TV Review - Visit ancient Egypt with Ben Kingsley in "Tut"
Cast: Ben Kingsley (“Schindler’s List,” “Gandhi,”), Avan Jogia (“Victorious,” “How I Met Twisted”), Nonzo Anozie (“Zoo,” “Game of Thrones”), Sibylla Deen (“Tyrant”), Alexander Siddig (“Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Game of Thrones”)
Airs: The three night, six hour event series premieres Sunday at 7 p.m. on Spike TV
The premise: “Tut” tells the story of one of history’s most famous rulers, Tutankhamen (King Tut). This mini-series recounts Tut’s rise and his struggle to lead Egypt while everyone arounds him schemes for their own best interests. Forced into power after the murder of his father, Tut is required to marry his strong willed sister in order to maintain the family line. Although Tut rules as Pharaoh, he is manipulated by his most trusted advisors; a Grand Vizier, a military general and a high priest look down on him as someone they can turn into their puppet. Against great odds, Tut becomes an unlikely hero who defeats his adversaries and leads his kingdom to glory.
“Tut” marks Spike TV’s return to scripted programming. The last original scripted series the network aired was “Blue Mountain State,” which ended its run in 2011.
Highs: There are a number of different complex storylines in “Tut” that are fun to watch unravel. Each character in the palace, even though they all live in opulence, isn’t satisfied with their position. Everyone wants more than what they have so there’s a lot of political maneuvering. The queen is in love with a soldier. Tut wants to be in charge and is tired of being a puppet. The Grand Vizier (Ben Kingsley), High Priest (Alexander Siding) and general (Nonzo Anozie) all want power and control. As these three are the strongest actors amongst the cast, I found their paths the most interesting. They all want the influence and honor of the pharaoh, just not the title.
That’s not to say the path of Tut himself doesn’t resonate. This version is different then most portrayals of the famous boy king. In this mini-series we see Tut as a young man. He’s head strong and reckless but has a good heart and wants to make a positive impact on the lives of his people. However, Tut’s stifled under the weight of older men who take advantage of his naiveté. To understand how he’s viewed by the public, Tut secretly dresses in plain clothes and walks among his people, does some undercover stealth work, and falls in love with a commoner who challenges him to be a better person. This version of Tut is someone to root for, not a spoiled sovereign who makes decisions on a whim. In many ways, he has more in common with Aladdin than a supreme ruler.
It’s clear Spike TV has put a lot of effort into “Tut.” While no one will confuse the look of this mini-series with “Game of Thrones” or even “Spartacus,” production values are high. Sets, locales and costume design are all distinctive. What you see onscreen really does look like ancient Egypt.
Lows: I like this interpretation of King Tut but couldn’t help wonder how he became such a well rounded person considering his lavish upbringing. How does he know so much when he’s been so isolated? Tut has a solid understanding of politics and has an excellent grip on military tactics. Considering his three major advisors leave him in the dark at every opportunity, how is this possible? The pharaoh’s encyclopedic knowledge combined with an incredible sense of benevolence make him a character that’s almost too good to be true.
The too good to be true issue is also prevalent in portions of “Tut’s” plot. While having multiple storylines to follow is enjoyable, they can sometimes be too over the top and strain credulity. This happens sporadically with almost every character but most frequently with Tut himself. For example, on Night One, after fighting in a battle and sustaining life threatening injuries, Tut is nursed back to health quickly enough to rescue a comrade from a prison full of inept guards. I understand Spike wants to make an action packed show but a battle, a near death experience and a great escape is a lot to get done in an hour.
Grade: (C+): I’m a big fan of the sand and sandal genre and like many have a soft spot for ancient Egypt so this event series is right up my alley. After watching all three nights of this mini-series and acclimating to some of its quirks, I found “Tut” to be a respectable summer watch.
Gazette media columnist Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.