‘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 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: “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 on Audience: “Be First” Review

What happened during round 4 of Kingdom’s second season. My review of the Direct TV drama.

Disclaimer: This isn’t not your standard “this is what happened and that’s it” recap. It isn’t a basic review. It’s my takeaways from it. Take it or leave it.

What-Kingdom

When-Wednesdays at 8pm central

Where-Direct TV/Audience/1114 on UVERSE HD

KingdomWhen it comes to fighting, “Be First” is the mentality. Be the first one to punch. Be the first one to react. Be the first one to decipher the other fighter’s code before you get popped. Episode 204 of Direct TV’s Kingdom rung the bell with another appearance from Sean Chapas, Alvey’s buddy from the past who showed up in the second week and immediately struck me as someone one could NOT trust.

Mark Consuelos looks like a decent enough guy. He’s smart, in good shape and seems like he wants to help the big lion of the Navy Street gym. He’s dropping pick me up tales about not worrying and seizing the moment, mentioning the big GOD and his effects in the process. He’s seems to have a button up pasted onto his body instead of wearing it. He’s snake and that’s why you can’t trust him. Somehow, he is going to hurt the Kulina and Lisa(Kiele Sanchez) is going to tell Alvey, “I told you so.”

We find Alvey spending time with Sean at one of his investment locations, a retirement home. Sean is giving Alvey a taste of a potential gold mine. It’s too bad the investment will cost Kulina 30,000 to get a share. The stock market is like tossing a hail mary blindfolded down the field. Something a fighter should invest in only if he is sure and isn’t dealing with a guy like Chapas. That’s TV for you. Imitation of life with more gasoline added in for good measure.

Nate is recovering from his knockout by rewatching it over and over again. Every fighter thinks they are invincible until they get knocked out cold. Afterwards, like a detective, they have to investigate what went wrong. He can’t seem to do anything in his house for long because his annoying as SHIT girlfriend comes in, rubs on him and tosses his phone away.

Let me admit something. Nate’s girlfriend, the sometimes drunk or stoned chick who won’t stop nagging, is a pain in the ass and doesn’t seem capable of understanding a fighter. Nate was chowing down on a burrito in week 2 and she whined about wanting the kid to go out, wedge down on chips and salsa and pay attention to her crap. The kid can’t catch a break and the girlfriend has to go. We will get to that later.

Jay is feeling upbeat as he strides into the house in the morning. He spent the night with Laura(Jessica Szohr) and feels like ten million bucks. A sad Christina mopes over a P&B sandwich before work. Jay wants to get her a new job, but she doesn’t care. Apparently, feeling sorry for yourself pays by the minute. She does perk up when asking for Laura’s number, but when he hears it, Jay has an alarm go off in his head. Christina wants my lovely new girlfriend’s number. Jonathan Tucker can do it a lot with a look. Mischief and contempt can be spelled with a single look. He knows it is a bad idea but he literally pulled this woman from the depths of drugs, hooking and sure handed misery. He gives it to her and the audience lights the match.

As she shops with Laura, Christina doesn’t feel right. Here is this new woman in her son’s life filling her cart up with art supplies and she feels weird. Only one thing can happen. The mother of men spills her entire story to Laura. The drugs, the abandonment of the kids and probably more. The look on Laura’s face doesn’t read, “Oh that’s okay, I’m just a lovable photographer who craves drama.” This girl doesn’t want a side of difficult with her slice of man. Her face spells duck and run.

When she stops returning Jay’s calls and texts, he wants to know what happened but won’t say it out loud. Maybe he doesn’t know. When he confronts Laura later as she is trying to leave for a party, she gives him all the answers he needs without using words. His mom spooked her and she is backing off. Who else uses the phone died excuse? They do know when phones recharge all those texts and voicemails come back on. Everybody on the show has IPhones. Steve Jobs ain’t fucking around people. This is sad for Jay.

Earlier in the day, Alvey asked him to either wait a fight or get skinny like Adrian Brody for his next fight if he will allow Ryan Wheeler to fight him. I’ll be clear. Alvey isn’t worried about Jay losing. He is worried about Ryan losing. If Ryan loses, the humpback whale money maker of the future dies a little. Here is a guy buying new trucks, new guns and thinking about kicking 30K to a business endeavor that may not pan out.

The great thing about Creator Byron Balasco’s characters are they seem like people we’ve seen on TV before, but there is always a wrinkle to their actions. They aren’t imperfect, screwed up and capable of acting like a fireball in a forest.

Speaking of Wheeler, he is doing more than flirting with the new female fighter, Alicia Mendez(Natalie Martinez). He trains with her in the ring, getting into positions that you won’t see two people commit to at Starbucks or Panera. Later on in the sauna, she pretty much strips down in front of him. The signs have been on for hours. These two will have some sex and good for them. It’s nice to see two people carry out the simple pleasure of conversation and sex. They are fighters, lonely people and in need. A simple story. Lisa may not like it but she has a baby inside her so she can’t stay mad for long at her ex-boyfriend and new fighter banging.

Poor Keith. The guy can’t shop in the grocery store, look at an avocado straight or hold his hard liquor. If anyone needs to get laid, it’s Keith. Paul Walker Hauser doesn’t get to participate in the fight scenes(nah, he just kills his enemies in the kitchen) but he is a fine actor and someone who doesn’t ask for your sympathy. He earns it. What looked like a simple plot device to get Ryan acquainted with someone from the outside has blossomed into a real friendship and one with complications. He’s still a liability but a necessary outside the ring distraction for the audience. Hauser really nails this role.

There’s an interesting exchange between Alvey and Lisa. She finds out earlier in the episode that the baby is a boy and the look of quiet resignation on her face peels the layers off her discomfort in Season 2. If any prospective mother needed a baby girl to quiet the storms of testosterone, it was Lisa. She won’t get that, because as her man tells her, he is “a maker of men”. Poor Lisa. Sad deals for her and Jay this episode.

Nate fails his exam with the doctor and isn’t cleared to fight. When he tells Alvey he is, the old man doesn’t believe him for a second. The more I think about this kid’s fight, I think the only place he feels peace with who he is comes inside the ring. I never listened to a single Jonas Brothers song but I think that is helping me appreciate Nick’s acting that much more. Here is a kid who was forced to be a star before he was 10 years old and has been riding that wave for so long that becoming something like Nate seemed like a far fetched idea. After 14 episodes, he has carved out an identity on this show. Every episode, we get to know him more and more.

So when the bomb is dropped and his annoying girlfriend finds some male pics and videos on his phone, we are almost happy for the kid as he is berated in the gym. Someone knows his secret, but that revelation may be the best thing that happens to him down the road. It could have been I just hated his girlfriend and glad she is finally moving out. I don’t know.

At the end, we see Alvey calling Chapas in for whiskey and bad decisions. It isn’t the idea that investing in retirement homes is a bad play. People are old and most need a place to spend the final days of their lives. I just can’t think of a good outcome with Alvey going in business with his old friend, who has a shit eating grin, is reconnecting with Alvey and seems to be bringing in dark clouds. When the guns come up in the conversation, I am assured of something. Kulina firing those weapons in the first scene of the premiere was a sign that down the road he will need that firepower to rid some poison from his life.

Alvey has a pregnant girlfriend. Two healthy kids. A champion fighter. A thriving training career. A gym. A motorcycle and truck. A trio of guns. He has it all. Why is he inviting more into his life? When does a fighter who can no longer fight feel whole? Probably never.

Things get real interesting when Jay tells Lisa that he wants the Wheeler fight, with or without Alvey’s approval. Shit is about to get real in this family and on this show. The next six hours will be hot.

What happens with the Jay/Christina/Laura tripod of doom?

Will Ryan’s rendezvous with Alicia have consequences?

Will Lisa ever smile again?

Is Alvey making too many plays?

Will Nate find peace if he can’t fight?

Will Jay fight Wheeler?

Answers come in the following weeks. Until then, I suggest rope work, a few laps and a bag to hit.

Thanks for reading this unqualified review.

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.

Kingdom on Audience: “New Money” brought new problems

My recap of “New Money”, Season 2’s opening hour of Kingdom.

Get ready for episode 2 of Kingdom’s second season by reading my week 1 recap.

NickJonas-KingdomWhat does a champion do once they are on top? Once a dream is fulfilled and a lifetime of denial is erased, what comes after? Direct TV’s Kingdom opened its second season up with Matt Lauria’s Ryan Wheeler set to defend his title belt on the same card as the comeback of Jay Kulina(Jonathan Tucker, a live wire as usual) continues his trek back. Neither fighter gets what they ask for that night.

When we see Frank Grillo’s Alvey Kulina, he is buying $5,500 worth of weaponry, a result of treating yourself to some testosterone engaging firepower after struggling to make ends meet for years. With Wheeler’s victory, Alvey’s spectrum as a trainer was broadened and given Navy Street more attention, an influx of new fighters, and more cash flow. Lisa(Kiele Sanchez) has an assistant, which is good because she is pregnant and trying to advance in her career as a promoter at the same time. That’s like fighting two ugly opponents in a phone booth. Everybody on the show is facing either an identity crisis, a struggle to see a long term goal or a clear cut way to be happy.

Take Nick Jonas’ Nate, the prodigal not so fortunate son. He is a closeted bisexual who wants to be a fighter but doesn’t want to fight as much as his dad wants him to. He was badly hurt because of an altercation his dad had with a couple thugs that derailed his once hot fighting career. Now he is picking up the pieces of that career while wondering if winning a 100 fights will ever make him feel happy enough to tell the world who he really is. Imagine being King Leonidas’ son and telling him you don’t want to be a Spartan warrior. That’s Nate’s situation and it’s tragic if you look close enough.
The former Kuluna matriarch, Christina, has exited the world of hooking for a career in fast food, a world full of double shifts, dirty hands, bitter chats over cigarettes in a freezer with your boss and a desire to hook again on the side. Here is a woman who lost it all and tried to get it back only to find out it isn’t that easy. You have to fight to secure happiness on Kingdom. This season will see her and Alvey finally press ink to those divorce papers, or will it?

Mac(played by the freckled dartboard and exuberant Cubs fans Mac Brandt) gets the first official fight action of the season, wrestling and grappling with a fellow low paid fighter in what looks like an abandoned car lot. With Jay as his trainer, Mac wins the fight but barely escapes with his dignity. One of the things I wanted to see in Season 2 was more screen time for Mac and I got it in the premiere. Whether it’s warning Jay against doing Jay things or being the resourceful meds runner for Navy Street, Mac is all over this hour and it’s a welcome sight.

On Kingdom, nobody is window dressing. Every character gets a fair shake. Some could argue that it’s powered by Grillo because he gets the most screen time, but the supporting cast is better than ever. Tucker puts so much energy and wildness into Jay that you never know what the character is going to do next. Jonas is a bottle of quiet rage as Nate, continuing the evolution of this well known singer into something more. A performer of many stages.

The MVP of the episode is Lauria. The amount of expression on Lauria’s face as Wheeler battles demons of many kinds is impressive. Some actors need pages of dialogue to get this much work in and transform a character from a cardboard cutout to something real and Matt Lauria gets it done with a few looks. I don’t know what he was doing before this, but Kingdom is his new home. There are so many ways the show can go with Wheeler.

What happens with the fights? Jay’s opponent drops out, and this is the second time he has lost his opponent in recent weeks. It’s hard for a former talent like Jay to climb back into the rings of contention or to rise out of the lower ranks of fights. Your reputation follows you around closer than your ring record. It doesn’t help when Jay sees his “injured” opponent at the fight.

Wheeler battles a fever among other things but wins his fight by a narrow split decision. The crowd lets him have it but he promises to be better next time, causing him to question his whole future. That is where the authenticity of Grillo strikes. He grabs his fighters head and simply tells him, “A win is a win and that’s all that matters.” Part of what makes Kingdom a great show is that these characters are realistic flawed and dirty people. They have stains on their lives but they stick together.

The end of the episode flips everything on its head when the promoter of the Wheeler fight informs Alvey that Ryan had cocaine in his system. In order to keep it hush hush, Kulina will have to walk Wheeler into the lions den for free for a few fights. Everything that Wheeler has fought to reacquire has now been fumbled, and the trust of his trainer is gone. An episode that started with good intentions has now met a numb ending.

The next nine episodes will see battles of all kinds and the ties that bind inside the Kulina family circle get stretched in different ways. What will happen to Nate in his fight that causes a post fight scrum? Will Alvey and Christina get divorced? Will Lisa marry Alvey? Will Jay recapture his career? Can Ryan stay above water? What kind of storm will the new partner coming into Alvey’s gym(the guy has scumbag written all over his shit eating grin) bring? What is Alvey getting arrested for? He does own some powerful weapons and that includes the two fists that are attached to his body? How about this new fighter? Will she bring more than just fights to Lisa’s resume or will she get mixed up in the Kulina madness?

Creator Byron Balasco expertly sets the pillars in the lives of these people to crumble at a slow pace, making the damage that much more exotic and full of turmoil. As we discussed in our preseason interview, what happens when you get to the top? What comes after success? More success or a slow collapse? Or more chaos? I figure all of the above but the next nine hours will be interesting.

If you aren’t watching this show, do so now. The first season is on Itunes and Direct TV has merged with UVerse to show the second season. The excuses you can present are shrinking by the day.

Kingdom isn’t just a show about fighters figuring it out in the ring. It’s a show about people who get punched for a living but find the hardest punches hitting them when they are outside the octagon. With the third season being fired up right behind Season 2, the layers in this show will start to take shape. Get in on the action now. You can even tape your hands if you’d like. Just bring a stiff drink to the couch.