After launching on the Audience Network in the U.S. in 2014, the drama series Kingdom has finally aired in the UK as a Virgin exclusive this year. With new episodes every Friday, the first series consisting of the 10 episodes has came to a close, and boy have we been missing out.
Kingdom is a family drama set against the backdrop of Mixed Martial Arts in Venice Beach, California. It stars Frank Grillo as Alvey Kulina, a former professional MMA athlete turned trainer who runs the Navy St. Gym in Venice Beach. Alvey’s two sons, Jay (Jonathan Tucker) and Nate (Nick Jonas) are two young rising stars in the local MMA scene and train under their father. Jay is a talented but self destructive fighter, and Nate is the quieter, more professional sibling. Assisting Alvey in running the gym is his partner Lisa (Kiele Sanchez), who also manages some of the gyms fighters.
The first series starts with the gym struggling to make ends meet, a lack of income and gym notoriety are affecting the success of Navy St. To make matters worse their saving grace is the potential of Nate Kulina, who is being watched by MMA promoters, suffers a brutal assault leaving him in hospital requiring rehabilitation. With Jay absent from the fight game, choosing to indulge in chaotic behaviour and drugs rather than train, and Nate out with a long term injury, the only hope for Alvey and his gym is the reappearance of Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria). A former fighter under Alvey who moved on to great success before winding up in prison Ryan is looking for support following his release and Alvey sees it as the perfect opportunity to gain traction once again in the MMA game. Muddying the waters however is Ryan’s previous relationship with Lisa, as well as the emergence of Alvey’s estranged drug addicted wife Christina. Relationships are tested and bodies are broken in this first terrific series that has flown under the radar for too long.
Television shows that follow the cops, or the robbers, or both are a dime a dozen these days, which is why shows like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful can find success. The world needs shows that cover a different subject matters, and this does so fantastically well, in addition to being brilliantly crafted. Though Season one of Kingdom is not quite on par with aforementioned esteemed shows, it certainly holds its own. The backdrop of MMA provides a refreshing angle to approach topics from as well being a new avenue for a show to explore. Only recently has MMA began to feature in films and shows and Kingdom is easily at the forefront on the small screen.
Frank Grillo is an actor currently hitting his stride in the film and television industry, and he is simply superb throughout season one of this show. Alvey is not just simply a father and a trainer, he’s a former world champion jaded by what got him to where he is. Despite raising two children without the help of his estranged wife, he is no angel as he carefully manipulates situations to benefit the success of the gym and himself. Grillo’s performance is easily the best thing about the show. That being said, the supporting performances by the entire cast are great to watch. Jonathan Tucker as the brash Jay, and Nick Jonas as the subdued Nate compliment each other very well, Matt Lauria playing former world champion Ryan is interesting to watch as he takes up fighting once again, despite the sport breeding the demons that got him in prison in the first place. There is more to come from Kiele Sanchez, as she begins to tackle the world of fighter management. Possibly the most unheralded performance in the show is that of Paul Walter Hauser who plays Keith, Ryan’s room mate after his release from prison. He gives a tremendous supporting performance as a troubled soul with a haunting past.
Drama aside, the use of MMA in the show is not restricted to just showing fights for a bit of action, it gives an little insight into the journey towards a fight, as well as what goes on behind the scenes. Weight cuts, training sessions, injuries, and dodgy promoters all feature, giving you a look at the less glamorous world of MMA and it’s refreshing to see. It’s as authentic as you’ll get outside of watching the real thing. Cameos from UFC fighters old and new will be sure to please fans of the sport, as well as references to high profile gyms and controversies that are affiliated with fight game. They are all little nods that add depth to a show that puts on a fight of the night performance throughout season one.
I thoroughly recommend Kingdom to anybody, and everybody. It’s a solid watch with effective drama and great performances. Even if you don’t know, or watch, the sport of MMA, there is more than enough within the show to keep you entertained. Did I mentioned Frank Grillo is ace already?
Kingdom is currently showing as a Virgin Exclusive in the UK on Virgin TV. New episodes every Friday.