NBC's latest show, Kings, debuted to fairly poor ratings on Sunday night, with its two hour pilot episode, garnering only 6 million viewers. This is a real shame, because this is possibly one of the best starts to a television show that I've ever seen, and following that train of thought, something struck me.
This is the type of show that the SciFi (I refuse to call it SyFy) Channel needs in its programming.
Kings, like all good genre stories, has an odd, hard to market concept - it is set in a sort of alternate reality or history, in the country Gilboa, which vaguely resembles the United States. People have cell phones, cars, flat screen TVs, and have been embroiled with a war against a neighboring country, Gath. Gilboa seems to have undergone a huge war to unify the country, and we see instances of this in the first couple minutes of the show, as the new capital is dedicated, before fast forwarding several years later, to the next conflict, where the King's son, Jack, has been captured, and is later rescued by David Shepherd, where he also destroys a 'Goliath' tank. David is then brought into a much larger world of politics and a number of entanglements as political boundries shift. This is a smart show, one that has some intelligence behind it, and I really hope that this show will continue with that trend long after the pilot. Considering that most pilot episodes tend to be a lesser episode of the series, this does bode well for the show.
Almost everything was done right for this. The episode, directed by Francis Lawrence (director of I Am Legend), is beautifully shot and edited, with rich colors and fantastic angles that really capture both the action and emotion of the scenes. The soundtrack is fantastic, and I really hope that we'll see a release for this at some point down the road. But above and beyond that, this is a good story, and provides a good demonstration of how a genre story should work; one where the audience can focus on the characters and storyline, while accepting the premise with a little suspension of disbelief.
Part of the advantage here is that this is set in an 'Alternate History' or 'Alternate Reality' earth. While the political structure is different, the history is different, there has been enough development in the show where it is easily recognizable to anyone who tunes in. If this was explicity a science fiction show, there would be the push to introduce some sorts of weird technology or terminology. Instead, things can be largely taken at face value, which really makes me think that this would be a worthy show of the SciFi channel, because of this approach to storytelling that made Battlestar Galactica so good.
This type of storytelling really exeplified Galactica - it took familiar concepts and transposed them into a fantastic setting. The technobabble, aliens, odd technology and things harder to explain all went out the door, in favor of a more story and character oriented show. Kings is following in that logic. It doesn't matter that the story is set in another world - for all we know, it could be on a completely different planet - what does matter is that we now have a story that we can invest ourselves in, and grow to care about the characters and their plight.
As I noted above, this show would be perfect for the SciFi channel, because it sort of fits into what they have been showing, and there is an audience that is already predisposed towards suspending their disbelief for a good story. (whether SciFi likes that or not...) While watching the episode, I felt that this is the sort of show that the upcoming Caprica should be, and given the recent announcements with the SciFi channel's name and their recent history with content and programming, this feels like it is the perfect show to transfer over - it is highly accessible to a non-genre familiar audience, but has enough there for a genre audience to enjoy. Additionally, the show is highly appealing to a more, shall we say, cultured audience. The level of storytelling and sophistication is certainly not appealing to a broad audience, as the ratings have proved, but it is intelligently written and plotted out, and should appeal to certain demographics.
What I really like, most of all, is that this show shows a good story - this is something that doesn't seem to happen very often on the television. Hopefully, with all 13 episodes filmed, we'll see the complete run broadcast. If not, we'll likely see the rest of it at some point down the road. There's a lot of potential here.