The news wasn’t good for Of Kings and Prophets in the ratings last night. The second episode of the Old Testament series — which I thought was an improvement on the first episode — lost over a quarter of its audience from the week before. The episode had only 2.4 million viewers and it got a 0.5 rating in the 18-49 demographic.
Critics had a chance to watch the first three episodes in advance — the third one airs next Tuesday — and many of the reviews so far have not been kind.
They have also not been particularly well-informed. E.g., Verne Gay at Newsday said the series is based on “1 Kings and 1 Chronicles” which, uh, is not true; the series is based on I Samuel, and there is no overlap between I Samuel and those books except for the description of King Saul’s death in I Samuel 31 and I Chronicles 10.
So the producers are now defending the series against these critiques.
For example, Reza Aslan, Bill Collage and Adam Cooper — “a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew,” but not in that order — co-wrote an article for Religion Dispatches:
We assumed we might be met with some resistance from Biblical literalists, as there is always the chance when dealing with religious material that faith-based audiences might negatively react to our interpretation of scriptural inconsistencies.
Surprisingly though, the most vitriolic criticism has not come from faith-based viewers, but from secular media outlets and bloggers, many of whom argued that the war, violence and brutality depicted in the show would alienate religious viewers. Clearly, these reviewers are unfamiliar with the Bible.
Refreshingly, those who count themselves among the “faithful viewership” have largely embraced the show, commending it for its willingness to look at issues of faith in more than simplistic black and white terms. The world of the Old Testament, as described in the Bible, is often brutal and violent—a world where slavery and rape were the victor’s prerogative, and genocide was an accepted approach to foreign policy. The faithful know this better than anyone.
And in an interview with the Religion News Service, Aslan said Of Kings and Prophets was staking out a middle ground between shows like The Bible on the one hand and films like Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings on the other hand:
Q: Would you agree that, with a few exceptions, Hollywood has a short history of turning out films and television shows with nuanced religious content?
A: Stories that tackle religion in Hollywood tend to be one of two things. You either visualize the Scriptures, like Mark Burnett’s “The Bible” project. You take a piece of Scripture and you merely dramatize, as though it is a re-enactment. Those kinds of projects are enormously successful with faith-based audiences, but not with anybody else.
The other kinds are projects like the movies “Noah” or “Exodus: Gods and Kings” — remakes that go so far from the Scriptures they alienate faith communities even as they draw praise and viewers from nonfaith communities.When we developed “Of Kings and Prophets,” we knew it could appeal to a faith-based audience because it is a loyal retelling of the biblical story, but it also appeals to secular audiences because that biblical story is crazy! The story of King David is insane! It is full of horrific violence, soap-operaesque drama, with a main character who is so deeply flawed. King David is an unavowed sinner. He is not Jesus Christ. He is compelling because he struggles. He sins and he repents. So we thought, we’ve got a story that will finally unite these communities.
Interestingly, Collage and Cooper were among the writers who worked on Exodus.
The network has not yet released any clips from next week’s episode, but you can watch this clip from last night’s episode, in which Saul’s daughter Merav lashes out at her father while the family ponders the fallout from Samuel’s rejection of Saul:
Check out earlier Of Kings and Prophets trailers and other videos here:
- The trailer for the original pilot episode (May 12, 2015)
- The ‘Legend’ promo (January 6, 2016)
- The ‘New Extended Trailer’ and ‘Series Premiere’ trailers (January 29, 2016)
- The ‘A Hero Will Rise’ TV spot (February 2, 2016)
- The ‘A destiny will be uncovered’, ‘A hero has been chosen’, ‘Warrior. Lover. Legend.’, ‘Conquer everything. Trust no one.’ and ‘A hero’s journey is beginning’ TV spots (February 10, 2016)
- The ‘Witness the rise of a hero.’, ‘A hero will rise.’ and ‘A king grapples with his destiny.’ TV spots (February 21, 2016)
- The ‘The Epic Story’ TV spot and the Saul, Ahinoam, Jonathan and Ishbaal character videos (February 29, 2016)
- The ‘David Avoids Being Flogged’ and ‘David Kills a Lion with Only His Sling’ sneak peeks (March 9, 2016)
- The ‘David’s Task: Kill or Be Killed’, ‘David Seeks Out and Finds His Lion’, ‘David’s Invitation into the House of Saul’, ‘Samuel Will Bless the Marriage of Saul’s Daughter…for a Price’ and ‘Saul Defies the Word of the Lord’ clips, the ‘David Has a Crush on a Princess’ sneak peek, and a making-of featurette (March 10, 2016)