You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: DirecTV’s ‘Kingdom’

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

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.)

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Endemol Studios.

Crew: 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.

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

More TV

  • Syfy Cancels 'Nightflyers' After One Season

    Syfy Cancels 'Nightflyers' After One Season

    The George R.R. Martin drama “Nightflyers” has been canceled by Syfy after only one season. Based on the novella from the mastermind behind “Game of Thrones,” the show was seen as a big gamble for the NBCUniversal-owned cable network, as it represented the most expensive series it had ever developed. The network attempted to spark [...]

  • Batwoman Arrow

    The CW's 'Batwoman' Pilot Switches Directors, Adds Dougray Scott

    The CW has added veteran Scottish actor Dougray Scott to its “Batwoman” pilot as well as swapped in Marcos Siega for previous director David Nutter, Variety has learned. The pilot, which stars Ruby Rose as the eponymous caped heroine, is being helmed by DC TV head Greg Berlanti, and was penned by “Vampire Diaries” alum [...]

  • OG Review

    Review: 'O.G.' on HBO

    Jeffrey Wright, the most compelling reason to watch HBO’s new film “O.G.,” is among television’s best actors at switching between codes or manners of being. On “Westworld,” his timeline-toggling android swaps personae so delicately that his performance gains in resonance when recalled in retrospect. (Perhaps that’s why Wright has been so oddly underrated through the [...]

  • Nahnatchka Khan Writers Room

    Nahnatchka Khan Exits 20th Century Fox TV for Overall Deal at Universal

    Nahnatchka Khan has signed a four-year overall deal at Universal Television. The deal brings an end to the decade-plus Khan and her Fierce Baby Productions banner spent at 20th Century Fox Television. The move will see Khan exit from her role as showrunner on ABC comedy “Fresh Off the Boat,” which she also created. The [...]

  • David Ajala

    'Nightflyers' Star David Ajala Joins CBS Drama Pilot 'Under the Bridge'

    David Ajala has been cast in a lead role in the CBS drama pilot “Under the Bridge,” Variety has learned. In the project, when a scandal rocks the medical practice she runs with her husband and their friends, a surgeon rises to the occasion and takes the lead in trying to mend both the practice and [...]

  • A Man Walks Into the Cnn

    CNN Puts Former Sessions Aide in Newsroom Role

    Sarah Isgur Flores, a press aide to former US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has been hired to help coordinate political coverage for CNN, a move that generated some pushback on social media Tuesday. Politico previously reported the CNN hire. Flores in the past has criticized CNN coverage, even going so far as to refer to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content