I generally cringe at the thought of sports themed television shows. My unhealthy relationship to sports as an athlete and fan make me hyper-critical of anything and everything sports, whether in real time or make believe. It’s the reason that I didn’t even start to binge watch Friday Night Lights until 8 months after the series finale aired.
With that said, it was understandable when my stomach churned seeing the preview and reading the premise of DirecTV’s new original show Kingdom Set mainly in a mixed martial arts gym in Long Beach it features Alvey: A former legend; Nate: Alvey’s son and an up and comer; Ryan: a fighter trying to find his way back in life after rehab; and Jay: Nate’s older, drug-addicted fuck up of a brother with loads of wasted talent. And one of them is Nick Jonas…as in a Jonas brother Jonas. What could go wrong?
Despite my trepidation, I saddled up for the premiere Wednesday night, hoping for a triumph while waiting for a train wreck. Surprisingly, episode one left me feeling more of the former. Assuming the show continues on this more than tolerable arc, you can expect to go three rounds with Kingdom (I hate myself so much right now) right here each week.
Round 1: To do it right, Kingdom couldn’t be in a position pretending to know mixed martial arts. Diehard fans of the sport are too fickle to tolerate it, and those that don’t know the sport need the familiarity of the mainstream to be able to connect to. Kingdom came out of the gates trying to establish industry cred. Joe Stevenson (UFC veteran and victim to one of my favorite B.J. Penn blood lickings of all time) …
… was hired as the show’s fight choreographer.
They also gave him an immediate role by making him the Jonas brother’s sparring partner in the very first training scene at Alvey’s (Frank Grillo) gym.
Also, it took exactly 9 minutes for the show’s first reference to the UFC. We also find out that Ryan (Matt Lauria! Friday Night Lights Represent!) made it to the UFC before getting drugged up and beating up his dad (more on that later). And when Ryan made it, he abandoned Alvey, and ran straight to the arms of one of the top trainers in the real life game, New Mexico’s Greg Jackson. Cub Swanson, a real-life top five fighter at 145 pounds right now, was Nate’s first opponent, in a fight officiated by the phenomenally bearded Mike Beltran.
Round 2: Apparently fighters do a lot of drugs. Or at least the ones on Kingdom do. Ryan spent four years in prison and is now living in a half-way house. Our first introduction to Jay (Jonathan Tucker) is his bare ass enjoying a lady friend from behind while Jay wears a head dress, using Nate’s bed. He’s clearly wasted, but can function at a high, high level despite whatever he has ingested. Once Nate’s home, though, Jay kicks everyone out, makes Nate food and tells him how much Nate’s next opponent is a “trembling, whimpering, monkey bitch.”
They win the early nod for relationship with the most potential.
Later Jay gets wasted and, while naked, opens fire with a handgun on a training dummy. A few scenes later he gets high and puts a gun in his mouth. He also pawns his computer in order to drive by his hooker mother (Alvey’s former wife and sure-fire future episode) to give her money while urging her to get some food for herself. He’s a lovable dumpster fire at this point.
It was driving me fucking crazy that they wouldn’t get to why Ryan was in jail, only alluding to the drugs, until late in the episode. In group, Ryan shares that he was off the rails and his family held an intervention. He tried to leave and his dad stepped in between him and the door. “You don’t do that to me.” And the details stopped there. He goes on to share he spent his first two years in prison trying to kill himself. He’s by far the most interesting character they have, if only because they set him up in one episode to rise from the ashes or burn the world, silently, to the ground.
Round 3: This show is going to be dark. Or at least darkish. It immediately has a Breaking Bad feel, where everything is going to go wrong eventually. The way episode one ends just confirms that feeling. NO SPOILERS.
With everything introduced, the show can’t be all roses. Knowing that is as good a reason as the many to hang on for next week.