'Of Kings and Prophets': TV Review
Neither truly Biblical nor very much like 'Game of Thrones,' ABC's newest drama effort gets lost in a desert of boring.
The last place you should look for a Bible story is ABC. If you don’t know that by now, there’s probably no telling you, so go ahead and watch Of Kings and Prophets and forget the good book — or the good writing and acting, if you must.
This is a network that can’t even tackle the White House without reducing it to one embarrassingly soapy scandal after another, so God give you strength if you’re hoping for something Biblical here.
Creators Adam Cooper and Bill Collage might have wanted to sex-and-violence up the most famous black book ever, but they end up just creating a bunch of silliness, full of shepherd bro talk and sexy Old Testament flirting. They are not aided by the television tradition known as Every Historic Tale Must Be Played by British Actors, which turns bellicose Ray Winstone, as King Saul, into something akin to an enraged Brit who has just lost a bet on the Premier League and has had his fair share at the pub. Meaning, look out, things are going to get boisterous in a swords, sandals, British-accent meets hot-desert kind of way.
That’s no knock on Winstone, who always seems like he’s going to tear your bloody head off. Who wouldn’t want to play King Saul? At least his wife, Queen Ahinoam (Simone Kessell), looks the part and has a pair of lovely daughters, Merav (Jeanine Mason) and Michal (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), who do as well, plus two sons who fit the bill — so you might as well be all English about it and chew as much scenery as you want.
I have no idea why a British accent continues to sound funny these days, whether it's pronounced by an Israelite or a Roman, but it does. The sun will never set on the British Empire so long as its actors are employed!
But again, it’s not Winstone’s fault. I wanted very much for him to keep going on and on like he was in an episode of Game of Thrones.
Uh-oh, I made that reference. We’ll come back to it in a bit.
In the meantime, about this story. Yeah, so it seems very ABC (Saul has a concubine that could have been in any ABC teen drama of the last seven seasons and David, played by British actor Olly Rix, seems less like a shepherd and more like, well, a love-and-sex-struck Hugh Grant, which is adorable and the ABC demo will probably love him, but it’s not exactly — what’s the word? — Biblical).
Maybe it’s Biblicalesque that the creators are going for here, which it really does kind of pull off in a soapy way (kill a lion, hang with your mates, sleep with the queen and maybe foreshadow a duel with a really large man). So, being generous, Of Kings and Prophets is like the Bible being read to you and interpreted by Shonda Rhimes (who, unfortunately, had nothing to do with this — I mean, if you’re going to do it, then do it).
Frankly, what seems even more sacrilegious than hewing ABC-close to a religious story is the notion that maybe Of Kings and Prophets wants to be like HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Now hold on just a minute. You can rip off and sex up the Bible (arguably one can’t bloody it up, but the attempt indeed is made), yet if you decide to pass yourself off as a cousin to Game of Thrones, we might need a cross to settle this.
See, because you’ve crossed the line. Never mind.
Regardless of the pacing issue and number-of-episodes issue I might have with Game of Thrones, I still hold that show in high regard. At least Thrones knows how to be epic. It’s well written. It's ambitious. It struggles under its own heft. Of Kings and Prophets is not any of that. Oh, gods no. There’s not enough gravitas — not even with the big, impending showdown with the Philistines — to turn this bloated, soapy story into something epic. I’ll buy "Bible story gone wrong" much easier than “cousin to Game of Thrones.”
Perhaps the bigger point is that nobody’s going to be happy here; both sides are going to be annoyed by the comparisons.
On the religious side, even if your level of devout is, “Don’t you dare take these crazy stories in vain,” the effort on Of Kings and Prophets barely rises to the level of threat. “I’m going to kill that lion,” David says to his mate, who replies, in an accent from a British band you might have heard, “There are other ways to get women.” No, really, that’s the line. And King Saul’s daughters are flirty little foxes that don’t exactly conjure up something you might have read about in Sunday school. So, Bible purists are probably a no-go.
As far as a kind of Westeros influence goes, where uniting the 12 tribes of Israel to wipe out the Philistines might seem kind of House Familiar and thus get your hackles up, Of Kings and Prophets makes that also a bit of a stretch (and a bore, comparatively). I mean, it’s big and it’s in a desert but it’s not Game of Thrones big, nor as compelling when it comes to a backstory (which it should be, given the source material). This show is going to live or die on its own; comparing it to the Bible or Game of Thrones is a non-starter.
And on its own it seems like — searching for a positive here — maybe a cheaper, less overtly international version of that Marco Polo thing that Netflix did? Does that make any sense? Well, if not, sue me — neither does Of Kings and Prophets and I watched three DVDs full of it, plus I tried to watch on the ABC streaming site, which requires its own Biblical-level effort and devotion (that leads to taking the Lord’s name in vain).
If you want to see Hugh Grant get laid and kill a Goliath-ish-like large man, go for Of Kings and Prophets. If you can’t afford HBO and want to experience something not very close to Game of Thrones, then go for Of Kings and Prophets. But do neither if you have other, better, options. This is, after all, 2016.
Created by: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage
Cast: Ray Winstone, Olly Rix, Simone Kessell
Airs: Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET/PT (ABC)