If You Loved 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay', Try This TV Series From the Same Director

Photo: Lionsgate

Even if you’re not a fan of The Hunger Games, you can probably list several items off of star Jennifer Lawrence’s filmography. But what about the franchise’s other Lawrence? We’re referring to director Francis Lawrence, who took over direction of The Hunger Games film franchise from Gary Ross following the first installment. Lawrence’s visual flair and talent for building cinematic worlds similar to our own made him an ideal choice for the job. Though Lawrence demonstrated these skills in I Am Legend and Constantine, it was his dual role as director and producer for the TV series Kings that really showed his potential to take on the final three The Hunger Games films.

Haven’t heard of Kings? You’re not alone. The television drama was a mid-season premiere for NBC back in 2009, and it didn’t last long, despite its compelling plot, stunning visuals, and solid ensemble cast. Loosely based on the story of King David from the Bible, Kings is set in an alternate modern day world in the kingdom of Gilboa (New York City stands in for the capital city Shiloh). The story begins when our young protagonist, David (Christopher Egan), a Gilboan soldier serving in the war against the Republic of Gath, takes out a Goliath-class tank to save some of his fellow soldiers -- one of whom happens to be the son of King Silas (Ian McShane). David is whisked off to the capital for a celebration in his honor and is able to witness first-hand the machinations of the monarchy, a system into which he is reluctantly pulled.

Kings is the perfect companion to The Hunger Games franchise. It’s The Hunger Games if it took place almost entirely in the Capitol with President Snow as one of many main characters.  In addition to sharing a director  -- Lawrence directed three episodes of the show’s 13-episode -- Kings shares a number of defining aspects with the YA franchise...

The reluctant hero trope: Katniss and David are very similar heroes. Both hail from humble backgrounds and are thrust into the spotlight via reluctant acts of heroism. Unlike many in their respective worlds, they don’t vie for celebrity or power; these things are unwanted side effects of their desire to protect the people they love. Both have lost their fathers to the demands of the nation -- Katniss’ father died in a mining accident, David’s father in the Unification War -- and both are torn between the simpler lives they left behind and the demands of the cause that has ensnared and changed them.

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Worlds similar to our own: Both Kings and The Hunger Games franchise do a wonderful job of building an alternate reality that somehow manages to feel both eerily similar to our own and distinctly different, allowing the storytellers to make unique comments on our own contemporary reality. In a video interview Lawrence did with TVWeb at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con, he described the power of this alternate reality effect in Kings:

“Whenever you have a story, whatever it is, you always want it to be somewhat relatable to today and, the great thing is [the King David story] almost just transplanted over, and so it fit everything that’s sort of going on in the world right now. And then, when we were building our version of the monarchy, and sort of getting rid of the real royalty of it -- the sashes and the medals and the pomp and circumstance and all that -- and you start to make it feel a little corporate and presidential, it starts to sort of line up to the way things are working right now in America, which is pretty interesting. It’s working out to be kind of a nice allegory.”

The same could be said of Panem, a vision of a dystopian future that has more in common with our current reality than many viewers would like to admit.

Strong ensemble casts: I don’t need to tell you about the acting heavyweights represented in The Hunger Games series, but Kings boasts a similarly impressive cast. Led by the inimitable Ian McShane in a role fresh off of his turn in Deadwood, other familiar faces include, Arrow’s Susanna Thomas, The Winter Soldier’s Sebastian Stan, and Terra Nova’s Allison Miller -- and that’s just the royal family. Macaulay Culkin, Leslie Bibb, Dylan Baker, and Wes Studi all fill either regular or recurring roles in the series.

Effective visual propaganda: One of the most striking visual parallels -- besides Lawrence’s talent in blending the gritty with the beautiful -- is the iconic visual language of the stories’ respective political movements. In Kings, the butterfly is a ubiquitous motif, a tool Silas uses to represent the narrative of his rise to power. In The Hunger Games, its equivalent is the mockingjay, for which the third and fourth film installments are named. Though this similarity may seem minor, Lawrence imbues both examples of visual propaganda with a weight lesser directors often fail to achieve. The butterfly and the mockingjay aren’t just symbols for the characters; they are an ever-shifting measure for the audience on who is winning, who is losing, and who doesn’t even bother to play the game.

Kings is available to watch in its entirety on Hulu.

 

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Are there other on-screen stories that remind you of The Hunger Games? Sound off in the comments below.

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