What if I told you there was a show out there with a wicked concoction of action, drama, romance and the most brutally honest portrayal of fighters you will see on any screen ever? Would that be something you’d be interested in? Well, let’s talk about AT&T’s Kingdom and why you need to binge watch the first twenty episodes before its June 1st return to AT&T viewership. This MMA story deserves your attention. I’ll give you five to keep real.
Frank Grillo’s best work resides here
If there is a better marriage of actor and role out there than Grillo and Alvey Kulina, please tell me where it exists. This guy doesn’t just play Alvey, a retired champion turned trainer looking for a drug that provides him with the same thrill fighting did. Grillo crawls inside this guy’s world and lives there. True immersion. Every one of Grillo’s roles have led to this one and there’s never a dull moment when he is on screen. If you want an authentic guy, look no further than Grillo.
If 2011’s Warrior was the appetizer, Kingdom is the entree. You can’t describe Alvey with a simple good or bad label. He’s somewhere in the middle, fighting his demons one at a time before they grow different heads and come at him a second time. He’s got two sons that are fighters but he cares more about Ryan Wheeler(Matt Lauria), someone who used to date his girlfriend and had loads of talent before blowing it up. Calling this man conflicted is like calling a crowded street with a bomb planted inside of it safe. He’s damaged and reeling, and Grillo shows the audience every single one of his scars. It’s a performance that Emmy voters will never appreciate so you have to. If you are a Grillo fan and always wanted to see him get the role he deserves, Alvey Kulina is it.
Byron Balasco is a dynamic writer
The creator doesn’t allow a single script to pass through his supervision that doesn’t tell an honest story. This is a dish served without phony storylines that don’t resonate on a level of truth. It’s not just fighting folks. The entire hour isn’t two men or women bashing each other inside an octagon. There’s real family dynamics at war here. Former fighters battling inner demons. The women in their lives trying to balance the chaos. Closeted fighters. Ex-con fighters. Retired fighters. Balasco balances it all into something exciting, riveting and most importantly real. The consultants on this show include real MMA fighters and legendary coach Greg Jackson. Balasco immersed himself in this world, wrapping his storytelling hands in the trenches that real fighters live in every day.
The Emergence of Matt Lauria and Jonathan Tucker
You may know them from other pieces of work? Lauria will remind you of Luke Cafferty fromFriday Night Lights while Tucker reminds you of Boon on Justified or Bob on Parenthood but when you watch them enter the head space of Wheeler and Jay Kulina, all of that vanishes. Lauria is a human wrecking ball of emotions, because he sometimes has to dig deep to find the urge to fight and loves someone he can’t have. Tucker is addicted to many drugs and weary of love because it is like a snake that bites extra hard. Jay has the talent to fight but is better at being a tornado that destroys everything around him and Tucker unleashes all of the emotions. He can go from light to dark within seconds and it’s extraordinary work. Lauria is a ticking time bomb and it’s based off good intentions but doesn’t come quietly or easily. Complex characters require talented actors and both these guys bring it.
This Nick Jonas guy
You may know him as the extremely popular singer who tours around the world and holds 80,000 people in the palm of his hand, but on Kingdom Jonas has the most complex and difficult role of all. A closeted gay fighter who can’t get his father Alvey to believe in him or the right amount of success to feel safe or right in the world. Nate Kulina has a million problems but getting inside a ring isn’t one of them. That is also part of his downfall and Jonas doesn’t overplay this role. He doesn’t get a meaty monolog like Grillo or extra space to work in like his co-stars but he still finds a way cut a multi-faceted picture of this young fighter on the brink of losing himself. The young man will surprise you with his ability to do more with his hand of cards than most actors. Keep in mind he barely had ANY experience acting before Kingdom but that he’s been performing in front of tougher crowds since he was 8 years old.
The Women are the Anchors
Meet Kiele Sanchez, Joanna Going and Natalie Martinez. Once again, these are women you may know from previous roles but won’t see them give better performances than on this show. Sanchez worked with Grillo on The Purge Anarchy, Going had a small role on House of Cardsand Martinez shared End of Watch with Grillo among other projects. Here, they all get meaty roles that have an edge to them. These are damsels in distress or cardboard cutouts. Sanchez’s Lisa is the backbone of Alvey, and she has a chemistry with Grillo that goes beyond cute and enters messy reality. Going, playing the Kulina’s fallen matriarch and drug addicted prostitute, doesn’t just play one note but several different emotions in showing us a lady who embraces the dark side but wouldn’t mind some light. Martinez is the female fighter you meet in season 2 who flips many storylines on their head. They are equally ferocious and hold the clock inside the men’s chest.
Don’t forget about the freckled dart board called Mac Brandt that serves as comic relief here amid the heavy sets of drama. Don’t forget about a great soundtrack that involves Fort Frances and a song called “Blaze of Glory” by Spottiswoode that will give you chills. Don’t forget about the raw feel that you are watching something that has been hiding from you for a couple of years.
It isn’t just about fighting. Kingdom is about what you fight outside the ring. The things you can’t punch or choke out. The unfortunate stigmas that plague all of us on an everyday basis get cranked up to 10 on a fighter who must take damage in order to make money but also to feed his soul enough to let him or her sleep at night. Kingdom doesn’t shy away from any fight. It deserves your attention. This is the kind of show you make friends with the neighbor you hate to watch.
Being on AT&T’s Audience Network makes it easier access. You can find all the episodes on UVerse On Demand. The excuses don’t exist. It’s time well spent. You have two days. Come on over to my place and bring steaks, bourbon, and comfortable pants. I’ll watch it with you