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Kings and Queens

Kings and Queens


NBC's new epic saga Kings imagines a modern-day monarchy with a queer spin -- complete with late night trysts and a jab at 'don't ask, don't tell.'

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) -- Kings could be pushing the well-established division between church and state on the small screen.

"There's an 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 relationship in Kings , 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 Kings , 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 scene.)

Silas's anger, Green says, is more about public perception than homophobia.

"Kings 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 cliche, 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 absolute access."

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."

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Dan Avery