UFC Finds a Kingdom on TV – Words by Ronán Brennan.
You like Conor McGregor and UFC, sitting on the couch and watching TV (rhyme intended). But what to do between fights when you know, no matter how hard you try, Downton Abbey is never going to be your thing?
Kingdom has been green lit for a second season and comes from the talent of writer/producer Byron Balasco (Without A Trace) and producer Tim Iacofano (24). The show follows the Kulina family with their mixed martial arts gym and the relationships they have with each other and their members.
Alvey Kulina played by Frank Grillo (Warrior) is a former world champion who trains his sons, Jay and Nate, with hopes of them reaching the same heights as he did at his prime. Quiet Nate is played by Nick Jonas of Jonas Brothers fame and is the breakout rookie of the year with nothing but potential at his feet, where as Jonathan Tucker’s (Sleepers) hothead Jay, juggles his fighting commitments with a more rock n’ roll lifestyle giving little thought to where his natural ability could bring him. With so many egos and even more testosterone, the Navy St gym is kept under the watchful eye and business knowhow of Alvey’s sassy better half, Lisa Prince, brought brilliantly to life by Kiele Sanchez (The Perfect Getaway).
The series begins with the lives of all being shaken up when Lisa’s former fiancée and Alvey’s protégée Ryan Wheeler, played proficiently by Matt Lauria (Friday Night Lights), returns to Navy St after four years in prison. Alvey, seeing success and acclaim for his gym sponsoring a former champ, welcomes Ryan in with the promise to help him claim his former glory. And so begin the sparring and love triangles and conditioning and angst all by the sand of Venice Beach California.
Where this show connects is in the fight and training scenes which will draw in a casual observer of the sport with each being carefully coordinated by former UFC champion Joe Stevenson. The large gym sets the interesting base for the numerous storylines, but this isn’t solely a fisticuffs show. The roster is made up of some likeable and engaging characters and will hold your attention outside the ring. Most notably Jonathon Tucker revels in his role of Jay stealing each scene he is a part of. Bringing a sort of rambunctious obnoxiousness we all get a kick out of viewing from a far.
Unfortunately where it misses is that the show relies heavily on suspense, which is not used to good effect. While entertaining fights occur Ryan is the big-fish the show is aimed at and we see little of his ability until towards the end of the series when you’ve started to care a little bit less. Other story lines, in particularly Nick Jonas’s, are predictable to the point of being transparent, leading to the viewer getting even more impatient with the lack of action.
Frank Grillo’s role is more or less one he has played before on the big screen and so can handle himself in his less than complicated story arch and Kiele Sanchez is very likeable as the tough gym manager with attitude to boot. For me the mystery here is Matt Lauria who seems restricted in his role as Ryan. Having seen Lauria in other projects I know he can deliver a performance but with so much of the non-existent suspense surrounding his character he often comes across as bland and hopefully this is something that will be addressed now that the best is out of his cage so to speak.
The final verdict is that although I was disappointed, slightly more than I was satisfied, there are some promising points to this show and they have cornered a niche being the only UFC themed series on television. That and with the extra funding the show will receive in series 2 along with the acknowledgement by the shows creators that more hand-to-hand combat is required. If this blood thirst is satisfied this series has the potential to rise high in the television ranking. Maybe give it a round or two while Conor rests up after his victory…