The success of MMA has spurred a new trend towards MMA-related movies, television shows and video games. For the most part, the plots are similar. Fighter gets roughed up by life. Fighter joins gym. Fighter gets into MMA. Fighter overcomes the odds to win a fight. That’s why Kingdom, a new television drama series which debuted Wednesday night on Audience Network, comes across as a breath of fresh air.
Kingdom is DirecTV’s latest original series on Audience Network, and it sets out to grab the attention of MMA fans. However, it also seeks to draw in viewers who are looking for a good drama. Led by a cast that includes Frank Grillo, Nick Jonas (yes, that Nick Jonas), Kiele Sanchez, Jonathan Tucker and Matt Lauria, Kingdom opened up with a solid first episode that gave us a glimpse of what the series is capable of.
Set in Venice Beach, Calif., Alvey Kulina (Grillo) is a once-successful MMA fighter who has since opened up his own gym in hopes of nurturing a lineup of champions and top contenders. His top fighter, Ryan Wheeler (Tucker), had his career put on hold due to an addiction problem and ended up spending a few years in jail. Once Wheeler gets out of the pen, he shows back up at Alvey’s Gym and soon realizes the fiancé he left behind, Lisa Prince (Sanchez), is now in a relationship with Alvey. Wheeler appears to accept this and expresses a desire to simply help out around the gym.
While the storyline of Alvey, Ryan and Lisa begins to build, there’s also the primary focus of making sure Alvey’s best fighter, and son, Nate Kulina (Jonas) makes weight and is ready for his fight. Viewers are shown the sacrifice that goes behind a severe weight cut, including Nate barely being able to stand on his feet coming out of a sauna. Stacked upon the trials and tribulations of a fighter getting ready for a fight is another subplot which involves Nate’s brother, Jay (Tucker), battling addiction problems and seemingly on the brink of throwing his life away.
If all that wasn’t enough to pack into one episode, there’s also yet another subplot which involves a couple of thugs that opened up the show looking to jump Alvey. Alvey took care of business, but those same thugs end up running down Nate at the end of the episode and leave him lying in the street. This is where we leave off for next week.
There’s a lot to digest here, and that’s a good thing. Kingdom has set the bar pretty high with everything it looks to tackle during its first season—the promising career of Nate, the comebacks of Ryan and Jay, a potential love triangle between Alvey, Ryan and Lisa, the demons of drug abuse, thugs looking to get even with Alvey, and a behind-the-scenes look at the world of MMA. The first episode showed these can all be portrayed in a way that’s not too cumbersome to the viewer, which makes it something that both MMA fans and non-MMA fans can gravitate toward.
Kingdom airs Wednesday nights on DirecTV’s Audience Network at 9 p.m. ET.
- Continuous flow of action and drama from the opening seconds of the show.
- Outstanding performances from the lead actors. Nick Jonas does a fantastic job in his role of Nate Kulina and easily distances himself from the Jonas Brothers image.
- TV-MA rating allows Kingdom to let loose.
- Giving well-known fighters such as Cub Swanson a different name and using them as opponents will prevent MMA fans from being immersed in the show.
- The fight scenes inside the cage could use some work. There is too much cutting away from the action when a punch or kick is landed, which comes across as a blatant attempt to cover up poor “fight acting.”