Over at my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos, I address the content of this drama — premiering Tuesday, March 8, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on ABC, inspired by an Old Testament story. My take on the show as a whole is below. Click here to read the rest of the post if you want to also see the interview I did with writer, executive producer and showrunner Chris Brancato.
In the title of the Patheos post, I ask: “This Is From the BIBLE?”
Yep, it is — blood, guts, death, sex, betrayal and all.
Some of those reviewing “Of Kings and Prophets,” premiering tonight (Tuesday, March 8) at 10 p.m ET/PT on ABC — which is based on the two Biblical Books of Samuel — have likened it to “Game of Thrones” or “The Lord of the Rings.”
But, see, that’s getting it precisely backwards. The stories of the Old Testament are millennia older than either of these modern tales, but whether it’s intentional or not, it’s hard for anyone writing in the Western literary tradition to escape the impact of these seminal stories of kings, prophets, giants, heroes and God.
(By the way, George R.R. Martin, upon whose books HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is based, describes himself as a “lapsed Catholic”: and “Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien was a very active Catholic.)
If you see echoes of “Games” or “LOTR” — or any number of other heroic tales from European and American literature — in “Of Kings and Prophets,” it’s that you saw echoes of the Bible stories in these other ones first (yet another reason why, believer or not, anyone not familiar with the Bible runs the risk of being a Western cultural illiterate).
As for the series itself, it’s pretty rough stuff (and there’s an even sexier version out there for online and international viewing). Following the young shepherd David (Olly Rix) as comes to serve Israel’s King Saul (Ray Winstone), but then finds himself anointed by the Prophet Samuel (Mohammad Bakri) as the new king — while Saul is still alive, by the way — it’s a journey full of battle, brutality, bedroom politics, romance and religion.
In particular, the rather thin characters of the women in Samuel are beefed up considerably, and it’s there, almost by necessity, that the story veers furthest from the original text.
No, “Of Kings and Prophets” is not for children, but then, neither is it anywhere near as pornographically sexy or violent, or as fundamentally amoral, as “Game.” Nor is it merely an allegory, like “LOTR,” with Christian themes but no overt religion.
It’s still a Bible story after all, and the unseen force behind everything is God.
King or not, Samuel is the last word — and that word, he claims, is the very Word of God (or Elohim, as the show calls him, using a name from the Hebrew Scriptures).
But, the series is not a Bible study; nor is it meant to to be one.
One reviewer in USA Today commented:
But then, matters of interpretation don’t matter much to Kings, which is clearly far more interested in the opportunities for carnage and romance the stories provide. Historians and theologians may not agree on who wrote the Bible, but they do share a general belief in why it was written: to offer moral guidance and spiritual encouragement.
A TV show that uses biblical characters as an excuse for sex and violence while jettisoning the religious intent is not Bible-based in any real sense of the idea. Or worth watching, Saul or not.
In case the reviewer didn’t keep reading his Bible, David goes on to commit adultery and set up the death of his romantic rival, while still being beloved of God. The relationship between God and Israel in the Old Testament — and, in particular, God and his deeply flawed chosen one, King David — is fraught with difficulties for modern sensibilities, but that was the world at the time. And, nobody’s perfect — except Christ, of course, but Israel had a ways to go before He appeared.
(Incidentally, in the pilot, David comes upon his flock, ravaged by a lion. He gently cradles the head of a slain sheep, getting its blood all over him. Interpret that scene as you will.)
It is true that the screenwriters of the theologically suspect “Exodus: Gods & Kings,” and Reza Aslan, author of the equally dodgy “Zealot,” a revisionist history of Jesus’ life, were involved in the development process of the series and the original (but subsequently rewritten and shot) pilot. But, the series is now in the hands of TV writer Chris Brancato.
In short, this is an adult drama, for mature teens and adults.
For children, this might be better.
Image: Courtesy ABC