With Netflix’s Wheelman, writer/director Jeremy Rush set out to make something different. Working with a simple setup (getaway driver gets sabotaged, spends entire night figuring out who wronged him), a … Continue reading Interview: ‘Wheelman’ writer/director Jeremy Rush
How a man recaptured his soul in the wilderness.
All the fucks that are fit to print.
Live from Courtesy Diner on Kingshighway after a seven hour Uber shift, let’s talk. ~How about that USA soccer team? Disclaimer: I care as much about soccer as I do … Continue reading Here’s What I Know, Volume #12: Soccer, NFL-less, and Harvey filth
Jeremy Rush and Frank Grillo aim for something different.
Let’s punch Monday in the throat with a stream of consciousness.
Last week, the MMA drama zeroed in on Alvey and Jay Kulina.
“You ride like lightning and you’ll crash like thunder.”
Ding ding! Kingdom on Audience viewers and addicts, take your corners! The Season 2B finale packed a punch and left viewers floored at the physical entertainment and the drama that lingered afterwards.
It was never about the rematch in the first place. In a classic twist on a show about fighters that focuses on their battles outside the ring, the Season 2B finale was relentless in closing sub plots and reopening old wounds while opening entirely new threads.
Ryan Wheeler(Matt Lauria) and Jay Kulina(Jonathan Tucker) taking the ring in a rematch that looked like the world ender to every fan in the audience but inside it was a bittersweet tale that every Kingdom fan knew how it was going to end. Jay, unfit for any overly lit room much less an octagon with blazing bulbs flashing all over the place, taking the ring days after his girlfriend Ava was brutally murdered. Ryan, a King Beast seeking revenge and the alpha badge of Navy Street, trying to block out the fact that his best friend needs a true friend and that he has to hurt him. Two friends meeting again.
Pale imagery and the polar opposite of what took place in Episode 203, where Jay was on top of the world and Ryan was less than 100 percent and wrapped up in demons. It goes to show you that winning a fight and a title doesn’t make a fighter whole. It just pushes his destiny further and further away. When Jay won the title, he didn’t feel anything. He didn’t feel the long lost fever of a championship belt. He felt incomplete so he attached himself to Ava and the allure of drugs.
As the fight begins and all the odds are stacked against Jay, it’s almost as if you want the beating to be over so Jay can recover properly. As fans, we never know what is going through the mind of a fighter. If you ask them, they won’t tell you. In a similar fashion that Jay used Ryan’s physical injury against him, Ryan takes advantage of a distant and ill prepared Jay in the rematch. In a testament to Jay’s “heart of a lion”, he holds it together until the early moments of Round 4 before Ryan finishes him off.
As Ryan screams for his belt, you get the idea it’s all a show. Ryan didn’t want to fight in the first place back in Season 1. He does it to please others and also to keep the demons inside his head quiet or to a dull roar. After the fight talking with Alvey, he gives him the belt as a way to show a hunger still exists. I think he wants to get rid of it so he doesn’t get close to it or the fact that, like Jay, he feels nothing for it. It’s a belt. Something you hang in the office or at the gym. It’s as meaningful as Chapas’ ashes sitting on Alvey’s desk. It is meant to embody that you won something but in the end, it hinders a fighter.
Ryan won and Jay goes to the hospital. Let’s take a few steps back to the beginning of the episode.
Jay Kulina: The Pale Rider
Jay standing outside his hotel looking at the clean up crew taking apart the crime scene is a great stand alone acting effort from Tucker and he has no dialogue. The pure strength of an actor isn’t a big speech. It’s what he can do with what isn’t spelled out or written for him or her. What can you do with your eyes, face and movement? Tucker excels at this often. In a 2-3 minute sequence, he shows the audience a pale rider. Someone who has had the life sucked right out of him.
Ava may have hindered him as well as Alicia(Natalie Martinez, absent from the finale) but it was more than that for Jay. A man who learns something new and painful every season. Tucker doesn’t hide a single bit of pain in his expression. Imagine a paper airplane hitting the ground and catching fire. That’s Jay Kulina. Only after defeat did the man recover and smile.
Alvey: A Man Apart
The season started with Alvey drinking himself into a stupor and the finale features him alone once again. That reunion with Lisa(Kiele Sanchez, burning her own candles elsewhere) never materialized. Roxanne(the lovely Wendy Moniz) broke it off with him early on because of the messy drama fires around him. His son Jay is in the hospital and his younger son Nate is in the midst of a comeback but still mixed up in personal anguish. Everything Alvey fought hard to push himself from while staying attached is going on without his effect. He’s a man apart and this gave Grillo the seeds for a performance that SHOULD HAVE GOTTEN Emmy consideration.
I love the way every seasonal break has ended with Alvey alone in the gym. A man ready to fight his demons yet unequipped for battle. Here’s a guy who trains harder than anyone in the gym, drinks his meals, and has enough rage to fight three guys at once. With Alvey’s torment and disconnect at the moment, all he has is the gym. All he has is what he is going after.
Grillo is at his best when Alvey is at his worst. The emotional volcano spill that the elder Kulina causes allows the seasoned actor to go anywhere he wants with Balasco’s writing fueling his car like an engine with horsepower to spare.
Nate and Jay: Brothers Looking Out
As he cleaned out Jay’s room, Nate found Will’s business card next to the bed. Instead of raging against his brother for intruding into his personal life, he just walks into the hospital room like a wounded puppy looking for a little protection. The relief that has to fall off his shoulders that some part of his family knows that he is gay has to be enormous. Jay has always been someone Nate could trust, and Jonas and Tucker are beautiful in this scene together.
Leave it to Tucker to sprinkle some true comedy on the room when he jokes about positions with Nate. After all the pain and anguish Jay has gone through, the internal trust he has with Nate gives him some resemblance of a win. Well done men.
Christina(Joanna Going) also makes amends with Jay at the hospital but it reads more like an apology to her own identity as a mother. After pouring so much drama on the Kulina household this season, she writes him a letter that covers ground that fans didn’t even see. Here is a mother who has treated her oldest son unlike a son. Christina depends on Jay more than any mother should and seeing Tucker do the dialogue-less torture reaction locks horns perfectly with Going’s dialogue. These two have given television the most emotional mother/son pairing since Jax and Gemma Teller on FXX’s Sons of Anarchy. Bravo. It’s not an easy balance to maintain but Going and Tucker make it look easy.
After so much waiting and wondering, Ryan and Lisa finally share a warm moment and a kiss. It happened near the end of Season 1 but was more lust than passion. Lisa, needing something that isn’t broken in her life, finally sees something in Ryan that hasn’t been there for a long time. Protection and love. It was only a kiss but it surely turned into more.
This sets up another uncomfortable yet highly entertaining dynamic in Season 3. Alvey isn’t going to be pleased about this development. While he knows it can’t work with him and Lisa and there is history there, do you really think Alvey can train Ryan during the day and then watch him leave with Lisa at night? Fire, ladies and gents. Fire. The Ryan-Jay showdown was the driving force behind Season 2B and the Alvey/Ryan/Lisa tripod of doom will puncture Season 3. They may not fight in a sanctioned fight but they will come to blows.
Every television show should aim to get better each year. Instead of resting on your laurels and dishing out potent yet similar entertainment after acquiring people’s attention, a creator and his cast/crew should keep pushing. Balasco, Grillo, and company have done that with this latest batch of episodes. Every 52 minute episode felt like a brilliant edited film and something to dissect and wonder about for days. It didn’t feel like ordinary television. Kingdom ascended higher this season with pulse pounding drama and knockout worthy action. It’s something else. A signature blend that isn’t afraid to take bold risks in order to spin a story few have told.
For all the people who wanted a real dynamic show about fighters and their lives, look no further than AT&T’s Kingdom. It’s got everything. This blood drunk drama knows how to hit a person where it counts. Unlike most TV shows, Kingdom doesn’t aim to merely please. It aims to knock you out. Season 2B did just that. There are 30 episodes at your disposal folks. What are you prepared to do? Take the plunge.
The pilot featured a weary yet wise Alvey Kulina jogging through the streets with peace in his mind and hunger in his back pocket. He had everything. At the end of Season 2B, all he has is what he is going after. A bottle, a bag, and nothing else.
Great television challenges you every week. Thank you Kingdom. Please come back for Christmas.
Where: AT&T’s Audience Network
When: Wednesday nights at 8 p.m.
Like father, like son is a phrase often used to show the good nature of a bond forged at birth. What if it is the other way? What if a son is like his father in dangerous and unsettling ways? The two men can’t help this. They can only attempt to control it.
With Jay Kulina(the Emmy worthy Jonathan Tucker) spiraling out of control following his victory over Ryan Wheeler(Matt Lauria), it’s hard not to notice the similarities between father and son. What does Alvey Kulina(Frank Grillo) do when he gets into a tough spot and has to get away? He goes to a hotel, turns off his phone, drinks like a fish, partakes in drugs, and cuts himself off from the world that scratches at his conscience.
Jay and Ava(Lina Esco) have taken their “Leaving Las Vegas” like plunge to the nearby Flamingo Hotel. A place that is seedy, dirty, and looks like a great spot for drug(s) be exchanged, ingested, and devoured.
Like his father, Jay is escaping from a reality he doesn’t want to participate in at the moment. Everybody wants a piece of him and he wants no piece of them. Alvey’s biggest plight in his hotel getaways is cough medicine mixed with drugs but keep in mind he’s an older man. Jay is younger and we know that Alvey snorted and injected plenty of drugs in his younger years. Like father, like son.
I’ve said it a few times but this can’t end well for Jay, Ava, or Alicia(Natalie Martinez). What started as a harmless flirtation in a gym kitchen has turned into bad news city. Maybe Ava finds good reason to run away and leave Jay alone or maybe this slide continues to twist or turn the two sinking lovers.
Alvey sees way too much Christina(Joanna Going) in Ava and it’s not a wild comparison. He knows how bad it used to get between them when they were married. Christina sees the hazards in Ava that even she doesn’t want to admit but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It’s like Jay is a runaway train and all his friends are running out of subway platforms to get him off the train. He’s beginning to enter the tunnel and the next stop isn’t a good one.
It was nice to see Wheeler share a quiet soulful moment with Jay in the bathroom at Nate’s fight. They were close friends pulled apart by a reach for professional equity and desire. Neither of them are alphas. Both of them are isolated and troubled. Ryan’s suggestion of canceling the rematch wasn’t from a needy place of his own body and mind. It was a friend reaching out and trying to help another in supreme need.
So, Nick Jonas’ Nate got back in the ring and kicked all kinds of butt. This was easily Jonas’ most impressive moment on the show. Creator Byron Balasco and his writing team seem to know that his strong suit is quiet, brooding, and simmering with rage. The fight was choreographed extremely well and the sound of silence with fists and kicks near the end was superb.
At last, Nate was able to cancel all the mechanism out and just fight. Jonas was so good in this moment. He’s gotten a few stretches this season where the stage is his. He triumphed but soon afterward was urged by his mom to help his ailing brother. Poor kid. His dad struggles to believe in him and his mom is a wrecking ball.
Lisa’s dad(Bruce Davidson) shows up and wants Alvey to resist Lisa’s urge to return to Navy Street. As a collective audience, we scream no but in the end Alvey is given a check for 200,000 dollars to make sure Lisa stays in San Francisco. Knowing Alvey and his love for chaos, I don’t think that check will be cashed or deposited. Lisa will come back soon enough, right? She has to.
How about Mac Sullivan facing down his best friend in the hotel? I spoke with Mac Brandt about this moment in the hotel and he said it was initially hard for him and real life buddy Tucker to execute this but in the end they got it done. Jay begging Mac for drugs that the big freckled dartboard doesn’t want to give him. Mac sees the train going down into the tunnel. Mac’s eyes are the audience’s lens. Nobody likes this version of Jay. It’s a very good scene.
I’ve admired the way Balasco has kept the weird odd and messed up nature of Keith(the gifted Paul Walter Hauser) under wraps for 24 episodes. When Ryan allows Alicia to stay at their place, Keith doesn’t like it at all and it’s a genuine uneasy moment. Remember folks that this guy murdered his parents and also did a few other crazy things to land himself in a halfway house. He’s insane.
Sure, he’s a smarter than you think cuddly teddy bear but he’s capable of bad things. He also adores Ryan and if someone tries to pull him away, that person may be in danger. I can’t wait to see how this develops over the final four episodes. Keep an eye on Keith.
*I love the way Wendy Moniz plays Roxanne. She loves dangerous men but she is trying as hard as she can to not fall for Alvey. She “can feel ‘Lisa'” in the house and is now a little more unsure of where this relationship is headed. Grillo and her have chemistry to burn.
*Anybody else catch that look Jay gave their new neighbor at the hotel?
*Poor Jay doesn’t know the difference between seedy “True Romance” like hotel room service and Ritzy type room service. He will soon enough.
*Alicia isn’t as misguided and dangerous as her sister but how about those lack of principles in asking Ryan if she could stay mere days after she turned him down for the same privilege?
Come back next week for more Kingdom analysis and review. Season 2B is heading in a direction that has everything to do with these characters and the consequences of their actions OUTSIDE the ring. Gritty, emotional, and powerful.
Before he takes over Hollywood this summer, action star Frank Grillo was kind enough to talk to the CBS Sports Radio show, We Are Live. For an epic 34 minutes, Grillo dished on his big 2016 cinematic and television season. After punishing a few Avengers in Captain America: Civil War, Grillo will return to his true authentic playground with AT&T’s Kingdom and then return to movie screens in July with The Purge: Election Year. For the 50 year old actor, it’s a homecoming of sorts after a lot of hard work put into the blood, sweat, and tears business of show business that started over 25 years ago.
Guest host Rafe Williams and Trill Ass Trailers creator Kenny Kinds joined me for the interview and we discussed:
*The impact of Crossbones on the Marvel Universe and the Russo Brothers.
*Why Chris Evans shouldn’t challenge Grillo in a real boxing ring.
*The world of Kingdom and MMA and how the show came together for Grillo and creator Byron Balasco.
*Why Purge 3 will be the best in the series.
*The importance of stunt work in these action adventures.
Conor McGregor was brought up and so was Grillo’s early start in Hollywood on The Guiding Light. All of that and more.
People ask me what separates Grillo from your other gracious make believe masters and it’s this. He gives a shit and forges friendships. He keeps his word. If he says he can do something, he is going to fucking do it. A lot of people, actor or not, don’t do that so cheers to Frank.
The audio links are below. Two options.
For the ITunes crowd, here is the link to the We Are Live subscription page.
For the internet crowd, here is a link to the We Are Live InsideSTL page.
Each page the segment is listed as “Interview with Frank Grillo”. If it were up to me, I’d light this page on fire right now because that is the exact temperature of the man’s career.
Thanks for listening to it and I hope my first night hosting a radio show sounds as professional as possible.
A huge thank you to Chris Denman and Travis Terrell of We Are Live to allow me to operate the controls of their cathedral for a night and host Mr. Grillo on this fine show.