TV Review: Kingdom packs a punch on Netflix ★★★★★

7 mins read

Netflix seems to be rewarding us lately with an influx of great shows, both new and old, ready for our perusal – all of which help make being stuck inside a little less painful. But, things are finally getting back to normal, we don’t HAVE to stay in anymore. However, their newest drop will make you WANT to: Byron Balasco’s ‘Kingdom’ is finally here.

Originally aired in 2014, Kingdom was only available to DirecTV audiences and lasted for three brutal yet beautiful seasons, before eventually being cancelled. The show centres on an L.A. based MMA gym, ran by hard-man Alvey Kulina (Frank Grillo) and his long-time girlfriend Lisa Prince (Kiele Sanchez), who both struggle to keep the gym afloat. Like all good dramas, business and family always mix, as his three best fighters are his sons Jay (Jonathan Tucker) and Nate (Nick Jonas), and Lisa’s ex, former MMA champ-turned-felon Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria). What we see unfold is chaotic and catastrophic, in all the best ways.

The series is fast-paced, emotional and volatile – every character is hurting, every relationship suffers and everyone comes out bruised, fighter or not. James Gunn ranked the show on his list of the ‘10 most underrated, binge-worthy shows of the 2000s‘, and he’s right. Kingdom has broken boundaries with its representation of sports and identity – something very rarely mixed in the genre.

We’re so used to seeing the rise and fall of the athlete, who aims to beat an opponent, win a trophy or improve a personal best. Kingdom has a bigger scope. Winning a title match means nothing if your head and your heart aren’t in the right place, nor does feel as good if you have no one there to cheer you on. The show provokes larger questions around what it means to truly belong, what is family and how far will you go to protect those you love?

kingdom-season-2-frank-grillo-cast
From left to right: Alvey (Grillo), Nate (Jonas), Ryan (Lauria) and Jay (Tucker) on their way to the cage. / Credit: DirecTV

Perhaps the best proof of how Kingdom is so different to other sport shows is through Nick Jonas’ performance as Nate. He is your typical fighter: strong, silent and struggling with his sexuality. His character touches on something that remains an ongoing point of conflict in the industry, but particularly within contact sports. Sarah Kurchack acknowledges an ongoing series of ‘MMgay’ jokes have long been made about the nature of cage fighting – because nothing is sexier than two men punching the living daylights out of one another – and many argue such hot-takes have been internalised into an increasingly homophobic attitude held by both fighters and fans alike.

This vitriol is what makes it so difficult, and so rare, for gay fighters to come out of the closet and live in their truth – a loss of fans means a loss of income, opportunity and sponsorships. Nate’s character explores a different type of challenge – the decision to come out and potentially lose everything he’s worked for or to stay hidden and miserable for the rest of his career. Maybe I’m slightly biased as a life-long Jonas fan, but Nick’s performance is surprising, raw and ultimately heartbreaking. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Alongside sexuality, Kingdom also tackles issues of drug addiction, hypersexuality, sexism, substance abuse and abortion, while having gruesome scenes if you don’t like violence or blood – this should be expected, however, as there is no glorifying the MMA scene.

Many of the fight scenes you see in Kingdom are real – the actors trained hard in preparation at Joe ‘Daddy’ Stevenson’s gym, an actual fighter who stars in the show. Jonathan Tucker, who plays Jay Kulina, even followed the same technique to ‘cut weight’ – the act of dropping a weight class for title fight – reducing his weight from 170 to 130 pounds in a matter of weeks. Even if you don’t particularly care for drama, Kingdom is gripping with action and an honest take on how gruelling and taxing contact sport can be – plus the accuracy and dedication from its cast is unrivalled. 

All three seasons of the show are available now and are perfectly bingeable. It’s been a long road for creator Byron Balasco, and all the cast and crew, to finally see Kingdom on the platform it deserves. In a recent livestream announcing the shows launch on the streaming platform, Frank Grillo (Alvey) admits “At some point, we all said to eachother ‘Man, I wish this show was on Netflix’ […] and we got our wish.

“People throw around that term ‘family’ way too much in Hollywood, but in terms of our experiences on the show, we were a family. We were down and dirty, and no one was paying attention to us. And we were making phenomenal, phenomenal television.”

And that’s very evident on the show. A group of talented actors came together to play a group of misfits masquerading as a family and left season three truly feeling like one. The individual and overall group dynamics are inviting and real, and you truly want the best for everyone when watching. You will laugh, and cry, and do so simultaneously – and you’ll hopefully fall in love with both character and plot. Kingdom truly has something for everyone, and is something everyone must watch. Try it – I dare you to watch the first episode and just stop there. What are you waiting for? 

All three seasons of ‘Kingdom’ are available on Netflix from July 1, 2020. 

Featured image credit: Kingdom / DirecTV

1 Comment

  1. […] Kingdom, not to be confused with the Korean period zombie thriller of the same name, is a gritty sports drama set in the world of MMA circa 2010’s Venice Beach, CA. Back in the mid 2010’s, I soaked up every drama I could find. I was a sponge, particularly for feel good sports dramas like Friday Night Lights (clear eyes, full hearts…can’t lose), so a show like Kingdom was definitely on my radar. Essentially a vehicle for tough guy, marine type character actor Frank Grillo (most famous for The Purge series), it is a gripping saga about masculinity, identity, sexuality, and (surrogate) family. If you want a really good spoiler free review read this here. […]

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