It hasn’t been the easiest of rides for Audience Network television drama Kingdom. As a part of the Direct TV/AT&T spawned network, the show has hardly gotten the attention that it deserves. Centered around the Kulina family and their patriarch, Alvey Kulina (Frank Grillo), Kingdom is all about the world of MMA fighting and the people who inhabit that world. Grillo, undoubtedly known best in his role as Brock Rumlow of Marvel/Captain America mythos, plays a jaded, washed-up retired fighter who trains both his sons in fighting along with an ex-con named Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria).
His sons, Jay (Jonathan Tucker) and Nate (Nick Jonas), are as different as night and day. Jay is a hot-headed, addictive personality who wears his heart on his sleeve and has been designated black sheep of the family. Nate is kind and quiet, distant to some, sensitive to others. He’s a closeted homosexual, with a love life as tumultuous as the rest of his family. Alvey’s manager and business associate is also his baby mama and ex-girlfriend, Lisa Prince (Kiele Sanchez). She’s Ryan’s ex-fiancée, which just ends up twisting this family up, even more, when Wheeler is released from prison and comes back to training at Alvey’s gym, Navy St. At the same time, Alvey’s ex Christina (Joanna Going), a junkie and sex worker, turns up after being dragged out from rock bottom by Jay and enters back into their lives for some added chaos.
The show would do great on a different network, with a story that displays grit, strength in storytelling, creativity, and one of the most talented casts on television. But while the future of Kingdom is still uncertain, with the season shot and completed, we caught creator Byron Balasco and cast members Jonathan Tucker, Kiele Sanchez, and Joanna Going at their Vulture Festival panel promoting this final season. On top of that, we also got a screening of the premiere of this season, which will be airing tonight on the Audience Network.
In the episode, we see some of our characters back to where you’d expect them to be, while others are in a surprising new place. Missing from the episode was Going’s Christina, who Going hinted at having gotten her act together more. Going said, “One of the problems of Christina’s life is that she needs something to do.” And it looks like she might have found something to keep her busy. An amount of time has passed, and notably, Jay has some major changes in his life.
Tucker mentioned that he had to reconcile two different worlds for Jay in this new season and that he will be in a completely unfamiliar environment. “Jay is trying not to be Jay. He’s suppressing his Jay-ness, because he thinks that’s what he needs to survive,” Balasco commented.
And while everyone seems to be in a better place in the season premiere, Jay is in good company with Alvey, who is also struggling from the first second we see him. He’s not only drinking again, but he’s going at it hard.
For Kiele Sanchez’s Lisa, it seems like she’s on more solid footing. Having walked her own rocky path, it’s comforting to see Lisa back in a place of stability. When asked about her strong character, Sanchez replied, “For these characters, it’s not about gender-specific. I don’t play her as a strong woman, Byron Balasco writes strong characters.”
Despite his difficult relationships with his mother and father, Jay has always had a solid relationship with Nate and with Lisa. For some fans, it seems like Jay and Lisa are one of the strongest ships that have yet to happen. Tucker could only smile and respond that, “I [Jay] can be fully myself with her. It’s a very unique relationship.”
For some, the stories of Kingdom might sound familiar. For fans of fighting and MMA, a large demographic of the audience, they are curious about the source of the plotlines and fight beefs between the characters on the show. And while any similarities are just coincidences, Balasco did say that the narrative is meant to humanize the fighters in the world not to compare them to real-life competitors.
Kingdom is definitely one of my favorite shows, one that I discovered quite randomly (I’ll admit it, on Tumblr) and embraced almost immediately. With Tucker potentially taking on a larger role in American Gods season 2, is it possible that Kingdom will continue even if the show is picked up by another network? I would hope so. For now, fans will have to be satisfied with the final season ahead. While we won’t get any firm, neatly tied up endings, according to Balasco, it doesn’t seem like we’ll be left wanting.
The final season of Kingdom premieres tonight, May 31st, on Audience Network.