Kingdom is arguably the best piece of entertainment that happens to be about MMA, even though there are many other layers to it that are just as enjoyable and watchable.
As a huge fan of MMA for many years, I’ve known about Kingdom for quite some time now. Unfortunately, I never got around to watching it partly because it was exclusively on DirecTV. However, with Netflix adding it to its catalogue, I spent the last few days watching and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
As mentioned, MMA is probably my favorite sport and I haven’t missed a UFC event since UFC 100 in 2009. So, anything form of entertainment (movies, TV series, or video games) that includes MMA, I’m immediately intrigued by. For example, the Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton led MMA drama, Warrior, is one of my favorite films of all time. But, as a movie buff, I enjoy all types of films, and Warrior is very spread out throughout a variety of genres, especially the family drama category, which is why I love it so much more.
I think I can say the same about Kingdom. Even though, at its core, it’s all about MMA, at the same time, it’s all about a father, his two sons, and a number of different stories being told by them and many other characters close to them as well. It does a fantastic job at blending all of these themes together to craft a deeply immersive and engaging story.
From the start, you’re introduced to a few characters who are vital to the show’s plot going forward, including Alvey Kulina (Frank Grillo), who’s the main character. He’s a legendary fighter who runs a gym in Venice Beach called Navy St. Along with him, there’s Lisa Prince (Kiele Sanchez), who’s both his girlfriend and his business partner, there are his two sons, Jay (Jonathan Tucker) and Nate (Nick Jonas) Kulina, and Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria).
All of their stories sort of intertwine in more ways than one because of their past and it also sets up future plot details as the series moves forward. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of everything plot point throughout the series since I feel some of it can be considered filler and sometimes unnecessary. But, at the same time, it also feels a bit appropriate for the specific characters based on the story being told, so I can’t complain or disagree all that much either. It could’ve been a bit smoother though in how it was conveyed. Then again, it’s a pretty chaotic show in various ways, so it isn’t surprising to see it play out the way it does.
There are other characters you’ll gravitate towards other than the main ones, especially Paul Walter Hauser’s Keith, who provides a ton of comedic relief because of how awkward and different he is as a person. The Kulina boy’s biological mother, Christina (Joanna Going), is also an interesting and complex character.
My favorite character, by far, is Jay. He’s a troubled man because of his upbringing and how he was raised. As a viewer, you’re quick to write him off as well, considering how reckless and careless he can be. If you give it time though, you’ll quickly see he’s, without a doubt, the most well-developed character on the show. He does have a heart despite what he initially does in his introduction. Another well developed character is Nate and I have to say, I was very surprised by the performance turned in by Nick Jonas. You can see how he struggles with his identity throughout the series and it definitely takes a toll on him. I won’t discuss this since I feel it’s a pivotal plot point.
The relationship between the two brothers is, easily, the best dynamic the show offers. They obviously come from a very dysfunctional family, but their bond never seems to break because of their love for one another.
Alvey is a unique and complex character as well. It’s pretty apparent he has a lot of demons he’s constantly battling due to his troubled past. I’m assuming his long and brutal fighting career has a lot to do with it as well, but you can tell he’s also a man who comes to terms with his mistakes, especially as a husband and a father, and tries to make the best of his current situation. I also believe he realizes his son’s and his estranged wife are the way there, at least in some ways, because of him.
I believe Lisa is one of the most important characters on the show. In a way, she’s one who keeps everyone together, despite all the craziness she has to deal with, both on the business side and personal side of things. Things really get tricky when Ryan comes back into the picture because of their past together. It’s another interesting story dynamic I won’t dig too much into this either since I believe it needs to be experienced as well.
Speaking of Ryan, considering his past and all mistakes he has made, you can see the strides he makes as a person, even though he has many moments of weakness. But, don’t we all?
I find it impressive how I’ve spent the majority of this review discussing how deep and important these characters are, but the show is also centered around MMA. I just give credit to the how well-done the MMA fights are done Kingdom. Kudos to Frank Grillo because his influence in the fight world helped bring this world to life by bringing professionals such as Greg Jackson, Joe “Daddy” Stevenson, and Juan Archuleta to teach all the actors the right moves to make it look as authentic as possible. As a fight fan, it was great to see other fighters make some cameos, including Cub Swanson, Diego Sanchez, and Matt Hughes.
There are some unnecessary stories told that I didn’t really care about and it made it feel like filler. But, at its core, Kingdom is an MMA/family drama which manages to blend both together in a very impressive way. I was invested throughout all 40 episodes and I’m eager to watch more. Unfortunately, there are only three seasons and I’m not sure whether or not Netflix has any plans to renew it for a fourth season. But, I hope many people watch this criminally underrated series so that the streaming service can, at the very least, consider making more episodes. I’m sure everyone involved would be more than happy to return and portray these characters again.