Kings is a big, ambitious, imaginative fantasy soap opera with a grand, prickly performance by its star, Deadwood's Ian McShane. In an alternate world, McShane is Silas Benjamin, king of Gilboa, a nation that strongly resembles contemporary America; he strides around in immaculate business suits plotting victory against an invading force from the neighboring country of Gath. We meet a farm boy-turned-soldier, David Shepherd (Eragon's Chris Egan), whose bravery in battle he rescues a prisoner who turns out to be King Silas' cocky, secret-keeping son Jack (Sebastian Stan) gains him notice from the king and his court. Shepherd, as nearly everyone calls David, is brought into the kingdom as a useful public relations symbol: He represents the pure common man, something in short supply among Silas' crew, which includes the king's ratty chief-of-finance brother-in-law (Revolutionary Road's Dylan Baker) and his disapproving, mysterious religious adviser (Oz's Eamonn Walker).
Some aspects of Kings are predictable. With a young blond stud like Shepherd, there's gotta be a beautiful king's daughter (Allison Miller) he can fall for. And since the king is a randy egomaniac, his wife is a control-freak ice queen (Once and Again's Susanna Thompson).
Kings is about intrigue, loyalty, warcraft, and betrayal. To prevent this stuff from becoming merely stuffy requires a certain kind of storytelling skill, and the mind behind Kings knows from big-scale fantasy drama. Creator Michael Green has co-written a script for a Green Lantern movie, and worked on Heroes and Smallville.
There's no ostentatiously melodramatic strain showing, no labored attempt to invest the show with Big Ideas or Grand Theories. But what Kings has going for it most of all are its actors. McShane fine-tunes his Al Swearengen persona from Deadwood into a more posh but no less amoral man; no one on TV is more cavalierly cruel while remaining charismatic. As the young lovers, Egan and Miller are simultaneously pretty and blank enough to allow any young viewer to identify with them.
For a series like this to work and I hope it does it needs both a mass audience (ratings) and a cult following (rabid watchers who'll key in to the show's mythology of Gilboa and Gath's history of hostility). Kings asks well, McShane's Silas commands you to enter its world; so far, that universe is pleasingly treacherous, though not wholly formed, a work in progress that's worth seeing through to completion. B+