Created by Byron Balasco
Returns Wednesday, October 14th at 9pm (ET) on Audience Network
Premise: A dysfunctional family of fighters and managers struggle to get by in the punishing world of MMA.
Where We Are: Season two starts this fall; 10 episodes have already aired
What You Need To Know: (spoilers for the series) The series centers on the Kulina family: Alvey, a former champion MMA fighter who now owns a gym, Navy St., with his girlfriend, Lisa Prince; Jay, Alvey’s elder and somewhat estranged son who is a perennial screw up, but is given a chance to rebuild his fighting career when Lisa agrees to manage him; and Nate, Alvey’s younger son, who is a promising up-and-coming closeted fighter recovering from injury. Alvey’s wife Christina (she hasn’t signed the divorce papers yet, despite their years-long separation) is also a significant figure on the series. An addict and, at times, sex worker, Christina spends season one attempting to reconnect with her sons and stay on the straight and narrow. Lisa, who co-founded Navy St. with Alvey and runs it, branches into managing fighters and deflects the unwanted attentions of her ex-fiancé Ryan Wheeler, a fighter who is Alvey’s best chance to break through as a coach. Ryan is working to control his anger issues, which is counter-intuitive to his training, and is looking to find purpose in his life after getting out of jail.
Where We Left Off: (detailed spoilers for the season one finale) After months of training, the season one finale saw Ryan and Jay win their big matches, Jay in a decisive—and hilarious—matter of seconds and Ryan after three punishing rounds. At the after party, Jay let loose and celebrated; Lisa, her relationship with Alvey on the rocks, rejected Ryan’s advances while Christina did the same to Alvey; and Nate left the party to go pick up a man at a bar. Christina left the party and was shown getting into a car with her dealer and pimp, her activities left to the imagination but seemingly understood by Jay, who sees her return home the next morning.
Why You Should Start Watching: While series about complicated and difficult white men are far from novel at this point, Kingdom stands out from the crowd thanks to the nuance of its characters and its firm grounding in reality. Not only is the series unflinching in its depiction of MMA and the sacrifices fighters make to pursue it as a career, it’s honest about the financial realities of the sport for those struggling to break through. Even putting aside the physical challenges that come with their chosen profession, just making rent is a significant challenge for these characters.
Kingdom explores masculinity and the complex relationships men can share, but it doesn’t sacrifice the development of its female characters in the process. Lisa in particular stands out as a multi-faceted, interesting, and engaging character, and Kiele Sanchez impresses in the role. Rather than an extension of her love interests (current or former) or a prize fought over by the powerful men in her life, Lisa is a canny, independent individual who knows her worth and both gives and demands respect from those around her.
As Jay, Jonathan Tucker shines, often the source of much-needed levity in this at times dour series, Joanna Going keeps the potentially problematic Christina from becoming a cliché, and Nick Jonas surprised many in season one with his physically credible and emotionally affecting performance as Nate. Rounding out the cast are Frank Grillo as Alvey and Matt Lauria as Ryan, who center the series ably and make the most of their frequently meaty material.
And if you’re a reader for whom the main draw of a series set in the world of MMA is not the character development, rest assured that the fights are fantastic, full of energy and absolutely authentic (at least to this MMA newbie). Season one started promisingly and ended very strongly; Kingdom is poised to make the leap in season two and if any of the above description sounds intriguing, you’ll want to be watching when it does.
What You Should Watch Beforehand: While you’d likely be just fine diving in with the season two premiere, if you have access to season one, the following episodes would make a handy primer:
Season 1, Episode 1, “Set Yourself on Fire”: The pilot introduces each of the characters well. There is some unfortunate extraneous female nudity here—an element toned down or eliminated in most of season one—but otherwise, this is a good indicator of the series’ interests.
Season 1, Episode 6, “Please Refrain from Crying”: Lisa goes with Ryan to see his parents and Christina has dinner with her sons and Alvey.
Season 1, Episode 9, “Cut Day”: Jay and Ryan must make weight for their upcoming fight, needing to lose 10 and 20 pounds, respectively, in one day.
Season 1, Episode 10, “King Beast”: The season finale brings Jay and Ryan’s much-anticipated fights.