Tag: kingdom

‘Kingdom’ delivers soulful season finale 

“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.
The Rematch

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.

 

 

Kingdom Q&A: Mac Brandt 

The life of an actor isn’t all magazine cover shoots and hotel rooms. For hard working grunts like AT&T Kingdom star Mac Brandt, sometimes a phone interview with a TV critic happens while you were on the road. As Brandt traveled from set in New Mexico, he spoke with me about Audience Network’s breakout MMA series Kingdom.

A chat between a diehard Chicago Cubs fan and St. Louis Cardinals addict didn’t include any blood through the phone line, but just a couple guys discussing a show they love.


Buffa: Is this cross city New Mexico trip some kind of hidden Kingdom spin-off?

Brandt: A Mac solo road trip. No, I’m working on a show called Night Shift. I worked on it last year and they brought me back. It’s the guy who wrote on the first season of Kingdom.

Buffa: Work is work, my friend.

Brandt: Absolutely. It’s a good thing. Last year, I was this bada** special forces guy in Afghanistan. Now I’m back and I have PTSD and it’s really cool.

Buffa: We have another season of Kingdom and (creator) Byron Balasco doesn’t waste any time giving us Ryan and Jay showdown. Were you surprised with how that fight played out?

Brandt: I loved it. I thought there was no sense in messing around. Just get to it. The show, for me, is not about fighting. It’s about the consequences of fighting. A great consequence of this fight is fallout. Kenny Florian said it, “what happens now?”. These guys are going to have to deal with it. Now you are back to the fallout of the fight instead of dealing with the fight. For me, that’s the crutch of this show.

Buffa: It’s about what they fight outside the ring. Makes for more drama.

Brandt: These guys are built to fight in the ring. They don’t know how to deal with life outside the ring.

Buffa: You can’t punch your failed romance or electric bill. I mean, you can punch your electric bill but it’s just a piece of paper.

Brandt: That makes for a bad commercial about electric bills.

Buffa: My favorite movie is Heat with Pacino and DeNiro. They talk about not wanting to do anything else in their confrontation. That’s what it is with these fighters. You are built to do one thing. These guys fight.

Brandt: You can imagine where this season is going. You have a guy like Jay. People celebrate him. I know guys like that in real life. They need to struggle. Once they get past that struggle, things go poorly. For my character, it’s great because as the Jay sidekick, if he is going to pour himself down the drain, Mac can’t stand around and watch.

Buffa: I’ve seen this week’s episode and there’s a great and tense confrontation between you and Jonathan Tucker.

Brandt: That’s my favorite scene. I love it more than anything I’ve done on that show. First, I outweigh everybody on the show by 70 pounds. I am a full head taller than most people. That scene shows only a shade of my character. That was a tough scene to shoot. I’m friend with Tucker in real life and it was hard to go in with that. We shot that in a real nasty hotel. It’s a weird thing.

Buffa: Tucker is something else. You work with a pretty elite set of actors.

Brandt: I have no problem putting this out into the world. This is the greatest collective of actors I’ve worked with. I’ve been working for 20 years, and I learn stuff on a daily basis from Tucker especially. I take things away from Frank(Grillo) and Matt(Lauria) all the time. Tucker forces you to up your game. I’ve never seen anyone work as hard and diligently as Tucker.

Buffa: I watched him on a lesser known NBC show called Black Donnelly’s and thought he was amazing.

Brandt: I loved that show.

Buffa: He has so many speeds.

Brandt: In that scene in the hotel room, he and I were comfortable enough to play pretty loose with it. He blows smoke in my face and it’s very close to my eye. I told him to get his hand out of my face and that wasn’t scripted. That was us fighting away through that scene. He put that cigarette too close to my face. And it was great. We walked out of it and said, “Yep, that’s it.” He’s doing something no one else is doing on television.

Buffa: He’s a truck racing down a hill.

Brandt: You don’t want to be anywhere near him. Matt does this thing and it might be my favorite thing I’ve seen an actor do. It’s that quiet scream tremor. It’s so jarring and violent. I watched it twice when I first watched it.

Buffa: It’s amazing what these actors do without a script.

Brandt: I’ll tell you. That is the gift of Byron Balasco. He pours his heart and soul into every script. He crafts every word and every movement but the second we start doing it he lets you do what you want. If you want to do something, you do it. The environment on the show is unlike anything he’s ever worked on.

Buffa: He’s setting the tone for TV with MMA shows and fight show. I got sucked into this show quick.

Brandt: It’s amazing. It has to get word of mouth. I’m out in Albuquerque and people know about the show because Greg Jackson(Kingdom consultant) is out here. Their first question is where do I find it and that’s what we are fighting right now. You got the same thing with Breaking Bad. Once I found it, there was no going back. Kingdom will be the same way. Once people find it, it will spread like wildfire.

Buffa: It’s one of those shows where I will watch each individual episode 2-3 times. It’s like squeezing a steak over a grill and getting every ounce of juice out of it. I was crazy like this about Banshee. Kingdom is my new Banshee.

Brandt: We could have an entire conversation about Banshee. That is another show that nobody watched at first and I kept telling people to watch it. I’d never seen anything like that.

Buffa: They shot fight scenes that would never end. Unlike most shows on TV.

Brandt: There was a fight between the main actress and the Russian that lasted like 37 minutes.

Buffa: Both shows, Kingdom and Banshee, do their thing and they don’t care what you think. I use your line about Banshee with Kingdom. Show some self respect and watch this show.

Brandt: If you aren’t watching Kingdom, you don’t know what awesome TV is right now. I’m a fanboy of the show I’m on.

Buffa: How about those Cubbies of yours?

Brandt: As a Cubs fan, I think the Cards will be out of it by the All Star Break. The only rough thing they have is that bullpen. I don’t see any NL team stopping them.

Buffa: They are definitely going to be tough.

Unfortunately for Mac, the Cards swept the Cubs the week I interviewed him for this story so there is that tiny moment of victory, Cardinals fans.

Brandt couldn’t put it any better about Kingdom. If you haven’t watched it, you should. He is just another one of the grizzled vets out there working hard to stay in front of the camera. Whether it’s handling actors like Tucker in a hotel room or driving to New Mexico for work or putting his face on a Miller Lite beer commercial, Brandt does whatever it takes to “stay in the game”, as his co-star Grillo often says.

When Brandt isn’t on camera on Kingdom, you want him to return. He’s a comedic presence that has all the necessary tools to get serious very quick. A true force of nature that you will see more of as this second half of Season 2 draws to a close as the summer wages on.

You can follow Brandt on social media and catch his white hot political takes on Facebook. He’s an entertaining man and passionate about what he is doing. If that isn’t enough of a buy in as a consumer of entertainment, I don’t know what is.

 

AT&T’s ‘Kingdom’ teaser: “Halos” recap

What: Kingdom 

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.

AT&T/DirecTV
AT&T/DirecTV

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.

Final thoughts:

*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.

 

 

AT&T’s Kingdom rewind: “Take pills” recap

The greatest fear in life is being alone. Pure isolation. In the world of AT&T’s Kingdom, that’s the 24/7/365 fear.

The idea of being alone in the end with only your whispers and weathered body to spend the final hours with. Throughout Byron Balasco’s powerful and entertaining MMA series, each of his characters biggest foe is loneliness. You can win every fight in the world, but if you come home to nothing what have you really won? Not much. The quiet theme of Kingdom is how these people feud off loneliness and isolation.

Take Jonathan Tucker’s Jay Kulina. He fears being alone so he ties himself to several people, including his brother Nate(Nick Jones, brooding like a brown eyed panther) and the new woman in his life, Ava(Lina Esco). He is a product of his environment, getting equal parts misery and rage from his mother, Christina(Joanna Going), and father, Alvey(Frank Grillo). A man who has inherited a drug addiction problem from his mother and a need to tear himself apart from his father. He’s more like Alvey in every way except for the fact that he cares too much about his mother. (more…)