Or is it AT&T Originals. Or Endemol Studios. Audience Network. Whatever.
I have a simple question for you. When are we getting the last season of Kingdom, that lovely series about the world of MMA fighters in LA, delivered on Blu Ray and/or DVD?
It’s been a shade over under 18 months since Byron Balasco’s brilliantly edgy and heartfelt series wrapped up its run in August, 2017 with Padriac McKinley’s beautifully rendered finale, “Lie Down In The Light.” One would think the distributors would release a complete series Blu Ray by now, but nope.
Why? No one knows. Or maybe no one cares, which would be the sadder reason. Give me one reason you’d hide and store away a series that was critically acclaimed and adored by its fans and ran for 40 episodes before unceremoniously cancelled. A series that nailed the angst of life in the world of Mixed Martial Arts, winning the praise of Dana White among other UFC analysts and heavyweights.
The story revolved around a gym called Navy Street, which was owned by former MMA superstar, Alvey Kulina (powerfully portrayed by Frank Grillo), and his girlfriend, Lisa Prince (Kiele Sanchez). Kulina’s two sons, Jay (Jonathan Tucker) and Nate (Nick Jonas), couldn’t be any different. Jay is a former fighter who can’t stay away from partying, drugs, and bad decision making to to avoid taking two steps back every time a forward movement is prescribed. Nate is an up and coming fighter and closeted gay man trying to crack the ranks of the sport while struggling to escape the shadow of his father’s grasp. All the while, Nate hasn’t told anyone that he is gay.
Enter Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria, a human grenade with the pin hanging in by a thread), a former protege of Alvey who returns to the gym after a stint in prison.
Oh, Ryan and Lisa almost got married once upon a time.
Things got interesting before Season 1 reached its halfway point. Alvey is an old lion who keeps his heart and soul in the ring by training fighters outside of it. Getting close to him is like sitting next to a burning building of rage that can’t be put out with a simple appliance.
In one son, he has talent but little reason. In the other boy, he has the reason, but a lesser amount of talent. At the same time, Alvey wants to hit something, fight everyone, and burns bridges that were already underwritten by arrogance, fear, and anger.
There’s Alvey’s ex-wife, an ex-junkie who is trying to get clean. There’s Mac, a friend of the family who exists as the backbone in Jay’s life. There’s Keith, a troubled soul that befriends. Bryan Callen’s promoter, Garo, will keep you laughing when things get heavy, and they do.
Kingdom worked so well due to the fact that Balasco stuck his foot, arm, and head into this world for years before shooting a single scene. He listened, downloaded, and soaked up as much information about these people and what they deal with. There isn’t a false move here.
Important note: it’s not a show about fighting; it’s a show about fighters and their battles out of the ring that their sanctioned bouts inside the Octagon can’t fix.
Grillo does some of his best work. In a career marked by tough men of action, Kulina forced the actor to look inside his soul and dig deep. Alvey is a broken man and doesn’t have a road map that shows him where to fix the pain. In fact, he’d rather burn it. Grillo is a fascinating performer anywhere on the screen, big or small, but I’d argue Alvey Kulina was his best work.
Tucker has never been better either. Jay had more than a few shades of gray, and loved existing in the murky area of life choices. The expressions, line readings, and physical ability for Tucker was something to behold. And then the final two episodes of the series blew me away.
If you frown at the idea of taking Jonas seriously, think again. He has the hardest job on the show, playing a young man who can’t reveal his true self, even to his own family and father. Jonas didn’t get the dialogue that the others got, but made the most and earned my respect as an actor.
Lauria impressed me because Wheeler is a man uncomfortable with who he is, but hesitant to jump back into combat. Sometimes, being talented isn’t merely enough if there’s too much darkness and loss stored in your life. This angst provides the actor with endless opportunities to explore that murky area, and dive headfirst into Wheeler’s predicament. Lauria didn’t disappointing.
Sanchez and Going weren’t female props for the men to lean on when things got dark either. Balasco wrote smarter than that, creating strong female identities on the show with layers and a reserve of vigor. Just take Natalie Martinez’s one season run in Season 2 for a test spin, and you can see how ferocious Balasco got with ALL of his characters.
Here’s the thing. You could argue that every single actor was at their best on Kingdom. Like a fighter moving like a jackal in the ring, slipping in and out of trouble without losing an ounce of conviction, they all leaned into the roles.
So, make it available to us, and more importantly, the people who have no idea that it exists. Since your wonderfully kidnapped marketing campaign didn’t stretch the show to the outer reaches of the Earth, so many people have no clue about it. I mention the name and they are waiting for “Of Heaven” to follow with a short review of Ridley Scott’s underwhelming medieval epic. I want to take a weekend and show this series to my dad, who is retired and would love the show. I want to show it to my friends who don’t get the Grillo effect. I want to show it to everybody.
Imagine having a hot girlfriend, hiding her away for no reason, and you have DirecTV’s Kingdom ordeal. You greenlit the series for a fourth season, yanked it back, and ended it before its time. At the very least, show us the goods. Against all odds, and due to Balasco’s savvy desire to end every season as a full chapter in the lives of these characters, the show has a rather precise, and rightfully ambiguous, finale.
Give us the full series set. Three seasons, 40 episodes. A show that resembled a heart being held by a fist covered in blood. A true ode to fighters and their inner demons and external obstacles, and the people who have to deal with the shrapnel of their lives. MMA and UFC are booming right now, so you could find a whole new arena of fans …and perhaps interest from other production companies and streaming devices, including Netflix. Anyway…
When a movie studio produces a bomb, they don’t let critics screen it. Instead of risking the torture of a bad Rotten Tomatoes score or ugly word-of-mouth, they just release it into theaters with little promotion.
DirecTV had a masterpiece in their hands with Kingdom. While they got rid of it too early, there’s still time to make amends.
Release. The. Show. On. Disc.
Thank you sincerely,
Photo by Justin M. Lubin, SMPSP, © Audience Network.
I implore you check out Justin’s work on Instagram, @justin_lubin.