At Long Last…Starship Troopers: The Series

Imagine that! And after all this time.

Of course, in the TV listings they call it “Kings”.

And I don’t think it’s intended to be a satire…!

Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good one. My one quibble is that the war hero’s housewarming gift was a piano instead of a TV. I actually laughed out loud, said “Oh God, please let it be a TV…!” Not because that would’ve been better — the piano was better — but because it would’ve been the most fantastically outrageous “fuck you” to the audience I think I’ve ever seen.

But the piano was better.

So here’s the way I come at TV shows and movies, myself: I’m interested in seeing the interplay of dramatic potentials, after they’ve been skilfully built-up. But a whole lot of TV shows and movies around about these days tend to do something a lot more ambitious than that: to make a good show out of establishing such potentials fait accompli, and then equalizing them as swiftly as possible back into a steady, boring state, and then keep on making show out of that. And in a certain way this is what you’re supposed to do — equalize. So a lot of people will look at something like that and conclude it’s good writing.

And every once in an extremely long while, that’s just what it is!

But it’s a hard trick to manage, and few get it right. More and more are trying for it all the time, and the number of successes is actually going down. Isn’t that amazing?

I’m damn lucky to have had this fall into my lap. I was going to do something else tonight, not watch TV at all. But then this. That fits so astonishingly well into my last several posts’ overall trend-toward-point!

Clearly, God has blessed my motion-picture entertainment watching. Two more like these and I ought to have it all wrapped up.

Oh yeah, almost forgot: don’t watch it.

[EDIT! David informs me that it sounds like I’m trying to insult this show by comparing it with Starship Troopers…actually I’m complimenting it:  I’m a very big fan of ST:  The Movie, and I just wish — maybe hope? — that Kings is more subversive than it looks, because reading it as a satire is possible, and it makes for a much more enjoyable viewing experience.  Having said which:  yeah, it’s kind of crappy, and that satire thing could just be my misreading, so…TV watcher beware.]


13 responses to “At Long Last…Starship Troopers: The Series

  1. I had thought about watching “Kings,” but decided instead on “The Simpsons” and reading some Green Lanterns from a few years back. So far, no regrets.

  2. I’d forgotten this was supposed to premiere last night; I’ll have to catch this on Hulu tonight.

    I was initially intrigued by the show because of the seeming absurdity of the premise; the impression I got from the ads I saw was that the show takes place in the *actual United States* but with a king, rather than in a fictional country that just *resembles* the present-day U.S. (The former somehow requires a greater suspension of disbelief than the latter, which is a funny little thing about fiction.)

    Despite your warning not to watch, however, Ian McShane is one of those actors where I’ll see pretty much anything he’s in just for him. Hey, if I only watched *good* TV and films Malcolm McDowell was in, I’d only ever see a handful of his work, right?

  3. Always happy to see Ian McShane!

    It’s not exactly easy to remember that it isn’t set in the kingdom of Allegoria, and not the kingdom of Extrapolatia that has a very similar flag. Strangely, I found it enormously less believable the former way: once they start tossing in a couple other not-very-convincing fake country names, you really do start thinking, okay, well where are they all, Europe or something? Another planet? When it is so very clearly AMERICA…

    Playing that game with this show is probably a waste of time, though. Wherever they are, they’re there! Don’t ask a lot of fool questions! I’m going to watch it when it turns into a regular series, at least as much as I can manage. It’s kind of hilarious.

  4. Man, there is a Starship Troopers: The Series, and like both the novel and the film, which it kind of exists midway between, it is very good, so I don’t think you should be waving that title around to insult other programs. Though I guess it was called Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles over your side of the pond, so you can be forgiven…

    Ah, the 90s were a grand time for children’s cartoons, that no amount of 80s nostalgia can withstand.

  5. Uh-oh, David, I’ve obviously misspoken myself! I’m a BIG FAN of the Starship Troopers movie, I think it’s incredibly brilliant, devastating satire…and I am saying Kings (probably inadvertantly, although one can have mad hopes) actually comes decently close to being as devastating, if not as brilliant. It’s a matter of the particular type of dumbness that’s employed, you see: somehow they achieved a happy accident with it all.


    I mean it could just be me.

    But if it is just me, then it’s an absolutely terrible show.

    Thrilled to hear there was an ST series after all! Wow. It is not the one I wanted most (that honour belongs to Ed’s old idea for “Re-Animator: The Series”), but it is right up there…

    And come to think of it, a fantastically ornate animated version of Kings…might not work the same way, but I’d definitely watch it.

    Try this new thing yourself, and see if there isn’t some meat to my comparison! And maybe I’ll just edit the post above, so no one gets the wrong idea…

  6. I have seen it!

    You’re absolutely right and I’ve changed my mind; they *should* have just called it “America” and be done with it, because I spent too much time going, “Is this alternate history? Oh, but they still have Liszt and a bunch of other things… Wait, is this the future? Could Golubia or whatever they call it be built on the ruins of the United States?”

    My main impression is that they either went too far, or not far enough, for this to have any real impact or relevance.

    I mean, if Ian McShane had been a mere U.S. president but was ordering his enemies assassinated and all the rest… imagine how much more chilling those scenes where he’s got that toady of a “journalist” completely in his pocket would play. A president who thinks he’s a king!

    Or they could have gone the other way! Imagine how outrageous Ian McShane’s warm-yet-businesslike delivery would be if, instead of a conservative suit, he were wearing ridiculous satin robes and a massive bejeweled crown, and constantly speaking in the first-person plural. Strutting around in ceremonial pomp to keep up appearances but trying to be taken seriously as a statesman — a king who thinks he’s a president.

    Instead, McShane is sort of halfway between king and president, and the middle ground is very distancing. Is this supposed to be relevant, or is it just a fantastical soap opera? Is there more to this than just a writerly exercise in updating the King David story?

    Still, I’ll probably end up watching a few more episodes at least. The *character* of the king himself isn’t all that compelling, but Ian McShane’s voice *alone* is more than a lot of shows have going for them.

  7. It makes me laugh that “Gath” can’t really be anything but Canada…and yet there’s absolutely no way it can be, either.

    One can easily envision a way this show could’ve been made a good straighforward drama…of course, then the question would be: why bother? What thing would it have to say, that’d require the big “King” business? Whatever it would be, it’d have to be made specially. I mean, not that that’d be hard…anyone ought to be able to come up with half-a-dozen good reasons to have such a post-American kingdom, and in fact “President Who Thinks He’s A King” would probably be nice and watchable…

    But oh LORD it’s justifiable from the standpoint of satire, as the crap it is already! I mean, don’t you just hate the kid? Isn’t he awful? And the astoundingly boring bullshit Ian has to do as King, it’s almost physically painful to watch. The dull plots and predictable counterplots, the cut-price Machiavellian stuff…holy shit, not to mention the goddamned Queen’s cell phone thing, were you like me, were you sitting there yelling “maybe the dingo ate your baby” at the screen?

    If it were just cutting, socially nasty and clever, that’d be one thing, and that’d be great. But this goes straight to indictment of itself, and that’s a whole other universe of satirical pain.

    God, I hope it’s deliberate!

  8. >>to make a good show out of establishing such potentials fait accompli, and then equalizing them as swiftly as possible back into a steady, boring state, and then keep on making show out of that.<<

    What, you mean like Smallville? ;-)

  9. The kid *is* awful, but I’m not sure he’s supposed to be; I mean, they apparently went out of their way to find an actor who looks like Matt Damon BUT EVEN MORE NON-THREATENING!

    The whole episode suffered from a trudging predictability like you said, with the tired old politcal maneuvering. Yeah, I know, it’s a modernization of King David, but jeez, even “Smallville” threw you a couple curveballs to keep you awake. This show felt like it was just ticking off boxes, you know? Nobody said or did anything unexpected or interesting. In that last scene I was thinking “I would be really surprised if Dylan Baker were talking to *anybody* but the king’s son,” and of course I was not surprised. At this point, it’s hard to see how future episodes could be anything but a wooden “David will rise in power, be tempted by the dark side but ultimately reject it, and so on,” like the outcast girl in a teen movie who joins the popular clique.

    I am *extremely* impressed with your patience in believing that this *could* pay off as satire, that this *could* be deliberate. The show came off to me as a little… satisfied with itself as it is. It *already* thinks its swinging for the fences.

    Oddly, this is getting pretty good reviews. I suppose it is very technically ambitious.

  10. I saw the first forty minutes or so of the pilot. By twenty minutes in, I got it.

    It’s the right-wing version of The West Wing.

    I’m serious.

    TWW was a fantasy of “government done right,” from the perspective of pinko liberal nancy boys, such as yers truly. TWW depicted America and the presidency as they thought it should be.

    Is Kings any different in its core? It’s a fantasy of America created by the devout and conservative. Take the line, twice used in the opening few minutes: “It’s not popular to talk about God these days.” (The actions in the show, however, put the lie to that immediately.) That smug little phrase is so very common among the devout in modern America, it was unmistakable.

    Then look at the cultural cues. Our Hero is a farm boy. Our Hero is the son of a dead soldier, killed in the service of his country. Our Hero is himself a soldier, not out of career ambition, a need for a job, or because he likes to gloat and shoot guns, but because he is An Patriot.

    The situation with “Gath” is clearly absurd: shelling and attacks across the border by Them There Furriners, and Our Boys unable to respond. Our Hero violates orders, orders that the situation paints as totally absurd, though not out of frustration or rage. Rather, it’s to save Our Boys. That he’s violating rules of engagement that handcuff Our Boys, well, that’s just happy circumstance. Oh, and he plays Liszt, just to show that Country Folk and Soljers ain’t uncultured dumbasses!

    Also, how about the Royal Princessness? She’s fighting for health care! How pinko! But… it’s not for everybody. She’s fighting for one particular little boy. Systemic change? Socialized medicine? Pshaw! What we need is noblesse oblige!

    So look at the tally. We have a king, powerfully devout, who will talk about God no matter who disapproves. (Since he’s king, wouldn’t that…never mind.) We have a young hero, squeaky clean and totally patriotic, who disregards foolish rules to save buddies and his nation’s honor. We have nebulously defined “Others” on the border who attack and frustrate our beloved land, who must be stomped by force.

    And let’s not disregard the appeal of a Mighty King, who can rule with Wisdom and Compassion, rather than leave us with the irritating and messy responsibility of electoral government.

    Yeah, that’s a right-wing fantasy America right there. With just enough fiction to push down the squick factor. If this took place in Actual America, the dissonance between “this is awesome” and “America’s a democracy, dammit!” would overwhelm it. But in a thinly veiled Fantasy America, the dissonance is reduced dramatically.

    As far as “Gath” being Canada or Mexico, that’s too literal. “Gath” is “Not Us.” To be snotty, part of the appeal, and the weakness, of the “Yay Murka and Jeebus” worldview is that details of the outside world doesn’t matter. It’s simply Us and Them. “Gath” is whoever the showrunners need them to be. Which, right now, is Evil Bastards What Shell Our Troops and Kidnap Our Princes.

    I don’t think it’s a satire. I think it’s as serious as a heart attack.

    That doesn’t mean it won’t occasionally try to be funny, which it will probably suck at. It also doesn’t mean it won’t be inadvertently hilarious, which I’m sure it will be often.

    Without Ian McShane, it would be awful. With him, it’s kinda hypnotic.

  11. Oh, and let’s not forget that retelling the story of David will appeal to the devout.

    David Shepherd plays piano beautifully, just as David, son of Jesse, played the harp to please Saul… The son of the king is close to David and will recognize him as the true next king… They’re at war with Gath, which in the Bible is a city-state of the Philistines…

    The story of David is rich enough with incident that it could play out well, if they want.

    David fled to Gath in fear for his life, when the king wanted him dead. And what about Bathsheba? Hmmm…

    David’s is a nifty story.

  12. Finally, a comment by a cultured individual who got the Biblical reference. IMHO, this is a brilliant TV show. Surprising that American TV made a Biblically based drama (spare me the crosses in episode 2, though). Network, no less. I’m waiting to see how Gath comes across when David is in hiding there, and what the scene where he comes marching back at the head of 200 circumcised Philistines looks like. But after two decades of watching only news and sports on TV, I’m watching this one!

  13. Hmm, don’t know how I missed this one…

    Feel I should say: though I’d never deny Harvey’s a much more cultured fellow than I am, this show was advertised as a retelling of the King David story, so.

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