March 9, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Of Kings and Prophets”


OF KINGS AND PROPHETS:  Tuesday 10PM on ABC – Change the Channel

ABC’s biblical saga OF KINGS AND PROPHETS was a big swing for the network administration headed by Paul Lee, but the fact that he’s not around to witness its launch (which had been postponed from last fall when the production turned troubled) provides a guide to the result.  Tonight’s pilot, in fact, was a rather godawful mess.

The idea of heaping biblical stories with sex and violence goes all the way back to Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith, and the story of King Saul (Ray Winstone) and king-to-be David (Olly Rix) provides as much drama as any.  Under Michael Offer’s direction, the Of Kings and Prophets pilot had visual scale, with expansive aerial shots of South African sets with CG extensions and an elaborate, bloody centerpiece battle sequence.  The script by series creators Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, though, felt like a 2-hour project hacked down to fit a 45-minute timeslot.

The pilot led up to the first meeting of Saul and David, which occurred at the very end.  David’s story was fairly simple:  he had to save his family from crippling tax debts by heroically killing the lion that was savaging their sheep.  (David is pretty good with a slingshot.)  Saul’s, on the other hand, was a jumble, crammed with characters we didn’t really get to know and plots that were left unexplored.  There was the power-hungry prophet Samuel (Mohammad Bakri), who ordered Saul to slaughter the Amelekites because of wrongs done to the Israelites generations before.  Saul himself wanted to wage war on the Philistines, and in pursuit of that was having one of his daughters marry the son of the 12th tribe of Israel, uniting the kingdom.  Those daughters, Michal (Maisie Richardson-Sellars) and Merav (Jeanine Mason), had their own romances going on.  Saul’s wife Ahinoam (Simone Kessell), for her part, had her finger on the kingdom’s various schemes.

It wasn’t clear if all of this made sense.  (The cast’s accents were all over the place, from Middle Eastern to a lower-class English voice for David’s sidekick, even though his pal David didn’t sound that way at all, and some were easier to understand than others.)  Certainly, none of it was involving, as the script had so much pipe to lay that none of the characters established any interesting relationships with each other, and there was no point of view about the show’s stance on religion or any other aspect of the world it was attempting to create–except that it was certainly violent, with a slow-motion massacre of the Amelekites and a head-severing afterward.  The climactic reveal of a high-level Philistine spy in Saul’s household had no impact, because we barely knew the character.

The acting was uneven.  Winstone still seemed to be giving his performance from Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, while Rix was merely personable, and both Bakri and the women brought back unhappy memories of Spike’s hokey miniseries Tut.

Perhaps under showrunner Chris Brancato, who created Netflix’s Narcos, Of Kings and Prophets will come into more focus as it continues (assuming the ratings allow it the chance).  At first glance, though, it appears more likely to join the line of failures that have aired in ABC’s Tuesday 10PM slot.  It may be too much to say that the show will need a miracle to succeed, but it could use some assistance from a higher power.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."