Warning: Last GIF quite NSFW
After weeks of endless promotion and alleged “gay-baiting”, Nick Jonas was at least successful in inciting enough curiosity in me to give the pilot of his new show, Kingdom, a look. Now, short of knowing that Nick Jonas starred in this show and that it was mostly about MMA, I really had no idea what Kingdom was about – and, really, the mere fact that MMA was the feature story was already strike one, two and three against it. So, admittedly, I went into the show without much of an open mind. This opinion was cemented even further when, before the opening credits even came up, Alvey (Frank Grillo) single-handedly put two gun-wielding thugs down over a fight that started over a car moving off (??). I kid you not, this was just so cliché and predictable that I rolled my eyes and went, “Naturally.” However, about 10 minutes after the opening credits, I came to a realisation that actually surprised me – I was invested in the story. And the reason was, I had no choice but to admit another 10 minutes in, that the show was actually good… really good. So much so that right now I’m incredibly disappointed that it isn’t being played by a bigger network like HBO or Showtime, for the mere fact that I’m worried it won’t get the ratings that it deserves, though, to be fair, some 20 million people are subscribed to DirecTV.
Kingdom, originally named Navy St, is mostly about the Kulina family, headed by former MMA champion patriarch, Alvey Kulina. Though Alvey is no longer in his prime, so to speak, he spends the majority of his time at his gym, Navy St, where he trains up-and-coming and would-be mixed martial artists. This is one of the aspects that I enjoy about the show – too often we find characters of this type wallowing in the knowledge that their glory days are over, while Alvey is actually expending his energy into creating a new him: primarily with his younger son, Nate (Nick Jonas). Due to the fact that the Kulinas are currently experiencing a bit of financial trouble, Nate seems to be the key to their salvation, as his skill and discipline show all the makings of a future MMA champion. Even more seems to be expected of him since his older brother, Jay (Jonathan Tucker) used to be just as talented (if not more so) but threw it all away for a life of drugs, partying and no responsibility except that of taking care of Nate which, to his credit, he clearly takes as seriously as he seems capable of taking anything. He also harbours a whole lot of resentment for his father, accusing him of now adopting a superior, zen-like state of mind when he was just as much of a drug-taking douchebag as he accuses Jay of being, even pushing Jay and Nate’s mother to become the junkie that she currently is. We later see the mother who is not only a junkie, but a street prostitute. Needless to say, the Kulinas have quite a bit on their plate. However, for our viewing pleasure, a little bit more drama needed to be included. Enter Ryan Wheeler. Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria) is introduced to us just as he is released from a 4-year prison sentence. Though soft-spoken, almost to the point of introverted, people aren’t sent to jail for being meek… so we already know that there is a darker story at play here. Still, one of the first places that Ryan goes is the gym, where it becomes immediately clear that his is very well acquainted with Alvey, and we learn that he used to be one of Alvey’s very own fighters before he betrayed Alvey and went to fight for someone else. However, Alvey shows amazing strength of character when he forgives and then treats Ryan as if nothing at all had ever happened between them, even accepting Ryan’s offer to help around the gym. Alvey’s wife, Lisa (Kiele Sanchez), however, is not as forgiving and she treats Ryan with nothing but scorn. We later learn that she and Ryan used to be engaged… but ended it while he was in prison. Between Lisa and Alvey’s tension, and Alvey and Jay’s feud, Kingdom is rife with familial discord. However, everyone mostly puts this behind them (temporary, at least) to focus on Nate’s upcoming fight… an important match between him and an already established MMA champion. Most of the episode really leads up to this match and, in a very suspenseful and well-choreographed scene, Nate wins the match, effectively prompting investors to take an interest in the Kulinas and their flailing gym. This show, so far, is so well written and amazingly acted that I already cannot wait for what comes next. Everyone on the show does a remarkable job, including Nick Jonas who perhaps has the fewest acting credits to his name, but does an impressive a job as every other member of the cast. Even the opening scene with the predictable fight had eventual bearings on the show, as the men on whom Alvey so effortlessly laid a beat down, retaliated by ganging up on Nate and ending the show on a cliffhanger with them evidently beating him to the ground. I say “evidently” because it is assumed that it was done to Nate, though his face remained hidden beneath a hoodie the entire time. If Kingdom continues in the same fashion that it is now, I have no doubt that I’m going to thoroughly enjoy every minute of this newfound treasure of a show.