to make it feel familiar, but that makes the story deeper, and more human, and best of all new. I kind of live for really good retellings of mythology, so this is incredibly exciting to me. It treads a fine, fine line between nuanced and hamhanded; half the time the dialogue is easy and natural, but at key moments it has a tendency to become heavier, and the entire feeling more staged. For me, this is an example of why Kings works. This show knows what it is and what it’s trying to be; it is capable of taking on the weight of the story and the history it’s retelling, without falling into cliche and simple audience expectation. But it doesn’t feel shoehorned into a modern setting, either– storylines are reinterpreted and added, characters are redrawn and rearranged (they rewrote the story of King David to have more and more interesting women in it, did someone ask for a miracle), and looking for the parallels I know are there has been half the fun so far.
Most interesting about it to me, though, and I guess to whatever the hell this blog has become, is that they did not attempt to make the story palatable by removing the religion from it. God is a presence in this story, but not a character. It’s bright and shiny and modern– Goliath is a tank, Google is a thing– but the Old Testament God, arbitrary and unfamiliar and yet unarguably present, comes in more or less unchanged (for all that no direct parallels between that and any existing religion are ever drawn, and things like homosexuality are both a major plot thing and not connected to the religious part of the storyline in the way you would expect!). Mighty signs descend upon the king and upon David; people make deals with the Angel of Death; no one questions the existence and the movement of God in the story and in their lives, and so it feels like just a detail of this fantasy world, an element of the story, instead of an attempt to evangelize, which it easily could have come across as. It works because religion isn’t the point– it might be inextricable from the story, but that’s because the story is coherent and also cognizant of religion’s role in its structure. It’s just well done.
So, in conclusion, I’m not going to be sleeping much until I have watched every episode of this that exists. It remains to be seen whether it will be able to stand up to Veggietales, but it’s definitely real competition so far.