Ian McShane as King Silas Benjamin... one mean cocksucker.
In these days of soi-disé Reality Television, it’s a rare treat to see a brand-new scripted show. And “Kings,” airing Sunday evenings on NBC, is not just any scripted show: Its story is constructed on a framework right out of the Hebrew Bible... with a few arcane New Testament references thrown in for good measure.
Not that “Kings” is preachy stuff. It’s basically a good old soap opera, drawing on a few plot elements - and plenty of names - from the grandest soap opera of them all. But just as Ian McKellen’s brilliant 1995 big-screen production of Richard III took Shakespeare’s historical play and placed it in a fictional modern-day fascist England monarchy, so does “Kings” recast Biblical history in a modern, 21st century setting, complete with Internet and skyscrapers. Desert dust is replaced by urban grit, ancient royal dress by Brioni suits, yet the same old court intrigues boil beneath the surface.
So far, despite the show’s name, the biblical books of Kings seem not to be in play. Yet. The source material is from the first book of Samuel, including place names (Gilboa, Gath, Shiloh); character names (David Shepherd and his mother Jesse, Ephram Samuels, King Silas Benjamin, Abner, et alia); and even weapons (Goliath, a tank). Plotwise, the interplay between Testament and Teevee is less clear, although there is one scene in the first episode in which Ephram Samuels - the Billy Graham-like religious advisor to King Silas - informs Silas that he is no longer God’s elect, a direct cop from the story of King Saul... as related in I Samuel 15.
[Given that King Silas is played by Ian McShane (“Deadwood”), I’m surprised Ephram Samuels didn’t say, “God doesn’t like you anymore. You said ‘cocksucker’ way too much in your last TV series.”]
All of this Biblical parallelism got me interested enough to pull out my copy of the Tanakh - for you non-Jews out there, that’s the Hebrew acronym for Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Kethuvim (Writings), AKA the Bible. It makes for fascinating reading... and I learned a few things I didn’t know. F’r instance...
Most of us, even the most nonreligious amongst us, are familiar with the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, and the ten plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians - God’s not-so-subtle form of persuasion, one could call it. Blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the death of the firstborn - these were the Classic Ten. But the Big Guy apparently had a few other arrows in His quiver when it came to smiting the unrighteous.
In I Samuel 5, we read about the Ark of the Covenant - the same one that melted all those Nazis’ faces off in Raiders of the Lost Ark - and how it had fallen into the hands of the Philistines... a state of affairs with which God was, apparently, not pleased. And thus he smote the Philistines.
Did He melt their faces off? No.
Did He give them stomach cancer? No.
Did He give them the heartbreak of psoriasis? No.
He gave them hemorrhoids. The affliction that dare not speak its name.
This was not something to be taken lightly in the days before Preparation H was invented. The itching and burning must have been of Biblical proportions. Oy.
So distraught were the Philistines that they resolved to give the Ark back... and with it, by way of an indemnity payment, they threw in five golden mice... and five golden hemorrhoids. (I Sam. 6:4) I am not making this shit up.
Therefore, I wonder. At what point will the writing team for “Kings” decide to mine this remarkable treasure-trove of plot material, this rich vein of Bizarre Ideas? Is America ready for the Golden ’Roid?