Kingdom: Seasons 1 and 2
Created by Byron Balasco.
Starring Jonathan Tucker, Frank Grillo, Kiele Sanchez, Nick Jonas, Matt Lauria, Joanna Going, and Natalie Martinez.
Personal drama is never far from the cage in DirecTV’s MMA drama, Kingdom, which comes to US DVD this week from Shout!
In episode two, Alvey (Frank Grillo) tries to tell Lisa (Kiele Sanchez), his girlfriend and tough-as-nails gym manager, that their life and gym are church and state. If this were true, Kingdom wouldn’t exist but it’s all you need to know about Alvey Kulina that he would try to claim it so.
Kingdom is set in the world of MMA fighting. Most of the characters are fighters who compete in a cage to make a living. They suffer grueling weight cuts, abuse coke and alcohol, and battle with the emotional highs inherent to the job.
These are the facts of the show, but the truth is the people who keep Navy Street Gym going, a family that sustains injuries regularly but finds the strength to survive in their sport and in each other.
Which makes it frustrating when Ryan (Matt Lauria) arrives to make everything about him. A fighter who takes advantage of his talent, who finds pleasure in changing others’ schedules to suit his needs (and who was once Lisa’s fiancé) is the same fighter Alvey is determined to have train at his gym. For Alvey, it’s a stupid decision, but for Ryan, who Kingdom shelves with so much anger, there’s another side to the athlete. Ryan takes responsibility for what he’s done. Recently released from prison, he didn’t intend to fight and hasn’t forgotten the person he became when he did.
One minute trying to steal Lisa back, the next helping his roommate, Keith (Paul Walter Hauser), find his teddy bear, Ryan and Alvey are different people. For all that Ryan can be demanding, he apologizes. Alvey’s whole life has been walking away from people who get difficult, while denying his own flaws. When his eldest son, Jay (Jonathan Tucker), messed up his fighting career, he didn’t press to help him. When his estranged wife, Christina (Joanna Going), fell into drugs and prostitution, he let her go. That Jay raised Alvey’s youngest, Nate (Nick Jonas), so Alvey could keep his addictions, doesn’t matter. Alvey is a great coach who confuses coaching for being a father. The gym and his life aren’t church and state. The gym has transposed life.
During the Kingdom panel at Vulture Fest last month, Kiele Sanchez described the writing on the show as “genderless.” It’s the perfect way to put it. Any stereotypes, about men being unemotional, or women not standing their ground, are dismissed for bunk. When season two introduces the show’s first female fighter (Natalie Martinez), her propensity for pettiness makes her the males’ equal. Two is a better season for Nate as well. whose quietness the show never discredits by having him suddenly talk and be open with feelings.
The Kulina brothers are the show’s heart (especially Jay and his sunglasses) but every character makes you furious in ways that require great writing and acting. It’s unfortunate the DVD doesn’t have bonus features, for a peek behind the scenes, but Kingdom is a show you need on your shelf to watch whenever you can.
Kingdom Seasons 1 & 2 is a Walmart exclusive June 6th to August 1st. Available at other retailers August 1st.