DIRECTTV has delivered a solid show in KINGDOM. The series set in the world of MMA fighting, at its heart is a modern take on the family drama. The action is set at the Navy St. Gym, owned by Alvey Kulina and run by his girlfriend Lisa. Alvey was once a champion fighter but an aging body has taken him out of the cage and relegated him to coaching. Don’t get me wrong Alvey, played by Frank Grillo is in amazing shape, but the one can only take so may body slams before your body says “enough!” With a mediocre clients, Alvey and Lisa can barely keep the gym afloat.
One potential bright spot is Alvey’s youngest son, Nate, played with a sweet sincerity and physical intensity by pop star Nick Jonas. As a fighter he is his father’s son in the cage, but takes on a quiet, sweet demeanor in the outside world. Nate keeps walls up, making it hard for anyone, even his family to really get to know. Alvey’s oldest son Jay is also a great fighter, but his irrational behavior and drug use has made his father ban him from the gym. Lisa holds a soft spot for Jay and truly believes in his talent as a fighter.
Jay is also distracted by the fact that he’s secretly taking care of his estranged mother, Christina, beautifully played by former Another World star Joanna Going. Christina, still married to Alvey, left her family only to become a drug addicted prostitute. Jay makes regular visits to the corner she works to give her what cash he can scrape together always asking her to “please make sure to eat.” Jay is his mother’s son, as evidenced by his whimsical, carefree nature and ability to take a dark turn into depression and drugs.
And what would a hot drama be without a good old-fashioned love triangle? Enter former MMA champion Ryan Wheeler, who has recently been released from prison after serving time for a crime that isn’t revealed until later in the season. Ryan was engaged to Lisa, until he went to prison and she moved on with Alvey. Alvey still sees a champion fighter in Ryan, and offers to coach him back to his former glory. This new relationship keeps Ryan and Lisa in each other’s orbits creating tension among the three.
KINGDOM’S storytelling is a slow burn. With a first season consisting of only ten episodes, the stories are not rushed or wrapped up neatly at the end of each hour. Instead, secrets are revealed bit by bit like a slow drip of morphine, just enough to keep you hooked. While Alvey and Ryan are positioned as the series leads, it’s the young Kulina brothers who steal the show. Both so different but totally committed to one another. Jonathan Tucker gives a showy, but not ridiculously over the top performance as Jay, which works well in contrast to Nick Jonas’ more reserved performance.
While MMA is the backdrop for the series, season one doesn’t go deep into that world except for the matches. Season 2 will most likely explore more of the broader mixed martial arts wrestling world. Jamie Kennedy gives a comedic turn as a sleazy fight promoter in season one and he’s likely to show up in season 2. Jay, Nate and Ryan have many more matches ahead of them, so the show will likely introduce new rivals to intensify the conflict.
I hope season 2 gets rid of Alvey’s narration which is done through sessions with his therapist. It’s reminiscent of SONS OF ANARCHY’S narration by Jax Teller, just not as poetic. Alvey’s new age zen feels like the show is trying to hard to set him up as a Tony Soprano type, which he’s not. He’s more of a poor man’s Ray Donovan. He’s not nearly as damaged as they’d like us to believe. He’s a father who wants to relive his glory days through his son. He’s selfish but knows that as a coach, it’s not about him, it’s about his athlete.
At the end of the tenth episode I wanted to know “what happens next?” That’s a good sign of that the show delivers interesting and compelling story-telling. KINGDOM isn’t perfect, not many shows are, but the it has nicely defined each character setting them up for long-term story arcs.
DIRECTTV ordered 20 episodes for season two and will split them between fall of 2015 and sometime in 2016.
Check out KINGDOM below:
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