Of Kings and Prophets: TV Review
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ABC enters biblical territory with its new show, Of Kings and Prophets. The primetime drama follows the story of David, "his rise from humble shepherd to great warrior king contrasts with King Saul's fall from power, and his loss of grace with God," according to the show's website.
Having the stories of the Bible fill a timeslot on a major network, after the cancelling of NBC's A.D. The Bible Continues, is an exciting prospect. Unfortunately, Of Kings and Prophets' first episode disappoints.
Synopsis: Of Kings and Prophets Pilot
"Offerings of Blood" starts the series off with King Saul (Ray Winstone) fighting off the Philistines with his sons, Jonathan (Haaz Sleiman) and Ishbaal (James Floyd), and betrothing his eldest daughter Merav (Jeanine Mason) to a son of Judah, in the hopes of unifying the 12 tribes. Seeking God's blessing, Saul goes to the Prophet, Samuel (Mohammad Bakri). But, God's message through Samuel unsettles the weary king.
Meanwhile, a shepherd named David (Olly Rix) battles a different kind of enemy – a ferocious lion that is killing off his flock. David's bold proposition to kill the beast, so that the family's tax debts are forgiven, surprises Queen Ahinoam (Simone Kessel) and intrigues princess Michal (Maisie Richardson-Sellers).
What Works and What Doesn't
Of Kings and Prophets offers viewers a look at the biblical saga recorded in the Book of Samuel. Filmed in South Africa, the scenic backdrop and set designs aid in bringing this ancient history to life on the small screen. From elaborate costuming to intricate set decoration, the details are there, assisting the show in transporting viewers back in time.
Saul and his family are at the center of this pilot episode. In it, we see the women in the king's life play a prominent role (while they are revered, they're still put in their place). One plus is the show's interesting cast. Winstone brings intensity to his role as King Saul. The cast is welcomingly diverse and mesh fairly well together. However, a few of the especially strong British accents and flashy white smiles are diverting.
Written by Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, the guys behind Ridley Scott's Exodus: Of Gods and Kings, the show follows a basic story structure found in I Samuel, but creative license is definitely taken.
The Bible contains violence and sex, to be sure. But, conquests are not its focus. Contrarily, Of Kings and Prophets looks to excessively emphasize them. The pilot gets tangled up in too many plotlines, resulting in seemingly superficial characters. David's true character is never developed. Instead, viewers get the Bethlehemite guy next door, a man who relies on his own courage, not God, to get him through difficult circumstances.
(Spoilers ahead...) The first time God is mentioned is during a secret rendezvous. As Princess Merav passionately kisses her betrothed in a darkened castle hallway, she remarks that only God could have arranged their match. The episode delves into the spiritual with the entrance of Prophet Samuel. But, in Samuel's exchanges with King Saul, God only comes across as ruthless. The show follows the Bible in relaying the command to Saul to destroy a people group, but that's it. How the Lord is going to be portrayed throughout the series is yet to be fully seen. For now, viewers get only a glimpse of faith in the form of an unwavering prophet and a doubting king. David, a beloved of God's, hardly speaks of Him in this episode. Toward the end of the episode, Michal even has to correct him when he says he killed the lion on his own. She reminds David that the Lord was with him.
British actor Olly Rix, who plays the shepherd, raises an eyebrow. Why is David a 30-year-old looking man? The Bible says he's a boy, maybe a teenager, before he slays Goliath (I Samuel 17). It's disappointing. Much of the engaging elements of David's story comes from his innocence and small stature. People didn't expect much of him, but with faith and God's help he overcame giants. Though Of Kings and Prophets hasn't gotten to that point yet, it's setting itself up for a let down. It's hard to see how the abiding themes of Saul and David's stories, the cost of jealousy and rage or the peace and strength found in a relationship with God, will come through.
Why It's Rated TV-14
Rated TV-14 for suggestive dialogue, sexual situations, and violence, ABC's new show is for mature audiences only. Viewer discretion is strongly advised. Here are some reasons why: King Saul is pleasured, off screen, by one of his concubines. While in what seems to be a brothel, Joab jokes about not being able to afford the women there and then says something about opening his legs to a tax collector to satisfy a debt. Joab also talks of fame and glory, that men will raise their cups and women, their skirts, should they succeed in killing the lion (David does reject these motives, saying he's not in it for the glory).
From its first images, Of Kings and Prophets is quite bloody. King Saul and his armies fight the Philistines in a gruesome battle. They also slay a group of traveling Amalekites, men, women, and children. The prophet gets into the fray as well. We see Samuel kill the Amalekite king, slicing his throat and then hacking at him (off screen).
In the End
Of Kings and Prophets fails to fully deliver the endearing and enduring qualities of this beloved Bible story. This pilot's focus on romance and violence overshadows the inspiring and divine cemented in this biblical history. It's unfortunate, but this ABC series will not be a favorite among the faithful.
Note: The second episode teaser, and the above trailer, show David and Queen Ahinoam kissing. Is that what we're in for next week? Are they putting David and the King's wife together?
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