The Monday Rant 

Let’s punch Monday in the throat with a stream of consciousness.

Live from the Tesson Ferry medical clinic–

I’m tired. Let’s just start there. 

The wife is having surgery on her wrist-round 2 if you are counting in the waiting room-and I’m uploading coffee into the system as I type. No, a nurse isn’t holding a cup near my mouth, but I’ll check if that’s in the insurance plan. 
Since I don’t have wifi in the lounge and the April issue of Sports Illustrated doesn’t interest me, I’ll come here and rant. Off the cuff chat. Monday morning musings. The Wakeup Blues. 

It has been said that the more we talk shit out, the easier we sleep. Who knows if that is true, but let’s go ahead and tap into my stream of consciousness:

*Bethalto isn’t that bad. I mean, there’s a Schnucks grocery store with a Shop n’ save pharmacy and there isn’t a movie theater for miles, but it’s a quiet place to get away. It’s not like you can be driving down I-44 towards Webster in STL and get shot or anything. 

*I hate going to bed early, so I often don’t do it. You’re told what to do outside your house, so why obey the rules inside your four walls? Even when there is a reason to, like today. The wife tells me to get some sleep and I tell her not to worry. I watch Rocknrolla and Knight and Day instead. Bad idea. I’m very tired and they make these rooms at the clinic super bright. Like, do they not have respect for Italian vampires?

Sidebar: Hey Guy Ritchie, what happened to that Rocknrolla sequel you promised us back in 2008? The part before the end credits where the screen teased, “Coming soon, The Real Rocknrolla.” Well, nine years later, and you sir are a real fucking liar. The first film cost just 18 million to make. A sequel would have been a better investment than that King Arthur turd you shat out this past spring. Yeah, I did type SHAT. 

*Ready for a medium hot take: A radio show shouldn’t have more than three hosts. Then it turns into an overcrowded party where people talk over each other constantly and the listener gets confused about who is saying what. When people decide to turn their dial towards your stream, don’t take that shit for granted and pack the room full of voices. I don’t care who the hosts are, it’ll be a mess. 

*The NFL starts in two months. Kickoffs abound and fantasy leagues launch. Husbands and wives lose their spouses for undisclosed periods of time. Owners sit in suites and talk about building new stadiums they don’t need and possibly moving the team if they don’t get what they want. Money is earned. I mean, stupid money. So much cash. Football returns in two months and I couldn’t care less. Fuck you Roger Goodell. When I look up gutless scumbag whore in the dictionary, your picture pops up. 

*In eleven days, I move into my new house. So exciting and also not. Like getting a massage from someone who needs to clip their fingernails. My wife and her sister are already planning to fix the electric, which means possibly gutting the walls. Don’t get me wrong, a mean demolition is quite fun, but not in my house. A new home means one thing: projects. Fuck. Me.  

Side note: I’m writing this on my phone, and I’d like to tell my iPhone for the hundredth time that I do want to type “fuck” and not “duck”. 

*There are four hours of Kingdom left. That’s right folks. The MMA series has officially entered its Gettysburg movie status. Four hours. I can’t tell you how sad I am that this series is closing up its doors at Navy Street after the August finale. There are certain TV shows that you wish would have stopped a long time ago (Grey’s Anatomy, Bones, etc.), and this one simply isn’t one of them. Frank Grillo and Jonathan Tucker deserve Emmy awards. Matt Lauria and Kiele Sanchez are so great. The goal of this TV series was to dive into messy parking lot that is a fighter’s mental state. Imperfect people who trip over themselves in an imperfect world. Four more hours left people. 

*Whenever I mention Grillo’s name around people, I get a certain look. An aggressive eye roll type move. Like they are expecting me to wax poetically about him again. And I think to myself-yeah, so what? Don’t be jealous that my favorite actor to watch is also a friend who I admire as a person and a performer. I bet half these eye roll people don’t even take the time to watch a Grillo movie or show. They just don’t. Try it out. See if I’m wrong. I’m not alone. There are Grillo addicts everywhere and for good reason. In a landscape stuffed with egos and false personalities, Frank is as authentic as they come. And he could kick your ass. And your dad’s ass. And your brother too. You get the point. 

*Annoying pack of jack-wagons #407: the ones who say they are done watching Cardinals baseball after a bad loss. Don’t kid yourself. A bad loss just makes you watch more. Watch harder. Closer. Become more addicted. These are the needy types too. The LaVar Balls of baseball fans. 

*Speaking of LeVar, maybe I can have Grillo knock that oversaturated athlete parent the fuck out. I mean hard too. Ball gives all dads at the little league game a bad name. Just shut it down dude. Let your kid play. 

*Let me ask a question. Why can only one website write about a player or topic? This is so common in sportswriting these days. I don’t get it. There’s enough room at the table for hundreds of websites, but if a website writes about a topic covered two days or two weeks after another site covers it, they are bad. Scorned. If the world got rid of all the sports oriented know-it-alls, it would be a better place. Here’s the thing: they are as full of shit as the next person. They don’t know it all. Not even close. They got their information from someone else and basically reformatted it for their own discretion. The realty is we are all staring into the looking glass pondering the next thought. You know who you are if you read this part. Give it up. 

*Hey, did you hear about that NBA trade? Oh cool. I couldn’t give a shit if I was paid to. Well, it depends on the money I guess. I get more arousal out of the back 9 of a golf game than I do an NBA contest or off-season gaming. 

*Can we get a good winter this year, because the mosquito bites that I’m getting this summer are brutal. They aren’t just taking a bite; these bastards are taking a pint. So selfish. And I know bugs play a part in our way of life. But I didn’t agree in the “Bugs Occupation Package: Volume 2017” for mosquitoes to bite the shit out of me. 

*As much as I liked doing the battlegrounds, I don’t need to do it again. Once you get in the mud for a couple hours and go to that extreme, a good run or workout suffices. Never say never, but I don’t think I need a repeat. 

*Favorite dinner food. Simple surf and turf. Give me a ten ounce strip streak cooked medium and shrimp or a slab of Atlantic salmon sautéed on a stove. Here’s another medium heated take: I’ll take steak and shrimp over brisket and pulled pork. BBQ is overrated. 

*When it comes to chicken wings, the skin must be crispy. If not, no thanks. There’s no place in this world for slimy skinned wings. 

*Pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza. Ask any chef in Italy. It’s no good.  

*Game of Thrones starts in six days. Since I don’t have premium cable, no Thrones for me. 

*Here’s the shitty part about exercising: it makes you want to eat more. As you get older, the mantra is that you need to take care of yourself. I’ve been doing that since I was 17 years old, so it’s not headline news to me. But they don’t warn you about the food desires that rise up as you increase your activity. And sometimes a bowl of veggies won’t cut it. An example: last night at 11 p.m., I absolutely destroyed a bag of Cheez-it’s. Gone. Working out just increases the need for a larger food intake. Fuck you appetite. 

*To the people who drive 45 minutes or more to work in the morning or at night, I applaud you. That’s tough business. 

*This week will mark my first week as an Uber driver. I’m trying to make money and not work a shit job that makes me miserable, so I’m trying this. I’m not messing around, so I got gum, mints, water, and other small goods for my passengers. The better the reviews, the more customers come your way. Also, it’s a great chance to explore the city. Here goes nothing. 

*Full confession. I love to talk, but there are times where an extended period of silence is just golden. The need to fire away constantly is a drain. Shut up and listen. Or just appreciate the quiet. 

*Beautiful women of the world, don’t be so hard on yourself. I know it’s tough. You’re pretty enough. Yes, your makeup is subtle. The dress doesn’t look too tight. The hair is done up just right. Your breasts are perfect for your body type. Sure, yoga pants are acceptable outside of a gym. As judgemental as we are-and we all are-a little “you” is always needed. 

Side bar: The ass remains the most seductive part of a woman while the eyes cut us off at the knees. 

One last thing: protect your knees. As a guy who runs on hard concrete, I can assure you that making sure your knees receive care is of the utmost importance after the body turns 30. Aging isn’t always classy. 

Also, the only thing better than people watching is spotting other addictive people watchers.  

Okay, I’ll shut up now. Back to your regularly scheduled programming. 

-D.L.B. 

Kingdom on Audience recap: Living Down

On Episode 209 of Kingdom, the sweet and the bitter met and made love.

The sweet isn’t as sweet without the bitter my fellow Kingdom on Audience addicts. In order to taste the top, you have to know what dirt on your nostrils feels like. In the second to last hour of this furiously entertaining and poignant season of the Direct TV series, fights are won lives change and are lost. This episode was about great acting. Underrated acting. You won’t hear about it at the awards ceremony because it’s MMA, but it needs to be appreciated.

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If you haven’t watched it yet, stop reading now. The rest of you, wrap your hands and follow me into the steamer.

The episode opens with Alvey Kulina rubbing and cocking his weapons. The same guns he bought in “New Money” back on October 14th now look to be going back. Is he trying to make a way for Lisa to come home? You bet. He is undoing all the suck in his life that has added up in Season 2. Did it work? Of course..not.

LISA IS MOVING TO SF

After a tense breakfast with Alvey(Frank Grillo), Lisa(the lovely and glowing Kiele Sanchez) is taking the unborn son of the man to San Francisco for the birth and for perhaps longer. This has been felt for several episodes. A woman trying to raise another kid around the maniac arena of MMA, drugs, drama, and constant pressure. Maybe getting away to SF is for the best. The aftershock of this decision make any optimistic twist in these final two hours a mere tease of happiness.

Lisa’s scene with Jay in the locker room is so well played by Sanchez and Tucker. She tries to make it okay in her mind that leaving won’t hurt him and as he shreds the pounds for a title fight, he insists that the little Kulina is top priority right now. Of all the men on this show right now, Jay is looking out the most for Lisa’s needs. The look Sanchez gives Jay spells out the pain she feels. Tucker, as charismatic as a wrecking ball with eyes, is excellent here. He’s a gifted dude.

ALICIA GETS A CAR AND SHAME

Remember that sweet and bitter thing? It’s best not to celebrate a new car from an energy drink company after winning an exhibition fight. Alicia gets the keys to a brand new Mustang and freaks out like it’s her sweet 16. Granted, she nearly got mugged in her sleep three hours ago, but still, on a cut day it’s best to smile, fist pump and go back inside. Mendez is so up and down it’s hard to know where her story is going. Nate(Nick Jonas) has to talk her down and tell her to respect the house. Lisa tells her to give the car back so she can actually get paid. Sweet. Bitter. Hand in hand.

CHRISTINA CLEANING UP OR GOING DOWN?

A week after watching Jay inject himself with heroin and seeing her world come crashing down, Christina needs her own place. An apartment looks great but with the competitive market(1700 per month for that!!) and her history, the chances of her getting the place are remote. So she tries to play the sexy and beauty part, only to be rebuffed by the realtor, who is an ugly despicable type but isn’t being rude with his requirements. Christina is an ex-junkie without much work stability. Escort service doesn’t look good on a past work slot even in 2015. When she goes to Alvey to co-sign, he turns her down. Without being able to look at Jay and getting denied, things are looking down for her. Way down.

RYAN SEEKS PEACE/DOESN’T GET IT

It’s cut day for Wheeler and he’s a bottle of nerves with a bent cap. Matt Lauria allows his expressions to do the heavy lifting in this episode. Pretty much every episode. Whether it’s him on a bike in the sauna trying to cut six pounds or talking to his dad about his latest condition or begging Keith to be quiet on fight day, Lauria needs the least amount of words to dominate a scene. When Lisa tells him she is leaving, what viewers thought was gone this season(his feelings for her) reawaken after they embrace. Lauria, clenching his face and neck like a sniper would pull on the hammer of his rifle, is the epitome of intensity. These actors know the only way to become these characters is to suck it ALL in. So good and well trained.

JAY GETS HIS SHOT

The colorful yet reckless Kulina has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. He’s watched his brother Nate get three fights and Ryan Wheeler carry a belt after leaving jail. He’s the guy at the party holding the keg for others to fill with beer. Now it’s his turn to get a taste. The man picked most likely to screw it all up is chomping at the bit and after finally cutting the weight and making 145, he climbs into the ring an angry man. Who cares who he is facing but there is a belt at stake and a shot at redemption for a man as reckless as he is talented. Seeing Tucker whisk through a warmup to the underrated whiskey drunk sounds of Spottiswoode’s “Blaze of Glory” is so well done and taunt. Instead of leveling the audience with hard rock or metal, Creator Byron Balasco has the confidence to toss an acoustic misery track into the pre-fight mix reel. Bless you, o’bearded one.

What happens? After nearly tapping out in the first round, Jay takes Alvey’s advice and knocks his challenger out with a cold knee to the jaw. He’s a champion. Finally. The emotion between Frank Grillo and Jonathan Tucker in this scene is so genuine you forget there are cameras around. Kingdom has a way of pulling you in so close that the stink, sweat and grit from these characters rubs off on you. It doesn’t fake a thing. Alvey told him he would fail and Jay proved him wrong. The entire time, the joker grin on Tucker’s face tells the entire story and Alvey just eats it. His son is a champion. Alvey is shellshocked that it’s Jay and not Nate. How life deals your cards is only half the battle friendos. Gotta take em and fight.

Sweet and the bitter. While Jay was warming up before the fight, Christina, at the end of her rope, was prepping to a dose of heroin. A big dose. A song played in my head. Sweet Child O’Mine. Any TV fan knew what was coming. She was going to OD while Jay fought for the title. The sweet isn’t as sweet without the bitter. The devil is a block behind happiness at all times. Jay tries to call his mom after the win and gets nothing. Back at home, the camera pans to a lifeless Christina right before the end credits roll.

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare for the boat to be rocked. Jay will most likely blame Alvey for not helping his mom but as the old lion said, she does this to herself. It’s a cycle for addicts. They fall into bad habits, rely on easy shortcuts and eventually slam into a brick wall of adversity. They are a stinky pair of underwear to society. None of this matters to Jay. She’s his mother. He won the belt but lost his mother. All in one hour. That’s life. As Rocky Balboa urged his kid, nobody hits harder than life.

Extra Rounds:

~Adored the rambling about cold vacations, good food and big boobs between Ryan and Jay in the sauna. Comic relief.

~Poor Keith doesn’t understand sports. You can’t talk to a pitcher on his day to throw. Same for fighters.

~MVP this season goes to Kiele Sanchez. She is REALLY pregnant and handling all these kids. Did I mention she is gorgeous? Wow. Remember when she fought Milla Jovavich in The Perfect Getaway? She was Timothy Olyphant’s girlfriend in that film. Olyphant would go on to play Raylan Givens in Justified and have a showdown with Tucker’s Boon in the season finale. Sanchez also starred in Purge: Anarchy with Grillo. World just shrunk a bit. Love you Kiele.

~Thank you Joanna Going for being a force of nature as Christina. You were a storm cloud, pocket of light and loose cannon all in one. What a performance.

~What happens in Wheeler’s fight? He has to win because a title fight with Jay would be the driving force behind Season 3. Right? We shall see.

Unwrap your hands, take a lap and see you next week for the Kingdom Season 2 finale.

Kingdom On Audience: Episode 207 reviewcap

CQ_pxHnUsAASbyS“The beast in me. Is caged by frail and fragile bars. Restless by day. And by night rants and rages at the stars. God help the beast in me.”

It’s hard not to think of the Johnny Cash torture tune when watching this latest episode of Direct TV’s Kingdom. Season 2 has been a slow descent for every character. The ascent to better things and happiness is met with new hardships previously unknown. There’s a beast in all of us. Every day. We choose to stare it down or ignore it. It’s there and alive. Here’s what happened on Kingdom.

Alvey is going down the rabbit hole. A straight fucking nose dive into madness. The ex-fighter/trainer/maker of men is spinning out of control after his wild night with Chapas leaves him at the mercy of the police station the next morning. If only all the bad shit that has happened with King Kulina could be placed on the old friend with the snake eyes grin and his sturdy shoulders. There’s more to it. Alvey is a former drug addict my friends. This is a door being pushed open that he is swinging open furiously.

It’s a joy to watch Frank Grillo spar with this version of Alvey. The demon straggler. Actors are at their best when they are playing fucked up people stuck in between the black, white and gray areas of life. Grillo is going full bore at this devil’s tomb dancer. When we first saw Alvey, he was firing guns, smiling like a preacher’s son and seemed to be walking on water. Now he is down in the pits, fighting for everything. He takes his youngest son, Nate(Nick Jonas, as innocent as vanilla ice cream but hiding a heat of his own) to Fresno for the under the radar dirty backyard brawl that EVERYONE knows is bad for the kid. When you get knocked out, though, your head wants to do vicious things to the rest of your body.

Alvey drinks like a fish, and this is whiskey folks. When the opponent predictably comes in over weight, he nearly beats the shit out of him because he saw all this coming. Nate is abrasive to Alvey’s advice and knowledge because he pushed too hard and doesn’t know a thing about the young man. They are oceans apart. Bonded by blood but nothing else. In need to attacking the ground game to protect his head, Nate takes the fight to the boxer turned MMA challenger. Remember, this isn’t a normal fight, taking place indoors and sanctioned properly. When the ref breaks up the two fighters any time Nate gets him into a submit stance, doom settles in. Suddenly, the kid seems to give up. He gets his head bashed in. Beaten impulsively to the mat by this nobody puncher. When his plan doesn’t go as planned, Nate is left in the dark again. A kid with no true hunger for the sport. He is beaten bad and spends the night in the hospital. Alvey is…well, he is beside himself but does it even matter.

Here is a guy who didn’t know where his license went. A guy who seems to drink in as many places as he can. This is the Alvey who ran off in Season 1 and met Andre Royo’s hotel savant. Bad news Alvey.

In the end, he gets what is coming to him. A punch he didn’t see coming. Lisa, after speaking with her dad earlier, has made a choice. She is moving into her pops vacant condo for a while. How long? Indefinitely. Her and the baby. These two were hanging by a thread at the end of season 1, and then a baby came along. Now they are at that crossroads again. A place where Lisa doesn’t know how much of Alvey she will ever be able to get or have for herself. I hate to say it but he deserves it.  He needs a push. Alvey Kulina doesn’t need a drug. He is the fucking drug.

By the way, every time I say fucking or fuck, picture Grillo saying it. It sounds better!

Ryan Wheeler and his dad truly make peace. I’ll be honest and say I expected this interview to go awry. Everything was going so smooth on this train of redemption that something turbulent had to strike it. I was wrong. Wheeler’s dad came to the gym and gave an impassioned interview with his son. The work turned in by Matt Lauria and M.C. Gainey isn’t just good or great. It’s magnificent. Two actors who are sewn into their roles, keeping the fabric of this show unique and fresh.

Right when you think his dad will sabotage everything or say something to erase all the good, Gainey pours out the heart of this character in telling Ryan that he just wants his boy to be happy and at peace. He was Ryan’s hero growing up, sharpening him into the fighter he is today. For the past 16 hours, Wheeler has been self-inflicting pain onto himself. Wrapping a storm around himself because he didn’t just have a big fight with his dad like we all do. He put him in a wheelchair for life. While that’s not Keith justice(stabbing to death), it’s pretty deep shit that doesn’t go away with prison time served. Hearing his father say it’s all good, maybe Ryan will stop purposefully stepping on shit. He may be the happiest character on the show right now. Remember when he was wanting to kiss Lisa and smashing up the gym? Long time ago bro!

Poor Jay can’t have anything. He can’t have real food. Steak, bacon, sandwich, bread or pasta. He can’t have the woman of his dreams who came into his life like a ninja, chopping his heart into a thousand pieces and not giving him a map to find them. He can’t trust his mom. He feels like he is abandoning his younger brother Nate, even though a big hug could probably do wonders for the man. He doesn’t like his friend Mac because he eats large sandwiches with his time. All Jay has is his look, his tenacity, and his ability to see right through people. He has no answers, can’t make weight and is miserable. Remember the guy shooting at a dummy in his underwear? That man had things figured out. This Jay is lost and it’s beautiful. Gives Jonathan Tucker a canvas to dance on. The man is a marvel. Just watch.

Lisa is having a baby and feels zero connection to it. Why does she feel this way? Well, let’s see. Look at the men from her world. Alvey is a drunk. Nate is a closeted gay who can’t figure out what he wants to do or be so getting punched in the head may work. Jay is a misguided mess who does drugs to stay up all night to see if his girlfriend calls. Oh yeah, and her ex-love is the champ who trains under her husband and someone she has to work with. Poor girl. No wonder Bruce Davidson’s dad can see her armor picking up a few dents. For the past season and a half, she has stuffed her own needs in a box and forgotten about them. Finally, with the move out of Alvey’s place and into the condo, she may recapture something. Or find out how bad she misses the madness.

The next day in the gym will tell all.

What else?

Christina is doing drugs again, going back to her nasty pimp, who tries to talk sense into her after pounding her from behind for the tab. She can’t play it straight or feel good enough about hooking, so she is content to walk between the hot coals and the sandy beaches for the time being.

I hereby nominate Keith’s new look to be the greatest look of all time!

Is it wrong that I wanted more Jay-Laura-Paul tripod danger?

I spied creator Byron Balasco next to the bald shady promoter during the Nate fight. The man has to take some time to be in this masterpiece of a show he created that is the new binge required series.

Where does Nate go from her? That is after he finds his tongue two miles down his throat.

Does Alvey find Chapas? Of course he does. According to Lisa’s old man, the investment looks good but what is Sean not telling Alvey? Why did he say in the car before the police pulled them over that he was sorry? Bad news Chapas!

When does torment fueled Ryan return?

Tune in next week for episode 208. Did you like what you read here? Tell me one way or the other. I’m not shutting up anytime soon.

You can catch up on Season 1 and 2 on Itunes, Amazon, Direct TV or UVerse On Demand. No place to hide folks.

-DL Buffa

Kingdom on Audience: “Pink At Night” reviewcap

This week on Kingdom, Alvey Kulina poured some more gasoline on his life.

This isn’t a review. This isn’t a recap. It’s both mixed with knuckle rocks, sprinkles of fist and something different. Shaken, stirred and kicked. My take on Kingdom, Season 2, Episode 6 on Direct TV’s Audience network.

grilloRemember what I said about Sean Chapas(Mark Consuelos, owner of the devilish smile) being a human torch for Alvey(Frank Grillo) and his world? It’s getting more true every hour. First, they get reacquainted and have a drink. Then, they get into business together. Sean starts showing up to the gym and parking in Alvey’s spot, talking to the women there and showing zero respect for the man’s world. This isn’t an old friend wanting to reconnect. This is a guy who wants to come into a man’s life and rock the ship. Does it have something to do with how Sean and Alvey lost contact? Is it something else? To me, it’s true animals in a cage and that cage is life.

Alvey looks at Chapas as the guy he could have turned into if Lisa hadn’t walked into his life and presented balance. On the surface, this guy is killing it. He has a few cars, two phones, lots of cash, free time and businesses. An ex-fighter doing well outside of a cage. To Alvey, it’s an alternate universe that he doesn’t understand but can’t resist getting sucked into. Maybe it’s the fact everything in his life is carrying turbulence and he has a pregnant wife at home looking at him funny. Maybe it’s hunger for what you don’t have.

It isn’t going to end well. After dinner and drinks, Chapas takes Alvey to a private club, a house full of beautiful women, paid sex, free drinks and the temptation of bad decisions. After escaping the clutches of a free round in the bed with a prostitute, Alvey is thrown the keys by Chapas and he drives them home in Sean’s muscle car. Suddenly, Sean gets all weird, touchy and forces Alvey to give him a shot to the nose. Two drunk men in a phone booth hissing at each other. A cop pulls them over and Alvey has a DWI charge and shit storm coming to his homefront. Is he becoming the beast or is he freeing the beast within? We all have one. It just depends if we let it see the light of day.

Alvey should have listened to Lisa that day. When asked if she read the retirement home investment package, Lisa said, “No. I just read the guy who gave it to you.” She is the smart one here. I love you Kiele Sanchez. A tower of strength and she doesn’t even have to throw a punch.

Elsewhere on Navy Street:

*Nate is still troubled, breaking a man’s arm in the cage during training for Fresno Gate. It doesn’t get any better than Grillo and Nick Jonas coming within a few inches of each other’s faces in the locker room spitting fire at each other. Nate wants to feel something and erase all the inner anguish he feels and Alvey wants to know why his son lacks the killer instinct. He has no idea that his youngest son is a closeted gay trying to make it in a world full of testosterone. A world where one mistake can fuck you up. Jonas has grown up on Navy Street, ladies and gents.

*Poor Jay. Love hurts, my wicked friend. Jonathan Tucker doesn’t hold back one single nuance in his performance. The expressions on Tucker’s face are ALMOST as good as the words that come running out of it. We all know Laura(Jessica Szohr, who could be why cavemen chiseled on walls) is hiding something that will snap Jay’s heart like a knee to the ribs. She is still seeing her ex, the lawyer whose house she is living in. She is afraid of poverty and will forgo real feelings to hold onto it. When we first saw Laura eyeing Jay in the park, she was blown away by how free he was. A person who lived by his own code. Laura doesn’t know that and only knows where the luxury in life is. Finally, Jay confronts the guy and gets Laura’s attention. They have it out. You’ve been a part of this conversation sometime in your life if you are a lover. She ends it. He broils. And the man is chewing on drugs because he can’t eat.

**Tucker acted the shit out of that final dialogue between him and Szohr. Fire on ice, ladies and gents!

*Ryan Wheeler(Matt Lauria, a furnace of emotions himself) has a lot going on. He is reconnecting with his dad while preparing for a new fight, trying to find money and keeping his friend Keith in good health. A full plate for an ex-con with a title belt defense coming up. He is also falling hard for Alicia(Natalie Martinez), having scratched off the “perform oral sex in a ring” accomplishment off his bucket list. Things are getting hot and heavy for the two of them, and since they are keeping it light, their sexual relationship carries the least amount of drama.

*Alicia learns the best unwritten lesson in fighterhood. Don’t sleep in your car overnight in an empty parking lot. When a fighter closes his or her eyes, they are as weak as an ordinary walking soul. She narrowly escaped a car jack to begin the episode, stabbing one guy and punching and kicking another. A broken window finally sets off the alarm for Alvey, who gives her a key to the gym to sleep there. While vying for sponsorship. Alicia shows poor Lisa all the female athlete gauntlet of emotions. She has no money, a shitload of angst and really needs to fight. She nearly walks away from the whole thing after the energy drink interview. She needs to fight and I have a feeling she will get it towards the end of season 2. Martinez, a kickboxer in real life when she isn’t playing make believe, is really giving this role a different feel. Like Laura and Tucker, she never allows you to feel comfortable with where these characters are going.

*Christina quits her job finally, taking no shit, two cheeseburgers and one last check out of Patty Palace. Fast food burger joints are a sign your life is dirty and worthless. I still think she is a problem child for this Kulina family. She isn’t “Chapas fire” but she is a problem. Without a job and sketching all alone is not good for Christina. Especially when her healer Jay doesn’t want to be around her anymore. What a family.

*A Mac Brandt sighting! So much character and not enough screen time to spread the Human Freckled Dartboard’s wealth.

What’s ahead? Fights. Hardship. Problems.

What will the DWI do to Alvey/Lisa and Alvey/Sean? That investment probably won’t pan out. Would you believe Chapas if he told you it was sunny outside? You would go to the window and check.

Will Jay’s love lost get in the way of his big fight? You only get one shot at the title?

Can Ryan put aside the distractions and win his fight?

Will Nate self destruct in Fresno?

Where can you find Kingdom merchandise? I got that answer. You can now own t-shirts, hoodies and sports bottles right here. Get some Kingdom fabric across your chest, ladies and gents.

Until next week, enjoy re-watching Kingdom on Audience. This reviewcap was brought to you by true bald headed Italian muscle grit.

Kingdom on Audience: “Happy Hour” reviewcap

What happened this week on Direct TV’s Kingdom?

Disclaimer: This isn’t a review or a recap. It’s something in between. A punch with some flow to its descent. My take on Kingdom, Season 2, Episode 5, Happy Hour.

grilloThis week on Kingdom, shit hit the fan in quiet and loud ways. Let’s get to the meat of the episode before we deal with the potatoes and carrots.

THE MEAT

Jay and Laura flame out

We saw this coming. The minute Christina(Joanna Going) told Laura(Jessica Szohr) about her troublesome past, fucked up children and painful life, the new lady in Jay’s life got scared out of her mind. She didn’t just have a normal boyfriend. She had a potential chaotic animal in her midst. The episode followed through on the paranoia Jay(Jonathan Tucker) felt last week, and the two seemed to put an end to Jay’s fears. The fear that Laura is hiding something from him and it involves Paul’s supposedly “too big” cock.

After a day of questioning and thoughtful input from Alicia Mendez(Natalie Martinez), Jay and Laura got it on in that mind blowing fashion she told him about earlier in the hour. Afterwards, he spots her texting and lays into her. Soon after, she wants him to leave and Jay breaks down in desperation. He is jealous, insecure and new to this relationship thing. Most kids have daddy issues. Jay has mommy issues. He thinks Laura is going to run out on him and that fear follows him around rush hour traffic. It has infiltrated his life.

Ryan, his dad and the healing power of whiskey

Behold, the healing power of whiskey. It breaks ice in many ways and has healed marriages, relationships and also father/son quandaries. This particular case, Ryan trying to help a dad(MC Gainey, better than ever) that he put into a wheelchair, has a specific beat to it. In season one, all fans got from this tormented relationship was a quick visit from Ryan that didn’t end well. This season, with his mom gone, Ryan can reenter his dad’s life and try to help.

This part of Season 2 is exceptional. A real powerful sequence of events that isn’t getting overly emotional or melodramatic. On a network show, the pop song would start playing and Ryan or his dad would melt down as The Fray blared on your speakers. Here, in Byron Balasco land, it’s taunt silence and sparse dialogue. This is a chess match between two men, enraged and wild yet trying to bury a monstrous hatchet.

His dad wants a real drink and Ryan gives it to him, thus taking a few long pulls himself. Father and son, drunk and watching National Geographic. It doesn’t get any better than this. While Frank Grillo’s Alvey is the rock and Jonathan Tucker’s Joker Jay is the soul, Matt Lauria’s Ryan is the tightly wrapped heart of Kingdom. His scenes with Gainey here are masterful. They don’t twist the viewer in knots with sappy writing and over the top dialogue. At the end of the hour, the look they share in the recognition of their new world is just enough to make you hit pause and take a moment to digest a great TV moment that was earned.

THE POTATOES

Alvey: The new age Mickey

More like Alvey connects with Alicia in the gym. This scene is where the technical aspects of this show thrive for a few minutes. The story takes a backseat and we get a glimpse into the authentic world of an MMA gym. Fighters wrap their hands before they hit something. This scene is Alvey rewrapping Alicia’s fighting identity. In the ring, throwing jabs and combinations and pivoting out of trouble. Any fighter can stand and throw but what happens when the other fighter is setting you up or starts walking you down in the ring.

The interesting part is Natalie Martinez is a legit badass kickboxer in real life. Grillo knew her from the film End of Watch they were in but also from MMA gyms. So it’s a cool lick to see her step into a ring with Alvey and the parallels of real life collide with the make believe. Between the two actors, you got over 40 years of fighting experience.

Balasco and his writers have treated Alicia like an onion this season. Every episode they peel off a layer. The episode opens with her arriving at the gym and shoving blankets in her trunk. Later on, she is losing her mental approach in the ring with the legendary Alvey, the reason she came to Navy Street. Or is it? It could have been her shitting on the other gyms she tried to train at. Her physical game can be honed. Can her mental one catch up? Is she the female equivalent of Nate(Nick Jonas)?

Watching this scene made me want to have Grillo give me five minutes in the cage.

Nate gets a dirty fight in Fresno

Ah, Mr. Jonas and his troublesome character, Nate Kulina. The kid who has collected a concussion per season without only one win to show for. Here is a hungry kid who only feels like a true man in the ring and can only silence the whispers when he is training or fighting. He takes a desperate fight with Doctor Shady Promoter in Fresno, which is like the Mac Brandt fight the season opened with. Not good for a championship contender like Nate. Or at least Alvey thinks so.

When he finds out, Nate threatens to walk. Remember the trajectory here. In Season 1, Nate parted ways briefly with Alvey due to the old man getting too close. What if he loses again? What if he gets really damaged in Fresno? It may not bring him a lot of money but if he loses, word will travel fast and his career could fall from relevance quick. This would be like an NBA star taking a street game in an abandoned school yard with a bunch of ex-cons. Not good.

THE CARROTS

Christina and unhappiness

Or is she unhappy? She gets confronted by her nasty pimp in the Patty Palace and since she didn’t rat on him to the cops, he let her continue her clean life. While she quit the drugs, that doesn’t mean she isn’t hooking anymore. We see her perform some escort duties on the side, making more money than she probably does in a month at the restaurant. Will she go back to her old life? What will Jay do when he finds out? If she is clean, is it okay? While she doesn’t get a ton of screen time, Joanna Going really brings it here and makes the most of her minutes.

Lisa, pregnant yet ambitious

Kiele Sanchez has been a quiet strength this season. She is promoting and nurturing the talented yet rebellious Alicia and trying to find Ryan sponsors. Since his past is messy, he is a tough target but an energy drink may be a fit for Mendez. All the while, Lisa still looks at Alvey like he is the last man on the planet worthy of making her happy. These two have been through hell(we haven’t dug into Alvey’s drug fueled past too much yet) but they still love each other. The end, where Lisa asks for a little Kulina lovemaking, was so well played by the two actors, it made me laugh and smile a bit in admiration.

Final round

~One of the anticipated parts of Season 2 has to be Alicia’s first fight. The effect of that fight could hit the entire gym hard.

~How much trouble will Sean Chapas get Alvey in next episode? I see police lights. Not good, this man from the past. Human Torch!

~Which Kulina loses this season? Nate has already lost once, but will Ryan and Jay both win their next fights? One of the best parts of the show is the unpredictable nature that creeps on each hour.

Next week, entitled “Pink At Night” promises to be a season adjuster. Are you ready? Keep up on Itunes and Amazon if you missed episodes.

Catching up with Direct TV’s Kingdom: “Simulations”

What happened last week on Kingdom? My reviewcap.

What-Kingdom

Where-Direct TV on Audience/UVerse

When-Wednesday at 8pm(central time)

*This is not a standard recap or a traditional review. I don’t follow the TV critic playbook. Let’s just call this a reviewcap.

Simulations, round two of this 10 round season of Byron Balasco’s authentic slice of fighter pulp unveiled new faces, hardships and a future that looks anything yet certain. If Season 1 closed with a flourish of victory and Season 2’s opening hour showed some greener leaves in the Kulina family tree, episode 202 reminded the audience that with great things comes a whole new kind of heartache and worry.

It was a kick to the balls that Alvey Kulina(the true tough guy Frank Grillo) found out his prize fighter Ryan Wheeler tested positive for cocaine after his first title defense. It was a shot to the knee cap that Wheeler shorted him on his percentage. Six percent instead of ten! As Alvery told Ryan, who looks anything but stable, he is walking a thin line. Here is a guy who lost everything in a hail of violence and went to jail. He lost his career, his family and the chance to be looked at normally for the rest of his life. He’s out, and after damaging gyms, tempting fate with Alvey’s wife Lisa(Kiele Sanchez) last season, he barely wins his fight and was on drugs. Now he shorts Alvey. Next, we see him buying an expensive couch.

Oh, and there is the investigation into the fruit lovemaking teddy bear BFF’ing Keith, the roommate of Ryan’s who stabbed his bully to death. Wheeler has a full plate but if he pisses on Alvey’s cereal any longer, his world will became a true house of pain.

Alvey and Lisa are looking into all kinds of revenue streams, and that includes time share tutorials to a room full of people who don’t want to be there. Yes, Alvey is helping people “fight” their way through their careers because when a muscle bound fast talking guy is telling you how to live your life, nothing can go wrong. It doesn’t go over too well, with 24 of the 25 walking out. This, ladies and gents, is the life of a fighter after he leaves the ring.

Nate(Nick Jonas) is training for his big fight but doesn’t know who he is or wants to be. In an expansive interview to promote his upcoming bout, the youngest Kulina opens his soul about the true meaning of fighting. How it shapes you and breaks you without ever truly fulfilling your hunger? It was impressive and for the audience, a small cry of help from the kid. His annoying girlfriend(whom is merely a friend who wants to kiss him for Nate) does him no favors. Complaining about the kid eating his post workout meal or passing out in the bathroom wasted. This kid needs a cottage, the ocean and some quiet but it won’t come.

Jay(the live wire Mr. Jonathan Tucker) is training on the beach when a beautiful photographer Laura Melvin(newcomer Jessica Szohr) starts snapping photos of him. She doesn’t just want the image. She wants the story and after a quick lunch of drinks, invites the exuberant Kulina to a dinner date. What starts as a potential modeling gig turns into sex, as Jay finds a woman that isn’t just interested in his body but wants to know what makes him tick. For Tucker’s Jay, this is new territory. Season 1 saw Jay regaining a pulse in his career and helping his mother get clean while giving the show a much needed sense of humor. Now, he has a woman walk into his life that is sexy, demanding, powerful and doesn’t just want a bed romp. Could this be what Jay needs or potential hazardous white hot love boat building? Time will tell but let’s hope the Greek fortress of Jay Kulina finds a fight soon because something to hit, what is a Kulina male?

Alvey finds out that the private number calls he’s been receiving come from an old friend Chapas(Mark Consuelos). Chapas is a former fighter and an alley way from Alvey’s past. I’ll just come out and say that this isn’t going to end well. Chapas may look like a nice caring friend(how about that inspirational chat about Lisa!?) but he’s human gasoline. Ready to set fire to Alvey’s life and everything in it. His intentions aren’t laid out yet but the minute he created that shit eating grin, doom set in for me. He will probably partner with the gym, add revenue and seemingly good will, but it will go to shit. If you were paying attention after Season 2’s premiere, Alvey threatens to kill him. I am sure that isn’t over the drink choice Chapas made. He will be a thorn in this family’s side.

While Jay is getting love and Nate is pumping weights because staring at pictures of hot guys next to his passed out girlfriend may be odd, Ryan is pleasuring himself with some late night porn before a mysterious call comes in. Who is that? What will set the course for this rejuvenated yet still misguided creature of habit? The only problem with bringing Wheeler back into the fight world was you ripped all the band-aids off his old life wounds. All of it came rushing back and it started with him getting back into the ring. Trouble awaits.

Alicia Mendez(Natalie Martinez) is getting more comfortable in her new gym and looks to Ryan for advice. Lisa seeing that this is potential doom with her newest fighter tries to talk her down from getting to know Ryan even though the audience knows the two will be kissing before Episode 4. If Alvey is in the trenches fighting for everything, Lisa is the navigator watching over everything. She is the woman who has to pick up the spilled box of matches before they light on fire.

No Christina or Mac this episode which is fine with the new faces rolling in and the plot of Season 2 starting to develop.

What powers Balasco’s show is the authenticity of everything you see. The gyms. The rings. The performances. The locations. So many shows phone in parts of a production and thus lose the allure that makes people stay. Like most shows like don’t exist on NBC or FOX and actually have a pair of balls attached to its body, Kingdom feels like a ten hour movie. For the cast, it’s a ten hour fight and for the audience, it’s a ride unlike anything you have seen. That is due in part because Grillo embodies Alvey with every ounce of grit he can find. Tucker doesn’t just make Jay a joker but a man with so much to find. Matt Lauria doesn’t just play cold and quiet with Wheeler. With every facial expression and word, he teaches you what real pain is like. What does it feel like to live with a monster inside you who is never full.

Let me ask you something. What other show dares to touch a boxing or MMA ring and actually make the story outside of it more compelling than the one inside it? Creators are scared of that. They don’t know how to accurately depict that so they create another terrorism show or reality skit. It’s sad and depressing. Kingdom allows you to crawl inside the minds of these fighters as they figure out how to live before and after success.

If Season 1 was about the recapturing of glory, Season 2 will detail how you can lose it all.

Stay tuned for more weekly recaps of this show. In the mean time, go on Itunes and watch Season 1 so you know what the fuck I am talking about here.

If you want to catch up and actually understand what I am blabbering about here, catch up with Season 1 and stay in tune with Season 2, whether you have Direct TV, Uverse or not. The release of Kingdom on digital media launched this week. Find out all about it here. 

Photos courtesy of Direct TV Audience/Kingdom

Talking with “Kingdom” creator Byron Balasco

Byron Balasco merges fists, family and MMA in his show Kingdom. Here’s my chat with the creator/executive producer.

Michael Buckner/Getty Images
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Every TV show has to have a hook in order to get your attention.

There’s simply too much on the tube these days to simply be good on the surface and get people to reserve a room in their world of make believe. Well, Direct TV’s hit series, Kingdom, will get you in the door and make you want to stay for a long time with its balanced concoction of fists, heart, blood and the family ties that tie them together and tear them apart the next day. The creator and executive producer, Byron Balasco, has always been a fan of the MMA arena and its inhabitants, but he wanted to make something more than just a show about fighting. What do these guys go home to and how much fuel does a single fight give somebody?

I came onto Kingdom due to my “watch anything with Frank Grillo in it” natural law, so when he mentioned a little MMA show called Kingdom in a 2014 conversation, I had to give it a look. Without Direct TV, I had to wait a year to watch but quickly consumed the 10 episodes and I strongly suggest you do as well.

This past week, I talked to Balasco over the phone about the raw power of Season 1 and what to expect when Season 2 premieres on October 14th.

Dan Buffa-What made you want to get into the world of MMA?

Byron Balasco-I’ve been a fan of the sport for many years even before it became what it is now. It was so interesting to see people get in a cage and fight for a living. The more I knew these people, the more interesting it became. As a writer, you are always looking for great worlds to set your characters in. Finding the best places to tell these stories. MMA seemed to be rife with opportunity. It’s a subject matter that doesn’t get a lot of networks excited because they feel it’s a world they know little about. It’s marketed as this hyper aggressive meat headed sort of stuff, and while it’s got some of that, these are real people with real lives with families. Instead of pitching the idea, I just wrote it myself so I could show them what it could be in the best way possible. Its a character drama. Endemol got a hold of it and understood it and were passionate about it. Direct TV jumped in for 10 episodes and we were off.

Buffa-I feel like you really lay your stamp on it with these hardened, dirty, flawed characters that we don’t see much around television. These are honest, real and imperfect people. I really liked that. 

Balasco-That is the thing. What they are struggling with is what everybody deals with in their lives. However, I wanted to represent that world so sometimes they are a little more aggressive about it. They are more extreme. Writing them honestly and our cast is committed to playing it honestly makes it work. They give it that lived in feeling. You buy into these people.

Buffa-How important is Frank Grillo to this show? He seems to be the captain of that ship. 

Balasco-He was the first one I brought on. The first piece of casting. Part of getting the show going was finding our Alvey. Frank’s name kept popping up to me. He was the first person I thought of. He wasn’t sure he wanted to do television but he read the script and we did a skype and within 20 seconds, we knew this was going to happen. He knows the world so intimately and he’s been doing it for 25 years. He’s been boxing his whole life so we could speak that same language. The places where I wanted to take the character were in line with places he wanted to explore as an actor. We made a pact that if we were going to do this, let’s do this all out. 

Buffa-When I talked to Grillo the first time, he told me about people calling him up to have him train them after they saw the film, Warrior. He’s so authentic. You don’t meet Frank’s every day. 

Balasco-There’s never a false note when he’s on set. You don’t feel like it’s work. It just seems natural. 

Buffa-One of the strong points of Kingdom is balancing the ring aspect and the family part of the story. Was that important to you?

Balasco-That was very important. You have to have some fighting because that’s the world they are in and the stakes they are facing, but if you do a fight every episode, it gets monotonous. If they want to watch a fight every episode, they’ll find a real fight to watch. I really wanted to tell a story about these people’s lives.

Buffa-Direct TV gave your show a two season(20 episode) pickup. Was that surprising and did that give you some freedom in mapping out your story?

Balasco-It was very exciting. I was in France at Cannes selling the show and got the call. As far as changing my approach, I can look a little ahead and lay things out differently. However, we do go season to season. We are not a big plot driven show. It’s about the characters, so each season is a chapter in their lives. This show lends itself to that kind of storytelling. Yes, its nice to know we have a little bit of time, but it doesn’t change the way we attack a season.

Buffa-This characters are intense with some very intense scenes. How do these actors get worked up? Is there red bull drinking challenge in a steam room or something?

Balasco-All of these guys train incredibly hard and consistently. They train with real fighters on our set keeping us real. We all are a family who loves each other so there is a camaraderie.  There is also a competition among them as well. They are brothers. You love them but you don’t want to be the weak link. Everybody, including Kiele and Joanna, shows up wanting to kill it. Everybody really cares and lives in these roles so it lends a sense of authenticity. We are also open to discover stuff on set and I will make a change on set if it makes the scene feel more natural.

Buffa-The great TV shows always feel like a family driven operation and not just a job. You guys are getting down in the trenches to create something special.

Balasco-That’s exactly right. This cast has a lot of chemistry together so it comes out.

Buffa-Season 1 left characters in a seemingly successful if jaded position. Fights in the ring were won but maybe lost on the homefront. Where does Season 2 open things up at?

Balasco-Some time has passed. There has been some success and they are in a new gym but still hanging by a thread. It’s like “you get ten extra bucks but you spend ten extra bucks.” That struggle is still real. There have been some changes. Alvey and Lisa are still trying to make it work. I don’t want to give too much away. The theme of this next season is the painful ascent. With success, it doesn’t always drag everybody at the same pace. It changes the dynamics and awakens new tensions among people. 

Buffa-Alvey was telling Lisa early on in Season 1 about the threat of expanding. When you have this little indie family gym, it’s hard but it is yours. With more money, you invite more snakes in the den. 

Balasco-You wonder why you are doing it? That’s a big part of the show. It was in the first season and will be in every season that comes after it. You fight so hard and chase something and nothing changes. You still have to deal with yourself and relate to the people in your life. 

Buffa-It’s like a drug. It’s satisfying but you are always left wanting more and feeling unsatisfied. As a writer, I have homework for life because it’s always about the next story I write. 

Balasco-Always. I’m telling you. Every time I finish a script, I feel good for half a day and then I start thinking about the next one and how it has to be better than the last. It never ends. 

Buffa-You’ve come onto something really special here and are the first show to truly tackle MMA. In the press notes, it says to go with the Ronda Rousey craze, in season 2, there is a female fighter joining the ring. 

Balasco-Honestly, that was a little less a Ronda Rousey thing and really from the fact I spend a lot of time in gyms and there’s female fighters in every gym. I go up to Albuquerque with Craig Jackson and hang out with him a lot. He trains some of the best fighters in the world and has women in his gym all the time. We want to be authentic and be real to the world. To not do that was a big glaring hole in our roster. The trick was finding the right actress. I worked with Natalie Martinez from a show I did called Detroit 187. She is a fighter in real life and can kick ass in real life. We have a great fight with her this season and she put everything into it. It pumped up the guys seeing her in it. 

People can watch and enjoy a TV show but if you want people to love your show and talk about it in the street, at the gym, in restaurants and around the bars, it has to be authentic. In order to be authentic, the creator, crew and everybody involved must care about what they are doing. It’s their faces, heart and souls out there. Balasco, directors Gary Fleder and Michael Morris among others, the writers along with Grillo, Jonathan Tucker, Matt Lauria, Kiele Sanchez, Joanna Going, Nick Jonas, Mac Brandt and anybody else getting punched all care about making this show perfect. They sink all they have into it. It starts and ends with Balasco, the guy who wanted to put a unique twist on television and the world of MMA. He’s done other shows like Without a Trace and Huff, but Kingdom is his domain and that is felt in every scene of this show.

The second season premieres on October 14th, so you have plenty of time to watch the 10 episodes from season 1, join a gym, start punching things and get pumped up about season 2. It’s not just television. It’s a slice of life that combines the brutality of the ring with the fierce battlefield of a home.

Wrap your hands and head to Itunes, ladies and gents! Come October 14th, watch this show. If you don’t have Direct TV, make friends with someone who does, even if their apartment sucks and they are annoying.