Calling Audience Network's Kingdom a breath of fresh air isn't fitting because the air is sweat-filled, but it is exactly what we've been looking for. You won't find undead of any type, it's not a procedural, and the only medical professional is Mac, the gym's registered nurse who practices questionable ethics. Kingdom is a fighting drama about family starring Frank Grillo. Season 2B, also known as the third chapter in the Kulina family's gritty life, airs June 1st.
A Fighting Drama Becomes a Family Drama
Frank Grillo of Marvel and The Purge fame is back as Alvey "The King" Kulina, a retired championship MMA fighter. During the first half of season 2, we watched as Alvey self-destructed to such a degree that his pregnant girlfriend, Lisa, while in her 3rd trimester, left him and moved away. She told him she would reassess and decide what to do about the baby closer to her due date. He was furious but never fully able to see how he had done wrong in any given situation.
During the filming hiatus, Kiele Sanchez, who was pregnant in real life, lost her baby in utero at eight months. The tragedy could have left an uncomfortable hole in the story line if not handled properly. Balasco called Sanchez and asked what she would like to do with the story line. When I spoke to Frank about the situation, he said that something devastating will happen with Alvey, Lisa, and the baby and will become a big part of the journey for the next 10 episodes.
Grillo told me he believes this to be the best season so far. "This is the good thing about Byron Balasco. He doesn't start us out exactly where we left off. Some time has passed." He goes on to explain, "This season's going to be about the family", he says, "not as much about the fighting."
Jay Gets His Act Together
In previous seasons, Jay Kulina was a loose cannon who couldn't be trusted to show up for fights. However, this season when Lisa offers to be his manager, things change. With her support, he begins to rebuild his life and career. I asked Jonathan Tucker about the upcoming situation with Lisa, how she left him behind, and how they'll be moving forward. He said "Lisa holds a unique place in Jay's world. She is both my father's lover and my greatest advocate. As an older sister or an aunt, there is no more transparent relationship than that of Jay and Lisa, but that does not mean that we'll see eye to eye this season."
Nick Jonas' character, Nate, is also an MMA fighter who is trained and managed by his father. Recently, Alvey has realized that Nate may not have what it takes to carry on the family name. Nate has so much heart, and he doesn't want to hurt anyone, which is a problem in MMA fighting. Nate also harbors a secret he fears will end his career and possibly cost him his family. Nate is gay, and his secret will come out this season. Nate is closest with his brother, and Tucker assured me that Jay's feelings for Nate won't change, saying, "If Jay is anything at any time under any circumstance, he is loyal to those he loves. Jay lives to be his brother's best friend, and there ain't nothing that can change that."
Ryan's Struggle Doesn't Get Easier
I haven't stopped thinking about Matt Lauria's character, Ryan Wheeler's, heartbreaking final scene in the mid-season finale. Mercy killing his father who he had physically crippled and made a quadriplegic in a fit of rage years prior would have to damage him even further. Ryan has already been just getting by emotionally. Living in the group home for those on parole is a constant upset as well. As he is preparing for his big fight with Jay Kulina, it will be interesting to see what Lauria and Balasco will create with this new layer of guilt.
Christina Desperately Tries to Hold on to Herself
Finally, as a mom I care so much for Christina Kulina, Jay and Nate's mother and Alvey's ex. She came to us as a drug addicted hooker, both strong and broken. Jay tracked her down and brought her home, made it his mission to clean her up, and remind her of the importance of family. She finds a job and starts to pull herself together.
Just as things started looking up for her, Christina's world began to fray around the edges. At the end of last season she overdosed and Jay saved her. That made a big impact on her, but it made a bigger impact on her son Nate. In our interview, Joanna said, "Nate lays down the law. He is the most intimidating for Christina. She is in awe of him. He was the baby, and now he is a grown man, and she wasn't there for that formation. So this season she tries to take another route to sobriety and do the right thing with these limited resources she has. She does not have a lot of money. She doesn't have insurance. But what Nate said hit her and she wants to do the right thing."
However, for an addict and a narcissist, wanting to do the right thing and overcoming the urges to do the wrong thing won't be easy. I'm eager to see the rise and fall of Christina this season because actress Joanna Going's portrayal of a woman torn between addiction and reuniting with her family is heart breaking. She brings something new to every scene.
I asked her what the relationship with Jay is going to look like after the overdose. "Last season we saw Jay pull away from his focus on Christina and have his own life. Becoming involved with a woman. Going through this. The weight cut for his fight, which made him insane. The more he has his own interests, the more she is starving for his attention. That's her whole point of coming back to this house. If he isn't going to be there, and Nate doesn't really fulfill her need the way Jay does by keeping her on the straight and narrow, she goes looking for other attention, and we will see her do that. We will see her and Jay come into a little strife. She finally sees the consequences of her life choices and leaving her children."
The Punches are Still There, Just not with Fists
The world of Kingdom is gritty and grimy. As we root for the character's victories, we know to expect to be met with a defeat that will cut us off at the knees. Things don't just work out for the Kulinas, no matter how hard they fight for it, but that's what makes the show worth watching. Kingdom is a fighting drama about family, and Frank Grillo, Jonathan Tucker, Joanna Going, and the rest of the cast commit themselves to their characters, bringing us a story different from those told night in and night out. Season 2b of Kingdom airs on June 1st on Audience Network exclusively through Directv and AT&T Uverse.
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