‘Kingdom’ Recap: The ties that bind the Kulinas 

Last week, the MMA drama zeroed in on Alvey and Jay Kulina.

One of the bittersweet facts of life is that whether we like it or not, there are certain traits of our parents that can’t be deleted from our personality and can’t be hidden from our daily activities. The good things are promoted like an unbeaten championship fighter, but the bad parts are usually covered up and pushed into a corner, or at least we like to think it’s that easy.

We are our parents in so many ways that when the attempt is made to break out on our own, the past doesn’t let us go without mortgaging our future. The result can be an overbearing need to be as good, or better yet, try to be better than what came before us. Make them proud without sacrificing yourself.

This week on AT&T’s Kingdom, we were fed another brilliant hour of television, and my biggest takeaway from what fathers and sons do to each other in order to co-exist.

Example #1: Jay, Alvey, and a need to be involved

Jay Kulina (Jonathan Tucker) is trying so hard to NOT be like his father, Alvey (Frank Grillo), that he has stripped away everything that he is as person. He quit fighting, drugs, and doesn’t even hang out with his friends. He isn’t doing this to make a good life with Amy and his daughter; Jay is doing this to distance himself from a future painted in Alvey colors.

Since Kingdom debuted, there has been a seething tension between Jay and Alvey, like two similar beasts trying to figure out how to navigate their way down a highway in cars waiting to be wrecked.

When I interviewed Tucker last year, he broke down the Jay-Alvey divide. “He (Alvey) wasn’t a good father. There’s no love or compassion. He has an inability to see the wounds he has caused. Jay is an addict but he knows what he is. He is trying to seal the wounds that his father has torn apart,” Tucker explained.

Jay blames Alvey for the abuse done to his mother, the drugs and alcohol addiction that tore the Kulina family apart years before the show brought us into their lives. The love and compassion is something that Jay has all but stopped waiting for from his father.

Last season, when Jay won a title belt by cutting an extreme amount of weight, and the post-fight congratulatory moment from Alvey rang false to Jay, because Alvey seemed to make a bigger deal of the fact that his son won a belt, and not that he had done everything asked of him. Alvey was impressed by the belt instead of being proud of his son.

Jay elaborated on that moment: “You care about this trophy more than anything else. Jay wishes that Alvey would have put him in rehab or taken care of his mother. Now Jay has self worth because he has a belt. Alvey should have been proud of Jay when he came in under weight. It seems so false to Jay.”

Fast forward to Season 3, and Jay doesn’t invite Alvey to his daughter’s baptism. This was no accident. Jay didn’t want Alvey there. When he finds out from Nate (Nick Jonas) that everybody else including Lisa was invited but not him, it truly hurts Alvey. You can see it in the true grit expression on Grillo’s face near the end of “Ritual”. He has damaged something that can’t be healed, but he wants to try.

Think about this: one of the only reasons Jay went back to fighting was to try and make a last ditch effort to please his father. He saw how close Alvey was with Nate, and wanted some of that. When he made the comeback and won the belt, and saw the look on Alvey’s face of shock and awe after defeating Wheeler, something in Jay died. He did all of that to lock onto his dad’s good side, and it was for nothing.

Nate and the Ultimate Reveal

The other father-son dynamic on this show is between Alvey and Nate, with the ticking timebomb of a reveal of Nate’s sexuality. When Garo (Bryan Callen) tells Jay that the reason Dickson dropped out of the fight was due to rumors about Nate being gay, the pot starts to boil very quickly in several corners of this show.

Nate finds out from Jay as he is sitting down to dinner with his dad, and the acting from Jonas makes you tremble in nauseous anticipation at the reaction he will get from Alvey when the mystery is pulled away. How Alvey reacts could make or break his connection with Jay as well, so imagine losing both your sons in one reaction. That’s how fickle life can be to a flawed soul. You make one bad move, and it’s an uphill battle in muddy shoes.

Will a King Beast contract cost Ryan in the end?

Speaking of Garo and anticipation, he shows up at Ryan’s house with a brand new Dodger Charger, and wants to take him out for a night of cocaine, naked women, and perhaps some green paper. Garo offers Wheeler a three fight contract for 300,000 thousand dollars, and sprinkles 25K on top of the pot to get a signature at the strip club. One can only imagine this is how deals between fighters and promoters come to fruition in real life. Ryan signs the contract, much to Lisa’s dismay (she gets a text from Garo) and us as well. While I was happy Ryan is getting paid, I trust Callen’s suit as far as I can throw him.

Keith and his mad world

The new car and stack of cash can’t hide a tumbling down the rabbit hole of avocado despair Keith from interrupting phone calls and answering doors with a knife in his hand. Something is happening with Ryan’s “friend”, and the ending will be a troubling one. Creator/showrunner Byron Balasco’s writing is so good due to the fact that he has a restraining order from melodramatic tendencies in storytelling. His stories feel real and honest, and that shows in true fashion with Keith’s condition and the father-son trials and tribulations.

Dominick Ramos: A New Poison on Navy Street

Every season of Kingdom has a poison it seems like, with Mark Consuelos’ Chapas in Season 2A and Lisa Esco’s Ava in Season 2B. They drop in to poison the well, and test one of our main characters in ways that usually ends in their death, but not before cutting their victim off at the knees. You take Chappo away from Alvey, and maybe he doesn’t tumble so far down the drunken path. If Ava isn’t introduced to old habits with Jay, maybe the Kulina son doesn’t run away from fighting. Maybe not, but this season, the new “oh no” disturber is Kirk Acevedo’s Dominick Ramos.

With Alvey going back to fighting and needing to train, the gym needs a helping hand on coaching, but this guy looks like trouble. Acevedo’s Ramos is an ex-fighter from the Bronx who talks like he’s pulling wisdom word for word from his stomach. The slow drawl style that he chooses every single word like a sniper chooses his ammunition is a warning sign that this guy has something else going on.

He interviews with Lisa (Kiele Sanchez) and Alvey, and when Prince offers him the job later, we see Ramos shoveling protein powder from a bag to a canister in his boxers. Apparently, there was some trouble back East with money and certain people, but something tells me this is tied to Alvey. Something during their interview-especially the phrase “the Kulinas cast a long shadow”-makes me think bad deeds are ahead.

Ramos may have gotten the job, but I don’t trust him for a second. He’s like a human can of gasoline being kicked over on the mats at Navy Street. Watch out.

Christina Kulina, California brothel captain

The episode opens up with Joanna Going’s Christina stuffing a grocery cart with pizzas, ramen, and other goods. Did she become a nanny? Did she move somewhere? What is she doing? It turns out she has opened a brothel with Mr. Sleaze with an a Bond accent, with at least 4-6 girls posting webcam videos and doing some jobs on the side. If Christina can’t make a clean break from the life that has wrecked her life, she can at least move to a coaching position, and make some money.

Going was too good on this show to be killed off in that near overdose sequence from Season 2, and this season looks like a fresh body moving around in a wise soul. She helps nurture a young girl from Miami who gets roughed up in her first “scene” on the town with Mr. Sleaze, and is doing well. She doesn’t like that Jay is distancing himself from the family, but can’t help but cuddle her new granddaughter. She is one of the few that knows about Nate, so that makes me sweat in waiting for Alvey’s reaction.

Final thoughts:

*We all know the real estate thing isn’t going to work out for Jay, but will he at least get to punch that mean tenant in the jaw? As a person currently looking at homes and selling his own, I understand the decency in vacating the premises for a showing. Poor Jay. Trying to make an honest living, but that beast is always raging. Glad he still has the bags in the backyard.

*Who is taking care of Lisa? After getting so close to Wheeler at the end of Season 2B, Lisa is now living by herself and she looks lonely. Which male character will win this woman’s heart in the end?

*Did I mention how having just eight episodes left now is extremely saddening? We will all need a heavy bag in August.

*I have a fever, and I need more MAC BRANDT! The brown leather drug pouch is also a nice touch.

The thing I miss most about Kingdom when it’s gone are the Frank Grillo monologues. The soliloquies of wisdom that usually come on a couch or with a drink in his hand. Early in the episode, Alveys tells his therapist that he is returning to the ring, and part of that great speech from the trailer arrives. “I need to feel my full range of emotions. I need to be who I was.” If that last line doesn’t awaken something in you, get your pulse checked.

Grillo knows how to properly disperse gravity in his line readings, and when he talks about getting reacquainted with the beast inside, I had to rewind and watch it a few times just to soak it up. You can tell that Balasco wrote this character for Grillo, because the actor will never play another role that exists so close to his true self or mirrors his own fight in life, and he invests everything into these scenes and Alvey’s trek.

The scenes I rewind the most are the Alvey Kulina speeches. The moral compass of a show about flawed and damaged fighters needs to have weight, and Grillo packs a punch.

See you next week.

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 208 review-cap

This week on Direct TV’s Kingdom…

“Guys like me don’t get rich. They get by with bloody knuckles.”-Alvey Kulina

CQ_pxHnUsAASbySWhen episode 208 of Kingdom opens, Alvey Kulina(Frank Grillo) is talking to his shrink but he could just be talking to himself in a mirror. At some point in life, we figure out that we are who we are. Nothing is changing. A person can’t be rewired to act differently. Alvey is faced with these facts as Lisa has been gone for weeks, staying in her dad’s condo with the pregnancy entering its final stages. What is a fighter when everything outside the ring has been taken away. He has his fists and need to impose his will on whoever comes into his path. Luckily this week, Alvey has Alicia(Natalie Martinez) to train and prepare for her big exhibition fight.

Alicia’s big debut was just one of many big moments this week on Kingdom. With every hour that passes by, creator Byron Balasco seems to be loading up for the big punch and in this hour, he unleashes a deadly hook to viewers with the Jay Kulina(Jonathan Tucker)/Christina(Joanna Going) story line.

The Jay/Christina subplot has been simmering since late season 1 when the kid pulled his mom off the streets and cleaned her up. Their relationship is built on a foundation of trust but what happens when that trust is betrayed. Christina quit her job at Patty Palace weeks ago and hasn’t told Jay. She also hasn’t told him that she is working as an escort again. She also hasn’t let him in on the whopper of a revelation that she is using drugs again, shooting heroin into her foot. When Jay and Ryan Wheeler(Matt Lauria) are having their day off party, Mac(Mac Brandt) tells the wild Kulina to go get some food and why not grab some burgers from a place where your mom works.(Not that Jamal would have allowed free food to leave that joint). When Jay catches up with the audience and goes back to the house to find the hidden drugs Christina has stashed, the Jonathan Tucker show takes over. Allow me to explain…

TV shows with ensemble casts rarely find time to showcase each and every member of their cast. Kingdom executes this to perfection. Every actor feels lived in, real and breathing. There are no caricatures on Navy Street and this climatic moment proves it. Tucker is a live wire entertainer with more speeds than most actors. He can be a sinner, saint, and joker all inside one take. However, we’ve never seen him dig this deep. He starts the episode out giving a tense Alicia a massage, nearly hurts Ryan in the ring, and helps wrestle a depressed and philandering Nate(Nick Jonas, swollen emotionally and physically for perhaps the entire season) out of bed for a little party. He’s happy on the outside but quietly waging war on himself on the inside, trying to make weight for a big fight, stay out of trouble and enjoy himself while being lovestruck. However, the Christina betrayal sets something off inside him. An explosion. The look in Jay’s eyes as he desperately asks everyone to leave his house so he can deal with his mother is heartbreaking and brilliantly played.

The Scene of the Year! Tucker and Going are masterful in this scene. She comes home to a quiet house where Jay is waiting. Here, the audience thinks he will just bitch her out and take her to rehab. Like every other fucking show on television. He does her seven steps worse. He is going to shoot himself with drugs and flip the script. Instead of him cleaning up her mess, she will have to care for him as he is under the influence of one of the deadliest drugs on the market. You may see Jay and friends snort cocaine like its going out of style, but shooting drugs into your system is where the overdoses happen and serious damage occur. Jay knows this and punishes Christina by hurting himself. He is taking the beast that stalks his mom around and taking it for a ride. This is the scene of the year for me. So far.

Why Do You Fight? Elsewhere on Navy Street as the Kulina’s deal with internal infrastructure maintenance, Alicia is losing it before her big fight. After a training session with Alvey that reveals a back injury and a walk along Venice Beach that reveals the lack of drive Alicia has for stepping into the ring. In order to truly be great in MMA or Boxing, you have to want it and be able to pinpoint the exact reason why. You don’t get punched in the face in order to pay the bills. In the Grillo Greatness moment of the week, he tells Alicia he fights because he likes to hurt people, beating them up and stealing their identity. The only thing missing from Grillo’s speech as Daniel Day Lewis’ legendary milk shake line from There Will Be Blood. Alvey knows why. Jay and Ryan know why they fight. Nate and Alicia….they don’t. Not yet.

Before it’s time to take the ring, Alicia is really losing it. She is crying. Exhibition or not, the nerves before a fight are unique. It’s not like getting into a fight on a street. That’s all instinct. Fighting for a living is like seeing the bully in the first class at school and telling them you will fight after school. For the next six hours, you boil inside and figure all the possible outcomes. That is Alicia. She has rage, talent and potential but once you climb into the ring, as Alvey said at the top of the hour, it’s you all alone in this world.

After a little Alvey pushing, Alicia climbs into the ring. I’ve said before Grillo says fuck better than any actor out there, including DeNiro. Well, watch the locker room scene between him and Martinez and you will get his best impression of DeNiro. When Alicia says she can’t do it, Grillo cocks his head, turns it and delivers the best Bobby D impression, intentional or not. It’s beautiful. Go watch it again and come back here to finish the cap.

Alicia doesn’t just win the fight. She destroys the other woman. Martinez’s authenticity, like Grillo’s. shines through here. A kickboxer in real life who moves like a ninja with swag and attitude, she survives a tough first round and is born inside the octagon. When she scores the takedown of a lifetime and pounds on her opponent before Joe Daddy calls it, everything changes. She has an endorsement deal, a future in fighting and apparently no need for Ryan Wheeler shenanigans any longer. After the fight, she tells a drunk drugged up yet alert Wheeler that it’s over.

The dudes on this show aren’t having a good season my friends.

What else happened?

~In the Keith moment of the week, he catches a pair of pool side kids playing TMZ hawks, recording Ryan have some fun with cocaine. He catches them and tosses the phone. He may not be put together like everybody else, but Keith is a useful guy when it comes to avocado farms, drinking, and paparazzi.

~Lisa’s pregnancy hits a wall when she has to go in for extra tests to see if there is a concern with the baby. She misses Alicia’s fight but leaves Alvey a message that it is a boy and that the Maker of Men has struck again. There’s hope for these two yet.

~Wheeler goes off about Alvey devoting a whole day to Alicia and while it may seem like nothing, this may come into play later with the result of Ryan’s fight. There’s a simmering boil inside Lauria during every episode that is set to explode but let me tell you it won’t be a gym mirror he damages this time.

~Every episode features a Grillo training session. Forget Billy Blanks and any other trainer you can find. Just watch Grillo work. He’s trained in gyms of all kinds and lives and breathes this environment like a second layer of skin. He’s a joy to watch.

There are two hours left ladies and gents. Fireworks have gone off but more await. Are you ready? With success comes a heightened state of desire. Will it burn down the Kulina bridge? December will reveal it all. There are no winter breaks on Kingdom. It is coming at you every week. If you are behind, catch up on Itunes, Amazon, Audience on demand or Uverse on demand. Do it. Think later. Just watch.

Every obsession with a TV show starts with a plunge. There are shows you watch and like, but do other stuff while it plays. There are shows that captivate you for the entire hour. I watched this hour of Kingdom in one prolonged death stare.  My phone, a dark room, an open window and a lack of fluids. After every hour, I work out. This show will make you want to work out, hit something or show passion. It connects. Try it out.

Come back next week for more Kingdom talk.

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.

Kingdom reviewcap: “Broken or Missing” in the Kulina family

How hard did Kingdom punch us this week? Read my review of Episode 203.

This isn’t your traditional boring what happened TV recap. I just respond, review and break down what I saw while digging deeper at what the masterminds behind the operation are hinting at. Let’s call a reviewcap. 

What-Kingdom

When-Wednesday nights at 8pm

Where-Direct TV on Audience

Every fighter in the world knows the immortal rule. One punch, kick, or shot can end a fight or career. Once they climb into the ring, danger surrounds them like their own shadow. As confident as a fighter can seem on the outside, inside their head exists a place where they think about and dread over the last fight.

Episode 203, “Broken or Missing”, brought us a lot of developments. The return of Kenny to society, fresh out of prison and slapping bitches who talk shit about his weight. A possible Jay-Ryan fight. Love blossoming between Jay and his photographer girlfriend, Laura. It also brought Nate(Nick Jonas) and his first fight after the street mugging.

It’s easy to call the climax of this episode the most shocking of Kingdom’s run on Direct TV. The moment Nate got caught in the ring with a swing kick and fell motionless to the floor, the midway sideways blow of Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby hit me. They aren’t doing that with the youngest Kulina, are they? Render the most popular face on the show paralyzed and finished!!!?? No way. Turns out creator Byron Balasco was thinking more Manny Pacquaio-Juan Manuel Marquez IV, where the fight ended in the sixth round with a thunderous counter hook landing flush to an attacking Pac Man’s jaw and dropping him unconscious to the floor.

Nate didn’t just lose his fight. He was knocked the fuck out cold. All he got was a concussion, but Alvey(Frank Grillo) has bigger concerns. Can his young tiger finish off opponents? Can he kick the knife all the way in or will he just poke the other guy with shots? Earlier in the fight, Nate was hammering the guy to the point where he left himself unguarded and looking at the referee for a stoppage. Big mistake that was foreshadowing. A fighter should NEVER take his eyes off the opponent in a ring, whether it’s a square, octagon or street alley. Your eyes are as powerful as your fists in any fight, and Nate forgot about rule #1. Never take your eyes off your opponent. During round 2, he was dropped.

If you know where Nate’s head is, let us know. The young man is living a lie when it comes to romance and when it comes to 95% of everything else. How happy can you be if you can’t be yourself? How do you tell your dad, who is Rambo meets Han Solo in a ring, that fighting isn’t the top priority on your list of what to do when you get up and breathe today?

Elsewhere, the stakes for the future got white hot.

In order to solve his opponents dropping out right before the right, Jay is offered a deal by shady promoter Garo(Bryan Cullen) to fight the champion himself, none other than Ryan Wheeler. Before you think Jay will pull a honorable Kulina response of no thank you, remember this is Jay Kulina we are talking about. He wants the glory and desperately wants to be taken seriously by his father, his fellow fighters and the world of MMA again. If this is the only way back into the castle of greatness, Jay is all for it.

What follows is even better. Wheeler is finishing up a workout and holding a cup of piss(for a skeptical Alvey to test) and Jay stares him down mano o mano. This ends in a playful if half serious wrestle scrap between the two lifelong friends, but each knows that a possible matchup has to be on the horizon. The only holdup is Alvey. Will he let his ticket back to the big time in Ryan step into the ring with his troubled son who he doesn’t trust? Can he deal with a Wheeler defeat or a Jay drama show? For Alvey, this doesn’t end well in any outcome. Jay wins and Wheeler’s career is derailed, especially after a disappointing title defense. If Jay loses, there could be a rift in the family and on Navy Street for quite some time. Ah, the drama that follows a season one finale where everybody seemed to win.

Alvey and Christina are officially getting divorced, but when asked about getting married by the whiskey guzzling Alvey, Lisa(Kiele Sanchez) decides to pause and not answer, which in pregnant lady telepathy is “Fuck No.” This doesn’t mean it won’t happen but isn’t high on the list of things to do for the matriarch of Navy Street. The clearly glowingly pregnant and beautiful Sanchez doesn’t overplay this scene at all. She just looks tired and careful.

Think about it. She is promoting her boyfriend’s son who he doesn’t trust and in a fight possibly in a fight against the boyfriend’s main fighter, who also happens to be her ex-serious squeeze. She also has Christina poking around her sons lives and coming to the fight and acting all nice for a change instead of snapping at her with history. Then there is the Nate knockout. Episode 203 was a big drama show, as Gennady Golovkin would call it.

Poor Alvey, I keep thinking back to the first scene of Season 2. Grillo gleaming as he fired those weapons and thought things were settling down. He was a king on a chair with a cracked leg, and he couldn’t even see it. A proud man with his back to the storm. He found out his top fighter used cocaine and can’t make money for six fights, which he may not have. He is unsure his youngest son is ready, and then watches him get knocked out cold. His other son wants to fight Wheeler, and that creates issues. He is severing ties with his wife so he can marry Lisa and gets rebuffed. Thank goodness for whiskey.

Keith is out and looks dangerous. He walks from jail to his house, where Ryan is staying but not before he stops for food and has to slap some fools for making fun of his weight. Ryan does his best to make him feel at home but this guy couldn’t feel at home in a factory full of avocados with a barrel of stuffed animals right now. After all, he is sitting in the place where he murdered his parents. Drama!

Ryan also goes to see his dad, where he finds out that the old man was busting his balls on purpose the last time he visited, which was in Season 1. There is so much history between these two guys that the audience has not seen, which allows Matt Lauria and M.C. Gainey to act the shit out of this scene. Couple pros.

Tidbits-

*While Laura and Jay swoon over one another, the Kulina rebel is going to screw this up, right?

*There isn’t a more convincing and more heartbreaking father-son performance than Grillo and Jonas. When Frank looks at him like a hawk with a wounded wing, it’s so heartbreaking that you have to replay it a few times. Acting is all in the eyes and Grillo is a master at it.

*No one says FUCK like Grillo either. Sorry, DeNiro.

*We get one Mac Brandt sighting and it’s right before the Kulina family rushes into the ring to attend to Nate.

*Laura is sexy, smart and ferocious so there are worse ladies to have your heart smashed over, Jay. Jessica Szohr fits into this reckless world of misfits.

What happens next week? Where does Nate stand after his loss? Will Alvey let Ryan fight Jay? Will Lisa marry Alvey? How before Chapas gets involved and really sets the world on fire? Also, I want some flashbacks to Alvey’s career and maybe his record. All these posters and mentions. I want more. Give me some Alvey history.

Thanks for reading. For more traditional recaps, seek out big boy sites like Entertainment Weekly or Hitflix. I just talk a lot. This isn’t your father’s recap…or your brother’s,if you know what I mean.

Check back in next week for more Kingdom talk. Mouthpieces are optional.