Hit or Sh**: ABC’s OF KINGS AND PROPHETS
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
Let me make something perfectly clear: I do not give one single flying fuck about GAME OF THRONES. Heaven knows I’ve tried (I’ve seen the pilot episode three separate times), but believe it or not, it fundamentally bores me. Titillation without context or emotional investment is unfiltered spectacle, all of which I’ve seen before, and I view GAME OF THRONES as a hyper-DeBordian nightmare of empty signs.
However, the one thing I will toss in GoT’s court is its successful endeavor to make fantasy culturally viable and widely accessible again. Long relegated to musty-smelling men such as the one portrayed in the picture above, GoT gave realms of kings and dragons a chance at a renaissance. If OF KINGS AND PROPHETS is any indication, the Bible will never induce a similarly electrified audience. Giving the GAME OF THRONES treatment to rough interpretations of the Biblical figures Saul and David is a concept that I can see coming across well in a Hollywood boardroom, but OF KINGS AND PROPHETS can’t help but fulfill its destiny as a subpar distillation of HBO’s juggernaut, shooting itself in the foot by its clear desire to emulate its (barely) superior peer.
OF KINGS AND PROPHETS tells the story of King Saul, the Israelite ruler who’s in the midst of marrying off his daughter to a man from the tribe of Judah in the hopes of uniting the Israelite tribes against the Philistines. In addition, there’s a really boring and inconsequential subplot involving David (of David and Goliath fame) killing a lion to pay off his family’s debts, but more on that later. At this point, it’s starting to almost feel too obvious to hate on network television for embodying the much-maligned qualities we love to call out. I suppose I must at least tip my hat (or fedora, more appropriately) at OF KINGS AND PROPHETS for, in the words of writers Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, attempting to “push the envelope ‘as far as [they] can’ in regards to the amount of sex and violence featured on the series.”
To their credit, they certainly do give it the old college try. There are two large scale battle set pieces that are generally more violent than the average show you’d stumble across during channel-hopping, but HBO has progressed things to the point where, unless semen-coated characters are rolling around having screaming orgasms, the slightly-heightened state of thrusting and grunts offered up by OF KINGS AND PROPHETS’ sex drive still feels like something my mother wouldn’t even blink an eye at. We get to see some of a boob and a butt at one point, though, so I guess that’s edgy? The most “non-network” thing contained within the show is a series images of mutilated lamb caracasses, but that’s not exactly going to pay the bills. As such, we can’t rely on this show to appeal to our more primal instincts to keep us watching at the end of the day.
Why does he look so confused???
So what are we left with narratively? First let me clear the air with David. Who gives a single solitary shit? The main concern of David’s subplot is that it’s time to pay the piper (the tax collector), but David’s got nothing to pay him with, as a lion has been terrorizing the flocks, preventing them from using them as cash cows (or cash sheep, rather). When Queen Ahinoam happens to stroll by as he’s about to be carried away, he begs her to give him a chance to kill the lion in lieu of forking over cold, hard cash. We’re then treated to innumerable pointless scenes of David tip-toeing through the tulips of the Middle East with a walking buddy, setting the stage for a Biblical BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN that fails to coalesce. Instead we just see David eventually make it to the lion’s den and slingshot it to death, which is just about the least cool way to kill or be killed. Not even having the chutzpah to show the lion brained by David’s stone, we just cut to him dragging its head back to the palace, rendering this plot line an unequivocal dud. Also, I know it’s not the strongest criticism to utilize, but Olly Rix is simply not leading man material from a presentation perspective.
A sad, slightly confused mixture of Peter Dinklage and a bass player from the 60s
Saul’s plotline has a lot more potential. There are enough references to the general political context of the time that it’s clearly carried across how the marriage of Merav to Judah’s Mattiyahu…
Believe me, I wish
…serves the Israelites’ best interests, and the audience can rest easy knowing that they genuinely love each other to boot. In addition, having to ask for the prophet Samuel’s blessing of their marriage offers a sound segue into the ultimately larger plot arc that gets revealed. Samuel’s a voice of God, and the big man upstairs is real pissed that the Amalekites haven’t been good Christian boys and girls. Saul has to kill every Amalekite man, woman, and child if God is to give his stamp of approval to Merav and Mattiyahu schtupping (religious politics were whack back in the day, fam), but the pilot makes the strange choice of having this be almost entirely irrelevant. Saul ends up sending Mattiyahu to bargain with the Philistines (probably not the best move, Saulster), which leads to Mattiyahu’s demise. As such, Saul demolishes the Amalekites for nothing, and even angers Yahweh further when he saves one Amalekite to bring back and parade before his people.
We end the OF KINGS AND PROPHETS’ pilot with Samuel mad at Saul, Merav not married, and David ending up as Saul’s court musician for some hastily-construed reason, none of which are particularly strong hooks for future viewing. The pilot tries to milk the reveal that Saul’s concubine Rizpah is a spy for the Philistine king Achish, but you can practically hear the dramatic horns and booming drums as she exaggerates her whip-around and the camera zooms in, rendering this ostensibly gripping moment as pure hokum.
Alright, folks, I hate to lift the veil, but as a matter of fact, at the time of this article’s publishing, OF KINGS AND PROPHETS has already been cancelled. I know, I know, this is some real tricky dickery, but I wanted to make sure that our dear readers could hear it from us how bad this pilot was. The strongest aspect of the pilot is its willingness to portray an Old Testament God who was eager to kick ass first and ask questions later, as this is a version of Christianity we are not often exposed to in media. However, it seems to be that the only way the series will deal with this theme is by having Samuel walk around bitching at Saul about his path of sin, which is destined to quickly grow old. In addition, the production does feel significantly “large scale,” and the production design department deserves a well earned pat on the back. Apart from that, the writing is less flavorful than water, and the characters all like to lean in close and speak in gruff whispers that exaggerate their historically inaccurate British accents, which makes taking anything seriously extremely difficult. OF KINGS AND PROPHETS isn’t horrendous, but as events show, people didn’t care about a Sunday School version of GAME OF THRONES to keep tuning in for two mere weeks. Hopefully we’ll all soon realize the follies of trying to make “prestige network” television and go back to the good-hearted escapism we’ve come to expect.
OF KINGS AND PROPHETS aired on Tuesdays on ABC