“Fighting is more than two people trying to hit each other… It could be someone fighting to be a respected journalist or a mother fighting to provide a safe child environment. Fighting is a metaphor for life.”
When Ronda Rousey came to Australia to face Holly Holm in 2015, she interviewed a reporter and said the above quote. No one would have predicted that Rousey would not only lose to Holm but would then struggle with mental health issues, her sense of identity, and her former glory. Because of this, those quoted words will stay with me for the rest of my life as I continue fighting my own battles in life.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of the critically acclaimed, underrated, ignored, chaotic, and unpredictable family drama by Byron Balasco that is “Kingdom.” For forty episodes, the series unflinchingly explores the many fights of life through a dysfunctional family who is heavily involved in the world of MMA.
The family’s patriarch is Alvey Kulina, played by Frank Grillo (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Civil War, and Endgame). A former MMA legend is trying to run a financially struggling gym in Venice, California, with his girlfriend Lisa Prince (Kiele Sanchez, the Glades, Lost, the Purge) while combatting his mental health issues.
Kulina has a drug-addicted ex-wife Christina (Joanna Going, House of Cards), who is a prostitute, and two sons, Jay (Jonathan Tucker, Westworld, City on a Hill, Parenthood) and Nate (Nick Jonas). Jay is an unstable mess of MMA talent and out of control California hedonism. At the same time, Nate is a closeted homosexual and is still trying to come to terms with his own sexuality. To add to the clusterf@#k, Lisa’s former fighter fiancé Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria, Friday Night Lights, Parenthood, Dickinson) has returned from doing time after crippling his father in a drug-fueled altercation.
From here, the show starts to explore how each of these characters tries to achieve their purposes despite the brokenness of their relationships, their environment, and themselves.
We see Lisa trying desperately to keep the gym running afloat and to be taken seriously in a macho-industry and a place where sexism is rife. Ryan wants to make amends with all the people he has let down. Christina is trying to get back on her feet; however, we see her relapse into her proclivities. Jay, despite his recklessness, is a child who pines for someone to near hold him.
Nate tries to be the mature one; however, being a homosexual in a world of toxic masculinity is a scary life. Of course, the alpha of the pack Alvey, adopts this mantra of “am I one of the weak or one the strong,” and while it might make him an excellent coach to Ryan, it also causes damage to himself and his relationships. We see this in how he continues to deny that his struggles with mental health cannot be swiftly overcome like a cage fight or how he turns his back on Jay and Christina with disgust because of their struggles.
I and so many love about Kingdom incorporate both real and fictitious elements into the story. All of the fighters cast in the series are professional MMA fighters, including Joe Daddy Stevenson, who is both a cast and crew member for the show.
It also references different elements of Los Angeles into the script, which amplifies the impact of the setting on the characters and their personal history. Even Matt Lauria and Kiele Sanchez tie in their own real-life personal struggles into the narrative; their tears, rage, and grief are so real.
This show aims to demonstrate that despite MMA’s brutality, fighters are just people like you and me. In 40 episodes, the story tackles so many personal issues that are pertinent to the human condition, including but not limited to: mental health deterioration, prostitution, dysfunctional families, toxic masculinity, codependency, sexism, closeted homosexuality, addiction, post-prison life, miscarriages, divorce, brotherhood, parenthood, friendship, faith, and familial death. It does so without any agenda, the characters are the driving force of the show, and Balasco gives so much free rein to the cast so that they can explore their full range.
I also loved how this is Paul Walter Hauser’s (I Tonya, BlacKKKlansman, Richard Jewell) turning point in his acting career. Props to Hauser for making Keith such a great comedic element, which helps to accentuate Ryan’s humanity. Even Clint Eastwood admired Hauser’s scenes in Kingdom so much that he cast him in Richard Jewell; that was how great he was.
Be warned some sex scenes make me question if they are sexual assault. It is not a show about heroes and villains.
“Get rid of the f$#k-ups, and you will be left with no-one” – Alvey Kulina. This quote says it all.
It’s a shame that it was canceled however, Grillo, the cast, and Balasco are more than happy to do a revival should this get extra traction on Netflix.
You don’t need to know anything about MMA to watch Kingdom. You will enjoy it, especially if you love shows like Animal Kingdom, Californication, Shameless, Weeds, Game of Thrones, Wentworth, Breaking Bad, Prison Break, Orange Is the New Black, Cheer, Sons of Anarchy, or Friday Night Lights. It is touted as a gritty family drama with an MMA backdrop, and it is binge-worthy. Facebook groups have members who have binge-watched all 40 episodes in 3 days. So whether you go steady or try to smash their record, always remember that when one fight is over, another is going to begin.
This Review is written by Stephan Fernando – a fan of Kingdom. He is a guy who thinks that this tv show is underrated and decided to support it through this review.