By Dan Buffa ; Special Contributor
*all photo's are courtesy of AT&T/Audience Network/DirecTV*
When people tell you to watch a show, the first thing that happens is an internal eye roll. Such as, “this person is telling me to carve out 30 hours of my time to watch a show that may not be worth it.” It’s not an easy trade so I only recommend shows that I couldn’t do without or don’t merely duplicate another show’s setup. I’ve written about this show before. Let me try again.
AT&T’s Kingdom is one of those can’t do without shows and for one solid strict reason. It takes a sport-MMA-and dishes viewers a dramatic and authentic representation of that arena and walk of life. You’ll want to hit something after an hour of this series and for good reason. It is done 100% right.
Kingdom has no boundaries in its storytelling. Being the first original piece of content on DirecTV and now AT&T’s Audience Network, creator Byron Balasco has the reign to do and say whatever he wants. He can get as dirty as he needs to without politically correct programming like FOX or NBC telling him to stay guarded. Remember Balasco’s name please.
Picture a cathartic playground of misfit toys playing under one roof? These people are shirtless, hopped up on Monster Energy, and full of white hot rage. They punch stuffed dummies into the mat. They kick bags. They spar with each other. Each moment, they are chasing something they can’t see yet need. It’s not a Club Fitness or Planet Gold Body Lock. This is a place of desperate fortitude. Say hello to Navy Street gym.
Have you been Grillo’d lately? Frank Grillo hangs out on this playground and is the heart and soul of the story. Known for quite some time as “that guy”, Grillo breaks out in a big way as Alvey Kulina, former MMA legend and trainer of his two sons Nick and Jay (Nick Jonas and Jonathan Tucker). He also trains the enigmatic and unstable Ryan Wheeler (Friday Night Lights’ Matt Lauria showing a new shade of grey).
We all know an Alvey but you haven’t seen him like the beast of burden Grillo shows here. Talk about an actor and role meeting seamlessly in the center of a television screen and producing magical grit. Grillo throws every war torn day of his 51 years into this character. An anti-hero beset on doing what is right for his kids and only what is wrong for him.
When in doubt, Alvey drinks. When in further doubt, he hits things hard. When in complete isolation, he trains like he’s 20 and living in his car. You can’t take your eyes off the actor and his performance will make you search IMDB and wonder how you’ve missed him for the past 20 years.
How about Tucker’s Jay? A reckless soul of limitless ability blocked by a need to impose his will at every juncture of success. You may know Tucker from other projects and films, but you haven’t seen him pour so much weight into a role than he does here. He can face lift a page of dialogue without a word and make you feel everything he feels.
Lauria is the same way. An actor well known for Luke Cafferty goes dying into the light here as Wheeler, an ex-con full of enough rage to fill two ships pointed towards the bottom of the ocean. He spent four years in jail for putting his dad in a wheelchair and thus lost his chance to be an MMA legend. Or did he? Alvey has something to say there.
Oh, and Ryan and Alvey’s wife Lisa Prince(the dynamic Kiele Sanchez) used to be an item. And Jonas’ Nate is a closeted gay trying to fit into his dad’s vision of what he needs to be. There’s Joanna Going’s junkie want to do right Kulina mother. How about Bryan Callen’s hilarious promoter Garo? How about the freckled dartboard that is Mac Brandt, playing the ally of Jay and friend to anyone in the gym who needs a “bump” in the right direction?
There’s a reason Kingdom shines brightand that is because the fight choreography from Joe Daddy Stephenson and the consulting of MMA legend Greg Jackson. They make all the fights hit hard, bleed right, and leave a dent. There are no shortcuts taken here.
Balasco became a student of the sport before he brought it to our attention. In bringing in Grillo(who collaborated with Jackson on the underrated and Kingdom inspirational film Warrior in 2011), Balasco gave this entire enterprise an infinity stone of authenticity.
Do you like mixed martial arts but need a dramatic push to love it? Check this show out.
Do you want to be blown away by a Jonas brother? Come over here.
Do you want to see a show about what fighters face outside the ring done right? Watch Kingdom.
This isn’t a show you check your cell phone as you watch. It’s a show you turn off your cell and climb into. It doesn’t just demand your attention. It demands you simmer long after its credits roll. It doesn’t crack your head in half but it does make you think. It is the epitome of thoughtful entertainment.
Isn’t that what you want when you watch TV these days? A cinematic blend of must watch madness that happens to be available on your television. Kingdom is that and more.
This is the show you make friends with your neighbor that you hate just so you can use their UVerse to watch the show. You make unlikely acquaintances to watch Kingdom.
You have 20+ episodes to watch. Consider it happy homework for the summer. Season 2B(episodes 20–30) are airing as we speak on AT&T’s Audience Network. Get a load of this show. Be the next person at the water cooler to say, “Have you watched Kingdom yet?”, and wait for the “What?” Balasco writes each episode as if he is picking up a juicy steak and squeezing it until every drop of juice falls onto a viewer’s plate.
If you don’t, Grillo might fight you. Just saying. I hear his jaw line is so strong no razor blade currently constructed is tough enough for him to use to shave.