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Can NBC Do the Bible?
By Jesse Carey
CBN.com Interactive Media Producer
- “One will rise. One will fall.” So reads the slogan for NBC’s new action/drama series Kings, an ambitious show that combines a futuristic world of kingdoms and wars (and the kings who run them both) with the Old Testament story of David and Saul.
I watched the first episode knowing little more about the premise of the show than that its two-hour season premier would be a retelling of sorts of the story of David and Goliath. But I was somewhat surprised to see that the story goes deeper than just a kid who slays a giant.
Kings takes place in an alternate reality, where a mighty nation has risen from the ashes of destruction to become a beacon of prosperity and hope to a world in conflict. Though their great, high-tech capital city is a cultural marvel, the country is in the middle of a war with a neighboring enemy over a border area known as “the valley”. The country is called Gilboa (which is also the region of Israel that the books of Samuel were thought to have taken place).
In the opening scenes, we learn that the country is ruled by King Salis, a man who claims to have been anointed by God to bring his people into peace and greatness. Salis seeks the council of Reverend Samuels for spiritual guidance and prayer as he addresses thousands of adoring citizens.
Though it takes place in near-future fantasy world, the writers of the show were clearly interested in more than just David’s battle with Goliath when crafting the story. Those familiar with the story of David know that Samuel was the priest who anointed young David after asking his father Jesse for the aid of his young shepherd son.
In the show, we meet young David Shepherd (whose widowed mother is named Jesse), a humble farm kid who finds himself on the frontlines of the war as a soldier fighting in the king’s army. After a unit of soldiers (including the king’s own son) is kidnapped by the enemy force, David decides to breach enemy lines to single-handedly attempt a daring rescue. But first he must get past the monstrous “Goliath” tanks guarding the hostages. With little more than a hand-grenade, David Shepherd takes out the tank, frees the hostages and becomes a national hero.
But that is when the show just starts to get interesting.
The story of David and Goliath is a well-known tale even for non-Christians. Even people who have never opened a Bible know the underdog bravado of the young marksman. But Kings goes beyond the old cliché; instead it uses it as an entry point for a deeper plot.
The Bible’s story of David’s rise to power is really about a young man who finds and embraces the anointing of God and one who is disobedient and forsakes it. One will rise. One will fall. In the Old Testament, David spends years running from the jealous King Saul before becoming king himself.
But along with the struggle between the old king and one to come, there are themes that not even Hollywood could script: war, murder, lust, brokenness, jealously, adultery, forgiveness and more. If the show keeps its close ties to the source material, it will have to tread lightly on a story froth with tragedy and sin.
NBC has to get credit for being willing to take a chance on a show that has such close religious ties. Along with some of the major plot points, they’ve even revealed subtle details that reference the actual story of David. In the show, David is a passionate musician (historically, David authored of most of the Psalms); there is a love story developing on the show between David and the king’s daughter (in the Bible, David married Saul’s daughter); Rev. Samuels tells King Salis that God will choose a “man after God’s own heart” to lead the people—a direct reference to what the Bible calls David. The show’s glorious city is called Shiloh (which was also the religious capital of Israel at the time), and they are at war with the nation of Gath (the Biblical home to the actual Goliath).
Kings also does a good job of showing King Salis’ constant spiritual conflict—both at odds with God and at the same time wanting his anointing and favor. His view on faith is somewhat of a dichotomy. Though he acknowledges that talking about God in public “isn’t popular”, he proudly professes his faith and reliance on Him during a huge speech. In one scene he makes a case for evolution just before marveling at God’s creative design. When things with the war begin to heat up, he tells Rev. Samuels to declare a time of fasting and prayer among the people, after which he becomes agitated with his spiritual advisor and declares he no longer needs him or God. The king also leads a double life—one in the press as a mighty king and devoted family man, the other as the father of a young child with another woman he also loves and constantly sneaks away to see.
David on the other hand seems disinterested in the royal life, and longs to rejoin his fellow soldiers on the battlefield. Though he doesn’t mention God as much as the king or Rev. Samuels, the young David Shepherd displays qualities that hint that he is dedicated to authenticity and morality—he is loyal, wants to do the right thing, and willing to do anything to help someone in need. (Even if he is a little rough around the edges at times.)
Despite getting a lot right in the first episode, the show’s writers also seem to be departing from some other major points in the Bible’s account in favor of their own plot twists. For one, King Salis’ son is a wild “party prince” and tabloid star who becomes jealous of David’s favor with his father and the press. There is also a reference to the fact that the king’s son is secretly gay—a fact that the king and his family want to keep a secret. Of course, in the Bible, Saul’s son Jonathan and David were close allies and friends—not enemies, a direction the show seems to be going. Also, in the Bible, God is the central figure in both David and Saul’s life. Although in the show God and His will are constantly made reference too, His role is not as prominent as it is in scripture, and His power is shown more through symbolism and dialogue than through actual action.
Clearly, Kings is not a straight-on analogy or direct reimagining of the Old Testament. However, for a network TV show to talk so openly about God, His anointing and even make such close references to the Bible, is notable. And, the show is incredibly well made with beautiful cinematography, great acting and gripping dialogue. Its source material is one of the most adventure-ridden, tragic and redeeming stories in scripture. If it can at least express some of the themes from the Bible, than it will be a welcomed departure from the standard primetime fare.
After I watched the two-hour premiere, I went back and read about the real David and the Books of Samuel. I wanted to see where the show got it right, and where it was taking its own liberties. I was reminded of how flawed even God’s chosen leaders are, and how powerful His redeeming love and forgiveness could be. It is an amazing story, and as I watch the show in the coming weeks, I’ll keep reading. Hopefully other viewers will be compelled to do the same.
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Jesse Carey is the Interactive Media Producer for CBN.com. With a background in entertainment and pop-culture writing, he offers his insight on music, movies, TV, trends and current events from a unique perspective that examines what implications the latest news has on Christians.
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