Big, bold, audacious and different, “Kings” (7 p.m., Sunday, NBC) is the kind of show HBO used to make back when HBO was HBO. (God knows what HBO is now.) OK, if “Kings” were on HBO, there would be more violence, as well as cursing and nudity. But that wouldn’t make it better.
Ian McShane (“Deadwood”) is good, make that unmissable, as Silas, the King of Gilboa, a fictitious present-day monarchy. He rules from Shiloh, a city that looks like a cosmetically enhanced Manhattan. Built from the ashes of a city bombed 10 times over, Shiloh gleams with potential, even as the kingdom remains locked in unending warfare with Gath, directly to the north.
In an impetuous moment of bravery, David (Chris Egan), a soldier on the front, rescues the King’s ransomed son, Jack (Sebastian Stan), from the Gath. David becomes an instant national hero, the toast of Shiloh as well as a pawn in Silas’ games and a rival to Jack, a prince with secrets of his own.
Given to aphorisms dripping with evil intent, Silas speaks in an exalted language, a combination of imitation Shakespeare and the portent-laden dialogue from “Godfather” movies. In one scene, he’s an inspiring leader, and in another, a loving father making breakfast for his children. But he can just as easily consign a disloyal minion to certain death or shift national policy to enrich a corrupt official (Dylan Baker) who happens to be his brother-in-law.
If “Kings” has a fault, it’s that the vast sets and special effects-laden backgrounds rarely allow for intimate moments or scenes on a merely human scale. But they do set the stage for the grand operatic gesture.
Think of an ambitious hybrid of “The Tudors,” gangster movies of the best sort, “Battlestar Galactica” and “King Lear,” and you’re coming close. At the same time, “Kings” never takes itself too seriously or becomes saddled with obvious messages or metaphors. Its makers clearly remembered (or never forgot) that the purpose of great television is to get people watching television and talking about television and coming back for more.
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