KINGDOM: Frank Grillo’s Hard-R, MMA-themed FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

With an MMA drama you had my curiosity, KINGDOM. With Frank Grillo you got my attention.

I’m always down for a little Frank Grillo. A tested character actor who is gaining momentum as a leading man, Grillo has the 1970s rugged tough guy image down to a science, and he backs it up with acting chops to spare. Beginning in bit parts on TV shows and slowly gaining ground as a standout ensemble player, Grillo has headlined the last two Purge films (both superior to the original), stolen the show from Liam Neeson in The Grey, and even done the supervillain thing in the last two Captain America films. Here in Kingdom, he headlines a strong ensemble cast made up largely of actors you’ve seen before, but maybe aren’t major marquee names. Well, except for that one MAJOR marquee name, but we’ll get there momentarily. Grillo’s Alvey Kulino is a former pro-fighter who owns an MMA gym in partnership with his much younger paramour Lisa (Kiele Sanchez, Lost). His sons are both training in his gym, and former champion and recent parolee (not to mention Lisa’s former fiance) Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria, Friday Night Lights) has also appeared back in Alvey’s life. These five make up the core characters of Kingdom.

Alvey’s sons? Well, one is the out of control addict Jay (Jonathan Tucker, Justified). The youngest is Nate, the laser focused and perpetually pent up fighter who seems to have his act together at least when compared to Jay. Nate is played by none other than Disney superstar and pop idol Nick Jonas. And you know what? He’s pretty ferocious here. It’s as though Jonas’ agents were tasked with finding him a role that could distance him as far as humanly possible from his matinee idol image… and they’ve succeeded. Kingdom is a punishingly brutal show which would fall into the “hard R” world of ratings if it were a film. Absolutely saturated with foul language, bro behavior, drug use, and sexually explicit material, this show pulls zero punches.

Originally a television show produced for broadcast on AT&T’s Audience Network (a network I’ve genuinely never even heard of, much less viewed) and DirecTV, Kingdom probably doesn’t have the world’s broadest audience. As companies compete with one another and attempt to create exclusive content that demands attention, I’m not sure that Kingdom is getting the audience it deserves, but I will say after Season 1 I’m totally in its corner.

Playing out like a wonderfully paced alpha-bro soap opera, Kingdom features killer fights, dimensional characters, and a never ceasing milieu of issues facing our core characters. There’s very little to complain about if any or most of what I’ve just described to you sounds at all like a show you’d want to watch. It’s heavy on chiseled sweaty dudes. But while Sanchez is the only lead female of the bunch, there are other complex female figures that show up and Sanchez’s Lisa is a whip-smart business woman with plenty of agency to go around.

I’m grateful to have gotten the chance to watch and review Season 1 of Kingdom via Shout! Factory’s DVD release of the first two seasons of the show. My sense is that this release will open the audience up to a much wider base beyond DirecTV subscribers. And I hope that is the case. I chose to go ahead and crank out a review before I delved into the (slightly longer) Season 2, because life is packed I’m totally sold on the show enough for a hearty recommend. But both seasons are right here in this set, and that’s a pretty killer deal. I eagerly await binging Season 2 in the same way I did 1, and the word on the street is that the soap opera theatrics are dialed up to 11, a prospect I relish eagerly.

Season 1 of Kingdom is a very cohesive whole. The character drama is as rich as the MMA fights, but the fights punctuate the season in a thrilling way. We’re invested in our fighters and their coaches and managers in a way that makes the fight sequences major events. If well-beyond-excessive cursing or explicit sexuality turn you off from a show, then Kingdom most definitely isn’t for you. But if you always loved Friday Night Lights and felt it was just a little too wholesome, then Grillo’s Alvey Kulina is your potty-mouthed, face-punching, off-the-handle Coach Taylor for a new generation.

The Package

As mentioned, I only reviewed Season 1 above, but this set contains two seasons of television comprising 30 episodes across 9 discs. Would it have been awesome for this show to have been released on Blu-ray? Absolutely. Because the camera work and visuals of the show are pretty strong. But in all honesty, the DVDs look great. And I love the idea of this well-produced show potentially finding a much broader audience, even if that requires a fairly “no frills” home video release. There’s a lot of TV to take in here, so while I’m personally okay with just enjoying the show, there really could have been some bonus features to appease hardcore fans.

And I’m Out.

Kingdom Seasons 1 & 2 are available June 6th, 2017 on DVD from Shout! Factory

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