TV Review: DirecTV’s ‘Kingdom’

Kingdom Direct TV Nick Jonas

After getting past the premise’s inherent pander — Hey, mixed martial arts! That’ll appeal to a young male demo! — “Kingdom,” an awful title, quickly establishes itself as a solid drama, one that weaves L.A.’s Venice neighborhood and its assorted quirks into the fabric of the show. Perpetual tough guy Frank Grillo plays Alvey Kulina, the legendary fighter who presides over a local gym, and whose youngest son, portrayed by a buff Nick Jonas, is one of his brightest prospects. Yes, there are plenty of boxing-movie-type cliches in creator Byron Balasco’s series, but DirecTV’s latest original still delivers a surprisingly potent punch.

Alvey’s talents are conveniently demonstrated right away (courtesy of a couple of not-so-friendly neighborhood gangbangers), but his larger problem involves the gym, which — as his girlfriend/inhouse manager Lisa (Kiele Sanchez) keeps reminding him — is struggling financially. Blame part of it on Alvey’s soft heart, which prevents him from ousting those hopefuls who use the facilities but don’t regularly pay.

Yet while salvation might reside in the recently paroled Ryan Wheeler (“Friday Night Lights’ ” Matt Lauria), a one-time contender, Alvey’s eagerness to train him is fraught with complications. Foremost among those are Ryan’s past relationship with Lisa, and whether after the time in prison, Ryan still has the eye of, well, you know.

The Kulina family, however, is a bit more of a mess than that. There’s Alvey’s elder son Jay (Jonathan Tucker), a free-spirited lunatic, who dad has disowned; and estranged wife Christina (Joanna Going, quite effective in limited screen time), a character who cries out for more backstory, inasmuch as she’s currently a prostitute and drug addict.

It’s to the credit of all concerned, frankly, that “Kingdom” is more compelling than it sounds, conjuring a gritty atmosphere (you can practically smell the gym through the TV) around its fractured family ties, along with familiar questions regarding redemption and second chances. All that unfolds over episodes (four were previewed) that should prevent DirecTV subscribers who sample the series from being too eager to tap out.

Indeed, the satcaster has gradually built a reasonably solid programming footprint out of shrewd international acquisitions and the occasional original, and everything from the casting to the setting suggests this Endemol Studios production has been assembled on a modest budget. Grillo, usually a second banana, makes the most of his promotion, but this is really an ensemble piece.

Ultimately, even if “Kingdom” is something of a featherweight in terms of resources and ambitions, like any good fighter, it gets the most of its available tools.

TV Review: DirecTV's 'Kingdom'

(Series; DirecTV Audience Network, Wed. Oct. 8, 9 p.m.)


Filmed in Los Angeles by Endemol Studios.


Executive producers, Byron Balasco, Tim Iacofano; co-executive producer, Tom Garrigus; producers, Julie Herrin, Ryan Farley; director, Adam Davidson; writer, Balasco; camera, Sid Sidell; production designer, Maria Caso; music, Tyler Bates; casting, Kate Caldwell. 60 MIN.


Frank Grillo, Kiele Sanchez, Matt Lauria, Jonathan Tucker, Nick Jonas, Joanna Going

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  1. Dave sanders says:

    I bought into the show from the beginning. It seems real and similar to life situations. I think Jonathan Tucker is a scene stealer! I give it five stars in every way

  2. wolcott1943 says:

    As mentioned “Kingdom” is a ridiculous title…is he kingdom at the gym run by Grillo. Anyways, we keep watching as I really like Jay, the looney-instant ready to rumble character. I am tiring of the characters beating each other up with no end in sight. I must say though Mom is starting to pull her stuff together and may outperform them all. Compared to the old ways of classic boxing, I find kickboxing (or whatever this contact sport is called) to be plain ol’ street fighting with no holds barred. Sitting atop one’s opponent and smashing her or his face to pieces just turns my stomach.

  3. TD says:

    Getting ready to watch the last episode of season 1, glad I found this! And even better as The wife Loves it just as much, much more respect for Nick Jonas and Jonathan Tucker is a new favorite of mine, whole cast is amazing !!

  4. Jo McCulloch says:

    I’m yet to watch and am intrigued as it looks so strongly like FNL but with MMA. Including Matt Lauria, but I’ll do it… Hope it’s half as good!

  5. Jeff says:

    Who would have thought pretty boy, super clean heartthrob Nick Jonas could pull off such a strong performances. He is just one of the many of those cast that more than rises to the occasion. This is not a show for the faint at heart…it’s depressing, brutal and extremely violent at time. But as the old cliche’ goes …it’s like watching a train or car wreck and you just can’t stop your self!

  6. b. mosier says:

    WOW This program was very gritty and authentic and most important easy to believe, because of
    the skills of Johnathan Tucker. He is great along with the rest of the cast. Cannot wait……

  7. paulmocaby says:

    The first season was great. Glad to hear more episodes are coming.

  8. Tdog says:

    Love the show
    By the way music to

  9. Tdog says:

    Where can I get the music from the show

  10. gatz says:

    i’m here for the finale. this to me is a very different show. I know MMA has done realty but this one is more by a mile compelling. Straightforward and gritty, the fight scene with nick jonas was not the greatest fight scene but an unexpected one for a tv made story. I hoe nick can still fight coz i will be disappointing if he will be paralyzed for the next 9 eps. One of the more realized pilot. My list includes marry me, How to get away, forever and flash. ohh wait jane the virgin.

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