To get the really bad stuff out of the way first: I am profoundly aggravated by the fact that in a retelling of a Jewish story, about Jewish people, describing one of the pivotal moments in the development of the Jewish nation, the only overt religious signifier is Christian. Religion and God are mentioned quite often in "Goliath"--King Silas of Gilboa (Ian McShane, on his own about 50% of the reasons the pilot so appealed to me) had a vision from God which inspired him to unite his people under his rule and lead them to greatness, and he is closely advised by the religious figure Samuels, who anointed him as God's chosen instrument. Beyond the fact that it exists, "Goliath" gives us no details about Gilboa's religion, with one exception--Samuels is addressed by the specifically Christian title of 'reverend.' So not only is the Jewish story of Saul and David Christianized, by positing a 'generic' religion and making its one identifying characteristic Christian, Kings falls into the trap of assuming that Christianity is the default religion and all other faiths a special case. As part of the still-ongoing 2009 iteration of the Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of Doom, there were several posts by Jews discussing their discomfort with the way that a Christian culture appropriates and tries to swallow up their distinct religion and history. Having lived my whole life as part of Jewish majority, I was fascinated by these accounts but couldn't sympathize with them, but Kings is a brief glimpse into what these writers experience regularly.
Even more problematic is the show's treatment of Jonathan, here called Jack. The relationship between David and Jonathan is the most fascinating aspect of the tangled family drama that underlies the story of Saul's downfall and David's rise to power. After David kills Goliath and comes to Saul's attention, he and Jonathan become fast friends, and Jonathan eventually sides with David when Saul turns on him--betraying his father and his tribe, and relinquishing his claim to the throne--out of love, and the belief that David has been chosen by God. The Kings writers have instead chosen to make Jack and David enemies, with Jack resenting David's place in the people's and the king's affections. This is a boringly familiar approach, but it becomes something different and quite disturbing when you add the show's decision to play up the none-too-subtle homosexual subtext of David and Jonathan's friendship by making Jack gay. In the episode's standout scene, Silas angrily tells Jonathan that until he can totally suppress his homosexuality he won't be worthy of the throne, which sends Jonathan straight to his uncle William, who is plotting to undermine Silas's reign. So not only is the only gay character in the show a villain, he is a villain precisely because he's gay and unwilling to deny his nature in order to get what he wants, and thus stands in stark opposition to the self-controlled, straight David.
Less objectionable, but probably more problematic in the long run, is the show's worldbuilding. Like Battlestar Galactica, Kings posits a fantastic setting in which one huge thing is different from our world, but everything else is the same. Though there are some amusing and inventive juxtapositions of the modern and the archaic, such as the scribe who records Silas's deeds in archaic language on his PDA, for the most part Gilboa is a thoroughly modern Western nation. People drive cars, watch TV, call each other on cellphones, surf the net. The Gilboa military's gear and uniforms are familiar from dozens of contemporary war films and documentaries, and the civilian clothes are just what you'd find on Grey's Anatomy or CSI. As I've often said in my discussions of Galactica, this approach can result in a flimsy, unconvincing secondary world, but this is an even bigger problem for Kings, whose deviation from our norm is so much greater than the existence of spaceships and killer robots--a modern world in which the commonly accepted system of government is absolute monarchy.
There is no indication that the Kings writers have given any thought to how different our lives would be if we had no power over those stationed above us, no law to bind their hands, no courts to turn to, no elections with which to replace rulers who displease us. Such systems--we see this in historical monarchies as well as recent and current dictatorships--inevitably breed a rigid class structure, nested spheres of influence and patronage which are an individual's only method of social advancement. There's no sign of this in Kings. Silas doesn't have an aristocracy or a royal court. His advisors are politicians and greedy corporate fat cats. There's no indication that the people, or even just a small portion of them, are displeased with the order of things, or want anything more than for Silas to rule them well.
This is particularly unfortunate because the Biblical story of Saul's rise and fall (Samuel I, ch. 8 - Samuel II, ch. 1) might as well be subtitled 'Kings! What Are They Good For?' Before Saul, the Israelites are ruled by priests and prophets, with military leaders, called judges, called forth when the nation is threatened. In the time of the high priest Samuel these judges are Samuel's sons, who are described as venal and corrupt. The people turn to Samuel and demand that he choose for them a king like all the other nations, to which Samuel angrily responds (Samuel I, 8:11-18):
And he said: 'This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: he will take your sons, and appoint them unto him, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands, and captains of fifties; and to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be perfumers, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive-yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and all of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king whom ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not answer you in that day.'Of course, the people insist and Saul is chosen, but he loses God's favor soon after when he declines to wait for Samuel's presence before starting the sacrifices before a battle, and later when he refuses to obey the edict to completely destroy Amalek, and claims some of their people and belongings as spoils of war. Both of these transgressions are indications that Saul has stopped thinking of himself as God's emissary and started to believe that he has an absolute right to rule, and while it's probably going way too far to argue that the Biblical author is a republican, they do seem to come to the conclusion, with David as well as Saul, that when a person is handed absolute power a natural consequence is that they start thinking they have a right to it, and are above any law, either God's or man's. "Goliath" comes close to discussing the corrupting influence of power, but it veers off course when it concludes that the problem is that the wrong person has been handed that power and identifying his replacement.
Of course, one possible reason for Kings's apparent disinterest in discussing the questions and issues inherent to a monarchic system is that despite its premise and even its title, it isn't trying to tell a story about kings. The politics of the show's invented universe are deliberately trying to recall ours. Silas locks horns with bleeding heart liberals and wicked bankers. Health care reform is a hot issue. At the beginning of a speech, the king laments that "it's not popular to talk about God." The show's vibe is less Rome, more The West Wing (even the sets and directing style seem to be trying to recall Aaron Sorkin's series) but a side effect of this choice is to give the impression that the writers think there's no difference between a king and a president, between the politics of a monarchy and the politics of a republic. This is a debatable opinion--though I find it cynical and ill-informed--but it's not something that can simply be dropped into the show's makeup and left unacknowledged, which is what "Goliath" does.
It's likely that upcoming episodes will deal with at least some of the issues I've raised here, but it seems to me that a pilot should be a statement of intent about the questions that interest a show's writers and the direction they intend to take with them, and in that sense "Goliath" is frustratingly vague on the question of monarchy, as well as other questions aroused by the show's worldbuilding, such as whether the depiction of Gilboa as potentially not only homophobic but also racist (the main cast is entirely white except for the black priest, the queen's black assistant, and the king's Indian mistress) and sexist (though the king's daughter Michelle is active in politics, she's not considered a potential heir to the throne, and seems to have no desire or expectation of inheriting it) is an intentional statement, a thoughtless oversight, or a result of the writers assuming that that's just the way it works in monarchies? So I'm not sure yet whether the series plans to engage with these issues, and consequently whether I should look forward to or dread its upcoming episodes. You might be wondering why, despite all these reservations, I'm still planning to stick with this show and recommending it to others, but any series that gets me arguing so vociferously with it, and spilling nearly 2,000 words to do so, a mere two hours into its run is worth sticking with. Despite its wacky premise, there's still a good chance that Kings will turn out as unimaginative and hidebound as most mainstream forays into genre, but I'm sufficiently excited by what I've seen so far to give it the chance to surprise me.