Great Television Analyzed : Boris Karloff’s THRILLER (1960-1962)

THRILLER is a tv series hosted by the late, great Boris Karloff, that even for fans and students of cinema and television, is more rumored of than actually seen. So imagine my happy surprise to come home from a hard day of work and find the first season of this perennially hard to find show, available on the Roku Streaming Channel for free.

Very much an attempt to ride the popularity of Rod Serling’s TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-1964), THRILLER ran only two seasons, starting out as a crime/thriller series before drifting into pure horror. The show never truly finding its footing or audience, but is remembered fondly by fans of classic television.

After watching the first episode “Twisted Image” I can see why. WoW! As someone watching this episode for the first time, 59 years after it was first aired, I was absolutely riveted. Everything here, works, the cinematography, the direction, the performances, the writing, the undercurrent of sex, dread and desperation… I mean we have seen variations on this theme, in the decades since, and yet this episode  still manages to own every single minute of its 48 minute run-time.

I can only imagine how powerful this episode must have seem in 1960. To a generation just coming off of shows like LEAVE IT TO BEAVER it must have felt nearly X-rated. And yet 60 years removed from that relatively simpler America, the show somehow magically still has power, and is still oddly relevant to our world now. A world of desperate people, doing desperate things, in an attempt to find someone to hold them through the night.

Directed by the esteemed Arthur Hiller, from a teleplay by James Cavanagh, from a novel by William O’Farrell, this is as good a 48 minutes of television as you will find.

And a quick aside about Arthur Hiller, while his cinematic filmography is impressive (see some of his movies below) it is filled mostly with comedies.

It is his little seen early television work that is imbued with this seedy, nightmarish intensity.

Tobruk (1967)The Out of Towners (1970)Miracle of the White Stallions (1963)Man of La Mancha (1972)

Al Pacino, Dyan Cannon, Tuesday Weld, Bob Dishy, and Alan King in Author! Author! (1982)

Liam Nielsen, long before becoming known to a younger generation as a comedic lead, cut his teeth doing serious, often mirthless roles. And this episode of THRILLER is one such role.  He is great here, as is the rest of the cast, but the real draw for me is actress Natalie Trundy, her beauty and fragile madness is the spark, that burns the whole world down.

Just a phenomenal episode. I would buy the boxset of THRILLER on Dvd/BLU-RAY  just to own this episode. It is that good. I put it right up there with the first episode of the original ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. Now as I mentioned not every episode is a hit. Every great episode seems to be followed up with two mediocre ones, but the series is worth having for the great ones. Try it for free courtesy of Roku, and if as impressed as I, use the link below to get the box-set, while you can.

 

https://amzn.to/2IjIrsF

 

 

 

RATING THE EPISODES : KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER Best and Worst Episodes

kolchak


Netflix On-Demand Classic TV: KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER Best and Worst Episodes

THE SENTRY episode of KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER, the last episode of the short lived series and some would argue the worst, is actually a tense, atmospheric, well paced episode. What sinks it is the laughable ‘monster’ creation.

The director does what he can to underplay the ludicrousness of the ‘monster’, showing it as little as possible. I don’t think anyone would argue the monster creation was anything other than a pathetic disappointment even by 1970s standards, that someone should have been fired for.

It is so bad it makes the bargain basement cardboard creatures of early Doctor Who look almost good. Star Darren McGavin rightly pulled the plug on this series when he saw the quality not just dipping, but plummeting.

All that said, despite the poor monster design, this particular episode still works, and is quite engaging and fast paced. As opposed to the oft praised VAMPIRE episode, which I find to be plodding. A solid GOOD, and one that using CGI to draw in a better monster could only help. Grade: C.

THE SPANISH MOSS MURDERS- This is Kolchak at his best, as this episodes mixes the cutting edge dream experimentation studies of the day, with supernatural monster lore, to create a bigfoot sized dream assassin. Quite enjoyable and fast paced. Grade: B/B+.

THE KNIGHTLY MURDERS – the opening to this one does not fill me with confidence. An out of focus suit of armor dispensing out of focus death. But with the appearance of John Dehner as an erudite and forlorn and quixotic Captain, the stock on this episode begins to rise. Add the great Hans Conried as the curator and it becomes just a fun, enjoyable, well-written episode. Really enjoyable. B/B+.

HORROR IN THE HEIGHTS – A very imaginative and smart episode. Add the murder of Jewish elderly, rats, swastikas, Hindu spirits, death that comes like a friend, and the myth of the end of the world, and you have a particularly compelling and enjoyable episode. Of all the monsters that Kolchak has faced this one may be the most insidious. B+.

VAMPIRE – Just a plodding, overrated episode. The only thing this episode has going for it is the very ending, with the audacious, and possibly inappropriate visuals of a cross burning and staking as the solution to Kolchak’s problem.

In fact watching this series all together there is a lot of questionable but reoccurring Nazi and Klan imagery throughout (swastikas in CHOPPED, HORROR IN THE HEIGHTS and burning crosses in VAMPIRE). Grade: D-.

kolchakvpire

CHOPPED – An incredibly fake looking headless horseman helms this poor man’s version of THE WILD ONE. Like VAMPIRE this is a plodding, boring episode. Another embarrassment of a monster design. Grade: D.

You can view the episodes for yourself courtesy of ON-DEMAND or buy the DVD at a savings here:
Kolchak – The Night Stalker DVD

The DVD is worth owning just to have the episodes HORROR IN THE HEIGHTS and THE SPANISH MOSS MURDERS always at your fingertips.

Come back for more RATING THE EPISODES!

DVD Review: DOCTOR WHO THE SEEDS OF DOOM

DVD Review: DOCTOR WHO THE SEEDS OF DOOM

Presaging John Carpenter’s seminal film THE THING by a full six years, The 6-part 1976 DOCTOR WHO serial SEEDS OF DOOM, is not only one of the best Tom Baker era Doctor Who episodes, but is one of the best Doctor Who story-lines; in its going on 50 year history(2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the show).

Mixing space born terror, cronenbergesque occupation with body horror, ecological concerns, and human madmen it is a surprisingly brutal and more than a bit horrific entry, in the oft imaginative, but usually tame, family show.

An intelligent, engrossing, exciting and risk taking script by Robert Banks Stewart (script edited by the great Robert Holmes and produced by Philip Hinchliffe, so SEEDS OF DOOM is the highlight of what many consider the best Doctor Who producer/script editor team), is complemented by one of the best directed episodes of Doctor Who by the equally great director Douglas Camfield, and all tied together by stellar performances from the usual suspects (Tom Baker giving one of the most commanding and passionate performances of his seven year run) as well as the guest stars.

It was typical for serials longer than four parts to feel padded, not this one, it starts out engrossing and just gets more intense each episode. My first impetus, upon my original viewing was to grade this an A/A+. Having let some time pass, viewing the episode again, it lives up to that first impression, it rates a solid A+.

If you want a modern comparison it is the BLINK (the best episode of the David Tennant era) of the Tom Baker era. DVD sports a commentary with Tom Baker (The Doctor), John Challis (Scorby), Kenneth Gilbert (Dunbar), Michael McStay (Moberley), Philip Hinchcliffe (Producer), Robert Banks Stewart (Writer), Roger-Murray Leach (Designer) and Joggs Camfield (son of Douglas Camfield, Director).

Final Grade: A+
Doctor Who: The Seeds of Doom (Story 85): Price Your Copy Here!

DVD REVIEW: DOCTOR WHO – THE HAND OF FEAR aka the SEXIEST DR WHO Villain?!!!?

Well that’s a strange heading for a blog post I admit, but I was re-watching the 1976 episode of DOCTOR WHO: THE HAND OF FEAR, and man is this a ‘rocking’ episode of Doctor Who!

Okay the following contains spoilers for the episode (as well as a smattering of risque adult themed humor :)), now you regular readers know I typically avoid spoilers like the plague, but there is no way to really sell this episode and not describe its reveals. And it is still a great episode, even when you know what is coming.

However, jump to the last paragraph if you want to avoid any spoilers (or avoid tasteless humor :)).

For the rest of you… into the mystery.

This 4 part episode works in large part because of the villain of Eldrad played by Judith Paris. A silicone rock based creature who is one of the first scifi gender-bending characters I’m aware of. This alien menace starts out off camera as a dude, becomes a dudette, and in the final episode returns to a dude form. It’s probably just as well that I didn’t see the whole serial as a kid, as my young mind may not have been able to compute all that. But as an adult I can appreciate the entire serial.

But yeah the first three episodes, and much of the fourth are just great, and again largely it’s because the villain of Eldrad is such a rich and complex character. Powerful, a bit violent, but also a bit vulnerable, it’s just a well written part, that Judith Paris I thought performed the heck out of.

It didn’t hurt at all that she was drop-dead gorgeous. Between her and Catwoman in the Adam West Batman reruns… I knew puberty had arrived. 🙂

Wait did I say that out loud?!!

What can I say that woman was frigging gorgeous. Okay there were slight problems, she was an alien menace, and she was made out of rock. Okay I see that being a minor hiccup, but hand me my ‘Ben Grimm’ condoms and cry ‘Clobbering Time!’, and I’m good.

(Heh, Heh! That joke is only for fans of the FF. Yes, I am evil! 🙂 )

Okay getting my mind out of the gutter (I’m telling you, I’m going to find that costume and put my girlfriend in it— wait… did I say THAT out loud?!! DOH!!) it’s just a great 4 part storyline, right up till the last episode, when Judith Paris’ Eldrad gives way to a male version.

Now, I’m not a sexist, and I’m not going to hate on the rock dude villain, because he’s a dude, but I am going to hate on him because… he is effing rubbish! Eldrad turns from a complex, intriguing, nuanced character, to this blustering, shouting, scenery chewing, mustache twirling stock villain… yeah.. it is just disappointing; a glaring combination of bad writing, and horrendously bad over acting.

But thankfully the screen-time of the male Eldrad is brief, and the episode ends on one of the pivotal scenes between the Doctor and his companion, Sarah Jane Smith. It was a good four part-er that really showed how well these two work together and what they mean to each other, which made the ending all the more… bitter-sweet.

All in all it is not a perfect episode of Doctor Who, largely because of dropping the ball with the demise of Eldrad, but that aside it’s a beautifully directed, and well performed episode that comes highly recommended. Plus the DVD offers a commentary with the cast, so it’s worth getting for that alone. Grade: B/B+.

Doctor Who: The Hand of Fear (Story 87)

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RATING THE DOCTORS: On William Hartnell THE FIRST DOCTOR & the First Season! 1963-1964!

This heat is kicking the proverbial posterior.

But hey I’m not complaining, I’ll take heat over cold, any day.

But you guys didn’t come here to hear weather talk, onto this installment’s insanity.

I’ve seen all 30+ seasons of Doctor Who, including the recreations (largely still shots and the audio recording of the shows) that exists through the hard work of dedicated fans, who preserved these shows for the love, when the suits couldn’t see any monetary value or re-watchability to these shows and could not delete the tapes fast enough.

It’s why I’ll side with the so-called file-sharer or collector or peer to peer proponent who does it for the love, over suits any day. Because I KNOW how much of our history (television shows, radio shows, silent and sound films, books, manuscripts) still exists not because of the money grubbing corporation who would (and have) let everything burn if they couldn’t make a penny off of it; but exists because of the dedicated fan and collector.

I’ve said that before, but it bears, particularly in our current environment, constant repeating. That the people who profit off a thing, are not the people that should be trusted with the preservation of that thing. And history bears out, that it’s necessary to have the dedicated collector out there doing for the love, what corporations will fail to do in the absence of monetary incentive.

Our cultural history owes much to the dedicated collector, that are being criminalized by the ‘Johnny-come-lately’ corporations, who have finally wised up to the fact that… people are interested in this old stuff.

Case in point, I still await official SPENSER FOR HIRE DvDs, or the full seasons of the live-action ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY that have been unavailable for over 20 years, and these things should not be sequestered away until some suit can find a way to profit off of them. In the absence of someone making them available, the collector is there to make them available. So thanks to great collectors… there’s a rumor that I may actually own both series :).

And if that rumor is true, I’ll hold onto those collector DVDs, at least until such time as the studios get off their ass, and release official high quality versions/DVDs, which I will be more than happy to support/purchase. But in the interim… to all the suits/companies out there, support and work with fans/collectors… they are the heart of your business. And more than that, they are the heart of the preservation of culture and art and history… in the absence of business. Give them their due.

Okay, off my soap box.

*****

The reason I got on that soap box is because, I have been rewatching Doctor Who, and much of that series has been lost through corporate stupidity and short-sightedness, but almost all of it has been preserved and recreated, even the pretty much devastated Patrick Troughton years (which I’m currently re-watching), and you can not watch those shows without being extremely mindful and extremely thankful, for the fans and collectors, who preserved those shows to the best of their ability.

I mean, now, today the BBC gives a damn about Doctor Who, because the show is making them a boatload of money, but you have to care about preserving culture and art… even in the absence of money, and that is what collectors do.

So yes, I’m thankful that we have shows such as:

William Hartnell’s four seasons as the doctor.

He’s remembered, unfairly I think, for flubbing his lines. However, what he should be remembered for is being the man who set the template, the tone, and the consummate “play this for real” passion that allowed the show to be a success.

Think about it, if Hartnell or those first companions did not make the premise work, the show would have been canceled in that first season and NO ONE would today be talking about Doctor Who.

Patrick Troughton gets a lot of praise for ‘saving’ Dr. Who, when it became necessary to replace Hartnell due to his deteriorating condition.

For continuing Doctor Who, I would agree, but for saving it? … no. The show would have gone on with or without Troughton. It was that popular. Hartnell had help make it that popular.

Don’t get me wrong, Troughton was a great actor and he made a fantastic 2nd Doctor, and the very, unavoidable medical issues with Hartnell pushed the writers and producers into coming up with one of the most brilliant and iconic ways to keep the series going… ie the idea of ‘Regeneration’.

I mean that idea, that was born under pressure and calamity and potential cancellation, remains one of the greatest ‘hail marys’ of television history, as can be seen by a whole new generation, wowing to the adventures of yet another whole new Doctor.

But had Hartnell and crew, not made DOCTOR WHO a success out the gate, no one would have been pressed to try and keep the show alive. They would have done the normal thing, canceled the show and put something else on, and DOCTOR WHO becomes, like many shows of the time, a forgotten footnote.

But Hartnell was a GREAT Doctor Who, an iconic Doctor Who, who loved and championed the show. And he did four seasons of the series, back when the workload was a YEAR ROUND weekly series, basically performing the shows in a live-run, like a play, performed beginning to end, no time for retakes, you hit the mark at the beginning of two hours, and at the end of two hours, they filmed the entire show… JUST LIKE YOU SEE IT AIRED!

With filmed segments cut in on queue, and effects and sound done live in camera….the amount of pressure and work, is beyond ANYTHING that television actors, or indeed directors, editors, crew are doing today. It was the work of master actors and crew, to basically have to learn and crank out a play a week, under budget restrictions and time restrictions that can only be called… crushing.

And William Hartnell did this. For going on four Years, largely without vacation, with seasons FAR LONGER than the laughably short seasons the BBC has today… William Hartnell did this. While suffering with what today we would call early signs of Dementia or Alzheimers.

*****

For nearly four years he bled and sweated and carried Doctor Who, when his younger companions were folding left and right under the pressures and issues of a financially challenged, somewhat ghettoized show. Hartnell’s tenure as the Doctor saw him with the most companions (A whopping TEN companions. And every departure cut Hartnell like a knife, who saw the show as a familial thing), and having to ride the most tumultuous time in the history of the show, when it was figuring out, on a weekly basis, what it was, and who the characters were.

That he was able to play the series as long as he did, when suffering from a condition known to cripple, says everything about the nature of Hartnell’s professionalism, his “the show must go on” ethic. I just think a lot of people focus on the occasional flubs, when he was given tons of gobblydeggok to say, and he made it work. I don’t know of any actors today, in their full health and prime, who could have done week in and week out what Hartnell did, producing basically live televison in a fantastic setting.

Which is far more difficult than just soaps, because you have the additional hassle of effects and costumes and elaborate monsters and cut in scenes, and hitting marks, it’s really a big budget type cinematic production, done on a shoe-string budget and with no retakes and no time, and everything music, etc… done in camera.

Actors today would piss themselves.

I just have a tremendous amount of respect for Hartnell as a performer, and he could really perform and act and emote, and bring it when he needed to… which more often than not… was always. Add to all of that he also had some of the best episodes under his tenure, namely:

SEASON I 1963-1964

AN UNEARTHLY CHILD- PILOT- It does everything a first episode needs to do. Incredibly ambitious, for the time. A time ship, bigger on the inside than the outside, and looks like a simple police phonebox. It is just a genius conceit, even 50 years later. GRADE: B+.

100,000 BC- 3 episodes- It’s not a great episode by today’s standards but it is a necessary one, as they are still defining the Doctor, and his crew of travelers. And it is pretty brutal for a kid’s program. GRADE: B-/C+.

THE DALEKS by Terry Nation, directed by Christopher Barry and Richard Martin- 7 episodes- Terry Nation’s script and idea, fleshed out and realized, made concrete by the producers, and designers and voice actors, resulted in an immediate worldwide sensation… The Daleks. And the story, is quite good, quite ambitious, though of course hampered by the budgets and limitations of the time.

It is a great intro to one of the great iconic creations of television history. The serial falls apart in the last episode, the whole “live” thing, the director just couldn’t pull it all together, so it’s a bit of a mess. But the serial is strongly recommended in-spite of that; and it highlights, the rare times when it goes wrong, just how masterful the cast and crew was, to enable it to go right… most of the time. GRADE: B.

INSIDE THE SPACESHIP aka The Edge of Destruction- 2 episodes- This is another example of them not really having the time to make the story come across, it’s a bit of a confused mess. But it’s an intriguing watch, and is available with a nice commentary with the actors. The commentary worth the price of admission.

Marco Polo- seven episodes- A recreated episode, stills and audio, watched this recently it’s quite good. From the few shots of sets in color, it was quite an elaborate period piece.

The Keys of Marinus- 6 Episodes- Terry Nation returns, this is a great, exciting serial. Even with a bit of implied rape. Terry Nation always wrote excellent scripts that explored not only man against the alien, and man against nature, but far more interestingly man against man. His scripts and the crews performance transcends dodgy sets and questionable effects. GRADE: B+.

The Aztecs- 4 episodes – One of the best Doctor Who stories! This historical episode, sports great acting, great sets, and a great story. And wonderful direction. This is available with commentary, and I highly recommend it. One of my favorites. GRADE: A+.

THE SENSORITES- 6 episodes- This is one of the most successful of the scifi themed serials (the first season nearly equally divided between the historical episodes and the scifi/fantasy episodes) for season I. As it allowed some growth for the character of Susan, and real thrills for the rest of the characters. Lots of fun. Grade: B/B+.

THE REIGN OF TERROR- 5 episodes- This Dennis Spooner penned tale is quite enjoyable. The last two episodes are recreations (stills, audio) but is perfectly understandable and builds to a fun end. GRADE: B.

Those are my grades for season #1. Counting the pilot, Thirty eight weekly episodes!!! Wow! Episodes I didn’t grade are worth a look, for historical reasons, but may not be the show at its best.

Stay tuned for upcoming season reviews!

Doctor Who: The Beginning (An Unearthy Child / The Daleks / The Edge of Destruction)

Doctor Who – The Aztecs (Story 6)

RATING THE DOCTORS: The Best & Worst Doctor Who Companions Pt. 2 of 2!

While picking the companions I disliked was easy. Narrowing down my five favorite companions is a LOT more difficult, because in 30+ years there have been some great companions. On the whole the good companions far outweighing the ones I dislike.

So narrowing down all those great companions to my five favorite, very difficult, and very subjective. But as stated, having recently watched all 30+ seasons of the show, you can call my choices informed subjectivity.

So without further ado:

I have some issues with Russell T. Davies as discussed in my worst companions posting, but one thing you can’t fault him with is in building up the dynamic/relationship between the Doctor and his female Companion, and doing a great job of casting that companion role… well, and writing it… well.

I think one of the common complaints many actresses who played a companion to the Doctor had, was in the writing of their roles. Davies with the characters of Rose and Martha created companions who had it all, beauty, brains, guts, and adventuresome spirit, and a personality, an aura… magnetic. And roles that complemented the Doctor.

So while I really love a lot of the companions that have been in and out of the ship of time, the two I come back to the most, which is a way of saying the two who are great characters, brought to life by great actresses, and they have great stories under their belt, and a great complement to the doctor… in other words they have it all…

Martha Jones played by the stunning Freema Agyeman and Rose Tyler played by the effervescent Billie Piper. They get the one, two spot.

Sarah Jane- I don’t think any list of best companions would be complete without Sarah Jane, played by the fantastic Elisabeth Sladen, who brought such a caring, and humanity, and belief to her role, and whose tenure bridged both Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker.

Liz Shaw, played by Caroline John, acted opposite Jon Pertwee’s Doctor. And she brought beauty, brains, wit, sophistication to the role, and at the time they thought that was too much. She was too capable, and she was replaced in a single season, with a dumbed down companion Jo Grant(that’s not a kick against Kathy Manning, who played Jo Grant, she quite made that role her own, and made that dynamic work, and became a great, woman of action companion for the bulk of Pertwee’s run). However, it was still an unfortunate replacement because she was a fantastic companion. And you look back at the handful of stories she did and they all stand out as fantastic Doctor Who episodes.

The last spot is a tie between Leela and Ace.

Leela- I really liked the character of Leela, playing opposite Tom Baker’s Dr. Who. Played wonderfully by the beautiful Louise Jameson, I thought she was a very interesting character, but her relationship with Tom Baker’s Doctor, and seemingly Tom Baker himself, was seemingly frictious and dismissive. Possibly because she was such a strong and striking character, and a strong and striking actress, and Tom Baker at the time wanted no competition for the spotlight. But despite the less than stellar dynamic between them, they still were in 2 or 3 of the best story-lines in the history of the series.

And tying her for fifth place was Ace played by Sophie Aldred. Ace was just a fantastic companion, and had a great relationship/chemistry with Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor. And they were in some amazing stories together. Their REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS being easily in the top ten of any list of best Doctor Who stories.

Honorable mentions are:

Ian Chesterton – played by William Russell from 1963 to 1965 with William Hartnell
Barbara Wright – played by Jacqueline Hill from 1963 to 1965 with William Hartnell
Susan – played by Carole Ann Ford from 1963 to 1964 with William Hartnell
The first companions, if they had failed, if their chemistry had failed, we wouldn’t still be talking about the show.

Jamie – played by Frazer Hines from 1966 to 1969 with Patrick Troughton
His chemistry with Patrick Troughton, was a great, almost vaudevillian dynamic.

Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart – played by Nicholas Courtney from 1968 to 1989 with all the “old” Doctors apart from Colin Baker.
While not a companion, Nicholas Courtney’s reoccurring role as Brigadier Stewart, head of the UNIT, was a great addition to the Who mythology, particularly during the earthbound Pertwee era. He’s just a fantastic straight man for the Doctor’s craziness.

Jo Grant – played by Katy Manning from 1971 to 1973 with Jon Pertwee. She took the ditzy role she was given, and made it into a courageous character who would risk anything for the Doctor.

Peri – played by Nicola Bryant from 1984 to 1986 with Peter Davison and Colin Baker.

Let’s be honest, Nicola Bryant was brought in, by hit-and-miss producer Nathan Turner, for T&A… to sex up the show in hopes of salvaging the lackluster Peter Davison years. She was brought in for her huge breasts, and they were paraded prominently.

(Oh come’on don’t get offended, we’re all adults here, and that’s absolutely the truth. They were real, and they were fabulous. :). Oh, I’m joking! )

With the exception of Davison’s last episode, the only thing that was watchable about his tenure, was Nicola Bryant. But surprisingly enough, she was more than just a pretty face and a stunning body, she was a solid actress, and she was exceptionally likable, and this became very obvious during the Colin Baker Doctor years.

Colin Baker off-putting pompous portrayal of the Doctor, only made somewhat palatable because of Nicola Bryant’s Peri. I quite liked her, and unfortunately she was saddled with questionable characterization by the writers of her and her Doctors. But despite that she does manage to be part of 2 or 3 stories that transcended those issues, to be quite entertaining.

So that’s it for this installment. Five favorite companions and the honorable mentions! Feel free to mention your favorite companions.

TELEVISION AS ART: KINGS one of the 10 best Pilots of All Time!

“Dreams are a 60th part prophesy…

Learn to read the signs.”


And with those words TVs most elegant, and eloquent parable rose, briefly but brightly, on our screens.

Mixing equal parts religious allegory, alternate history, future tinged fantasy and cautionary tale, Creator/Writer Michael Green and Director Francis Lawrence’s KINGS was something decidedly new and fresh and vibrant and exciting and challenging and smart and of course… being all these things, NBC pulled the plug on it in less than a season, in favor of yet more carbon copy cop dramas.

It is the shame of mass media that tv is littered with stale, boring, uninspired, and ultimately lowest common denominator CSIs and LAW & ORDERS and AMERICAN IDOLS that get renewed year after predictable year, and truly brilliant and revolutionary television, has to fight tooth and nail to make it to a complete season. It’s a shame that Networks are filled with decision makers who continually make the uninspired decision.

The purpose of a pilot, should be to allow the network to be invested enough to grant a show at least an entire season, breathing room to develop and fulfill the promise of that pilot. Unfortunately more often than not, such as with KINGS, the network vultures and ax men begin circling nearly immediately, and the show has to be rushed into episodes and avenues it wasn’t planning for in order to try to assuage networks.

A ploy that seldom works, and didn’t in this situation. In KINGS case the show goes from brilliant with its first 6 episodes (counting the pilot) to floundering, and into a clunky and forced feeling death dive with its 7th episode SABBATH QUEEN, and stays in that rushed uneven keel, till its alternately bombastic and very forced conclusion.

The strength of the first 6 episodes is that lyric writing, and the slow but strong arcs of the characters, which becomes completely erratic, and again forced, with the need to wrap up the story in less than a season.

But the failings of the network in hounding this show to an unsatisfying and unfortunate demise aside, this series is very much worth following and owning for the promise and brilliance of the pilot and the five episodes that follow it.

Because up till then it’s a great example of television as art, with great actors (Eamonn Walker, of BLOOD & BONE and MOSES JONES fame, is one of my favorite actors, anything he is in he brings a weight and gravitas to it, that you can’t see anyone else doing his role as well as him. And KINGS is filled with such brilliant actors), powerhouse performances, lyric, ambitious scripts, feature film sets and scope, great cinematography and location filming, and arguably the most effective and yet understated use of CGI on television, using it seamlessly and invisibly to help create the world and the wonders of KINGS.

And another real strength of the series for me is in its ethnic diversity and casting of strong striking characters who don’t all look like escapees from Dawson’s Creek or Smallville or Whitebread USA.

I’m really put off by shows that have no characters of color or characters of color in token or dismissive/denigrating roles. KINGS is the rare series that is filled with diversity, but that’s not the point of the show, the show is a fantastic riveting, larger than life fable, that just so happens to have astonishing actors of color, portraying people rather than stereotypes, and that’s what I love to see.

And I think part of the issue is NBC didn’t want a show that was ethnically diverse, as all the limited marketing they did… tried to make this look like DALLAS or 90210, something boring and 20something (compare the pics at the top and bottom of this post. The former is what they should have used to publicize this series, and I found only through much hunting, the latter is what they chose to use. If you’re anything like me you find the latter picture extremely uninteresting). NBC had gold, and marketed it like tin.

So KINGS gets the nod as one of the ten best pilots of all time. And its aborted 2009 season, failings and all, stands out as better television than all the inane CSIs combined. Stands out as television, worth your time. And add a commentary and the DVD Boxset gets a grade of B+.

A must own series.

KINGS: Check Prices Here!