If you’re looking for a super charged alpha male driven drama where fists fly and lips lie, this is your show. Steeped in the world of MMA, “Kingdom”, is an intense look into the lives of a wildly dysfunctional family whose roots are deeply entrenched into a sport that, at times, breaks them apart but is also a blood bond that will always pull them back together again.
Created by Byron Balasco ("Without A Trace") and starring Frank Grillo, Kiele Sanchez, Matt Lauria (FNL), Jonathan Tucker, Nick Jonas and Joanna Going. As someone who is not much of an MMA fan, Frank Grillo, is the reason I tuned in. One of my favorite sports movies is, “Warrior”. If you don’t know about, Warrior, this is the type of show that will make you want to know about it and vise-versa. Season one has all of the characters dialed in at eleven. Straight out of the gate, the audience is put on notice that inside or out of the cage, respect by violence is the name of the game.
Alvey Kulina (Grillo) is the owner of the Navy St. gym in Venice Beach, California. A retired former MMA champion, he trains MMA fighters that include his two sons, Jay (Tucker) and Nate (Jonas) Kulina. His eldest, Jay, is an explosion of bravado and showmanship. If you didn’t know him you’d think there wasn’t much more to him than a big mouth, but you’d be dead wrong. When it comes to family and close friends, he has no problem going primal to protect them; even from themselves. Tucker walks this incredibly thin line between Jay’s absurdity and his personal integrity which, surprise, surprise, turns out to be a pretty darn endearing trait. Especially when you take into account the many violent acts he commits in order to uphold that integrity.
As the youngest Kulina, Nate is the complete opposite of Jay. He is quiet, reserved and keeps mainly to himself. He and Jay live together which makes for an interesting home life that Nate generally endures but rarely participates in.
He doesn’t appear to have many friends outside of his brother, he doesn’t have a girlfriend and doesn’t seem to be interested in anything except training. As the show progresses, however, we find that his still waters run very deep indeed. It isn’t until after he suffers a major injury that we begin to understand what fuels the banked rage and violence he can only unleash in the cage.
Formerly known as "The Destroyer”, Ryan Wheeler (Lauria), is introduced as the prodigal son come home…from prison. Without giving away too much as to the why he was in prison, his return marks the beginning of the rise of Navy St. gym. Before his imprisonment, he was a world champion MMA fighter with a fiancé (Sanchez) and he returns to find his fiancé is now part owner of Navy St. gym, not to mention the girlfriend of his former coach (Grillo). Despite these blows and with no margin for error, less he return to prison, he must walk the walk of a changed man if he wants to build back what he destroyed. S1 was packed with some very powerful moments for Lauria as he brilliantly plays emotional ping pong with the audience’s allegiance to his character’s journey. On the one hand, who doesn’t like a comeback? On the other hand, you’re not totally convinced he’s actually changed or, if under the right circumstances, he’s still the same guy who went to prison. It's a balancing act Lauria does very well.
As I said, S1 was full of character ground work mixed in heavily with the brutal reality of a person who takes and dishes out punishment for a living. There are bucket loads of dysfunction in the relationships between the Kulina family and friends of Navy St.
S2 takes a tiiiiny step back from the physical violence, or at the very least, matches it with the emotional violence that only love and family can painfully render. This is especially true for Jay. He’s like a wild stallion the world has decided to climb upon and break. At full speed, love, loss and tested loyalty hit him like a freight train and I must say, Tucker brings a certain tenderness to his character that doesn’t overshadow the real violence he’s capable of. At the end of the day, Jay’s broken but far from defeated and it’s really beautiful to watch.
S2 also sees some major character growth from Nate, whose internal struggle, which usually manifested itself inside the cage, is tested when that is abruptly taken from him and he is forced to learn to live for more than the fight.
What’s been gratifying and ultimately the hook for me, is that there is so much to relate to with these characters. Even for the mass majority of people not familiar with this kind of reality, something about it still strikes a familiar chord on so many levels. I think that's what audiences have connected to most and why it's been announced that a third season is a go. Kingdom can be seen on the Audience Network. S2 recently ended so there's plenty of time to catch up.