By Dan Avery
Originally published on Advocate.com March 13 2009 12:00 AM ET
With all of the
personal betrayals and courtly intrigues, it would be
easy to think that
Kings, NBC's new mid-season drama, takes its inspiration from one of
Shakespeare's great plays. After all, the show boasts a tragic
king with upstart children, a conniving queen, and a nation
exhausted by war.
But the show, which
debuts with a two-hour movie on Sunday, is based on
considerably older source material -- the biblical saga of King
David. "I've always been interested in the story of
David," says series creator Michael Green. "He goes
from being a simple shepherd to the king of an entire nation.
There's so much dramatic potential in that story."
In Gilboa, a
postindustrialized country with modern technology and a newly
formed monarchy, King Silas Benjamin (Deadwood
's Ian McShane) wears a heavy crown. Conflict with the
neighboring Gath continues unabated, thwarting his efforts to
bring his people into a new peaceful era. When Silas's son
Jack (Sebastian Stan) is taken hostage on the frontlines, the
future of Gilboa and its reining clan is thrown into jeopardy.
But a daring rescue by a young soldier named David Shepherd
(Christopher Egan) restores order and links the inexperienced
country boy's destiny with that of the royal family.
With its Old Testament
origins and religious undertones -- King Silas seeks counsel
from both the Almighty and the enigmatic Reverend Samuels (Oz
's Eamonn Walker) --
could be pushing the well-established division between church
and state on the small screen.
assumption that you can't put religion on television,"
Green says, "but we showed it to religious people and the
response was overwhelmingly positive." The show walks a
fine line, he adds, neither proselytizing nor condemning faith
but "showing how religion can be a factor in the choices
people make, for better or worse."
Queer theorists have
often pointed to the biblical David's close bond with his
brother-in-law Jonathan as a positive portrayal of
homosexuality in the Bible. If there's a corollary
, it would have to be between David and Jack, the handsome but
debauched crown prince. It's not a perfect metaphor,
though: In the Old Testament, Jonathan adores David and
supports his rise to power. In
, Jack is envious of his liberator for stealing the spotlight
and King Silas's favor.
Rather than ignore the
ancient tale's gay undercurrent altogether, Green turns it on
its head. His David is clearly heterosexual -- and infatuated
with the king's daughter Michelle (Allison Miller). Jack,
however, is a closeted party boy who sneaks away for late-night
gay trysts that earn the King's wrath. ("What you do at
night with your boys is a disgrace!" he shouts in an early
Green says, is more about public perception than
is set in a society very much like our own," says Green, a
former writer and producer on NBC's
Heroes. "In a modern world, someone like Jack would be followed
by TMZ, so his father is worried about appearances."
(Silas has indiscretions of his own, not surprisingly; he just
knows how to hide them better.)
Some viewers may
perceive the hard-partying scion as an outdated queer
cliché, but Green disagrees.
"I'm not aware
enough of gay stereotypes to make fun of them," he says.
"Jack's playboy lifestyle isn't about his being
gay, it's about his being the prince and having everything he
wants handed to him. There's something corrupting about
Jack is a complicated,
multifaceted character, Green says, noting, "He
might've had a very different life if he was born into a
different family." For all his debauchery, for example,
Jack is a first-rate soldier -- Green's little dig at
'don't ask, don't tell.'
"I thought about
the Israeli army, where they don't care if you're gay
or straight, just that you can fight," he explains.
"There are plenty of countries that allow gays in the
military -- it's ridiculous that we're still squabbling
over it here."
In any event, Green
hopes viewers don't fixate on whom Jack sleeps with. "My
job was to create the most interesting, fully developed
character I could. Obviously, some people will see Jack's
sexuality as the crux of the character, but my assumption is
that most of us are over that issue. It's hardly the most
interesting thing about him."