Byron Balasco's Kingdom is proof that good things don't last forever.
Great television shows aren't merely a make believe exercise that entertains; a powerful show like Kingdom leaves a mark on a viewer that creates a craving for more. After the series premieres an episode, a soul will sit there and wonder what happens next. Great shows are the kind that make viewers demand an immediate binge of all episodes filmed, edited or otherwise.
The MMA drama will debut its third and final season on May 31 on AT&T Audience via Endemol Shine Studios, and that leaves a diehard entertainment journalist like myself in a sad if triumphant mood. When the news broke last month, fans and cast members took it hard, and that is because the product was so well done and created a need for more; a craving. Series star Frank Grillo was upset, and the viewers were right there with him. I reacted in a way that shows more of my Italian upbringing than my journalistic integrity, but when the dust settles, here's the cold hard fact: Season 3 is the end, but don't expect this show to go gently into the night.
Kingdom is going to knock you out in the same brutal fashion that it has done since October of 2014 when it first premiered on DirecTV as "that MMA show". Now, that show is one of the most critically acclaimed and adored series on network television.
How will writer/creator Balasco's ode to the ferocity of a fighter's life end? Here's a points that should be made this season.
Alvey Kulina Returns to The Ring One Last Time
From the very first minute Kingdom appeared on our television screens, we saw Grillo's Alvey shadow boxing as he ran around Venice Beach. He got into a fight with a pair of thugs, but those two unfortunate recipients of Alvey rage could have been his heart and soul wrestling inside a cage. Here is a guy who clearly hasn't said everything that needs to be inside the octagon. He's trained his sons Jay (Jonathan Tucker) and Nate (Nick Jonas), but he's only doing that to feed a desire to hit something one more time. There are still a few messages in the outbox of Alvey's fists, and this season, he returns to the cage to battle Matt Hughes in a Legends fight.
If you follow Grillo on Instagram or Facebook, you've seen the pictures of utter brutality during the fight with Hughes that make Game of Thrones dailies look like a visit to Mr. Rodgers' backyard barbecue. Alvey is returning to the ring for one reason: quench a thirst that hasn't been satisfied in years. Fighting is Alvey's true love, and that will never change no matter what happens with Lisa (Kiele Sanchez) or Christina (Joanna Going). Punching someone and getting punched by someone is Alvey's drug of choice until he dies, and Balasco wisely kept us waiting for his return.
If Alvey sounds just like Grillo, you aren't far off, because the two men are similar in makeup while being different in their finish. Alvey is the alpha male, and Grillo embodies that every single hour. Every actor is born to play a certain role, and it's my belief that Alvey is the role of a lifetime for the 51 year old actor. Grillo is at the top of his game on Kingdom because Kulina demands so much of him as an actor and fighter. Seeing what the aftermath of the Legends fight will do to him (other than supply him with medical bills for a while) psychologically and physically will be the real juice behind this final hurrah.
The Tao of Nate Kulina
At the end of Season 2B, Jonas' Nate came out to his brother Jay as Tucker's bruised fighter laid in a hospital bed. A witty banter that was light while being emotional followed, as Jay accepted his brother's sexuality. But that's not the real test. The real confrontation will be with Alvey, and how he handles the news. Furthermore, how will the label affect Nate in the ring? One of the underrated plot threads of Balasco's writing is slowly boiling this subplot until it must come up to the top of the pot. There are homosexual and lesbian fighters in professional sports, so the handling of this character has been top notch, but I don't think we've seen the best of Jonas' portrayal. That will come this season as Nate finds more freedom with who he is.
Ryan and Lisa
The end of Season 2 didn't just represent a triumph in the ring for the troubled Ryan Wheeler (Matt Lauria), but it also culminated in an embrace with Sanchez's Lisa, who was detached from Alvey. Ever since Ryan walked back into Navy Street Gym, a tension has followed every scene with Ryan and Lisa. Here are two people who love each other no matter what, and that includes prison and a new man in Lisa's life. It's like a couple magnets getting draw back towards each other no matter how dents and cracks their exterior shell take. Can these two find a way to be together or will the other elements of their lives keep them apart? I can't wait to see Lauria rage like few actors can.
Jay Kulina's Rejuvenation
Nobody took a harder shot at the end of the second season than Tucker's Navy Street Joker. After defeating Wheeler and finding the girl of his dreams-Lina Esco's Ava-Jay didn't know what do with himself. After working so hard to get to the top of the mountain, he tumbled down it by snorting, injecting, and drinking everything in sight and opened up old wounds from Ava's past. Balasco's greatest trick was making Ava's demise seem like a relevant shot to Jay's descent. She got hooked on drugs, was led into the murderer's apartment, and met her end. Jay took that into the ring and suffered a brutal beating at the hands of his best friend, Ryan.
How do you come back from that? What's the first step in healing from your girlfriend being murdered and your brutal defeat in the cage? Professionally and personally destroyed all at once. Jay's emotion drives his life more than anyone else on the show, so how does he reboot his systems? Or does he? Will Season 3 see a hard crash in the Kulina family? Tucker has always hinted at the disarray in Jay's relationship with Alvey, so that could formulate this summer.
Unlike her male co-stars, Joanna Going's matriarch of the Kulina family doesn't get to fight her battles in front of a live audience during a sanctioned bout. She is unable to throw a punch at her problems. A drug addict and former prostitute who knows Alvey all too well and is the rock of her son's existence, Christina narrowly survived a lethal overdose, and now must piece her life together. Wouldn't it be wild if her and Alvey reconnect? Two people who understand each other and supply each other's lives with the correct amount of dynamite. Christina has burned many bridges in her life, but now she could potentially make a comeback. Can he make it all work?
There are other threads hanging, like the fate of Natalie Martinez's Alicia? With Martinez joining another series, I doubt she comes back. May Jessica Szohr's Laura return to Jay's life to rescue him? Will Alvey survive his match with Hughes physically but be left in pieces mentally once he leaves the cage and has to contend with normal living again? Or will he die in the ring? What happens to the freckled redwood dartboard we call Mac?
Kingdom may be ending this summer, but it's saving the best punch for last. Ask any television show fan and they will tell you to burn out rather than fade away from your television set. Kingdom could stick around and create more magic, but the fact is the show is ending and these last ten episodes are all that remain.
Will every story line be wrapped up neatly with a Hallmark card type ribbon? No way, and that's fine. Kingdom isn't just a fighting show; the characters on this show feel as real as the person next to you, and that means the end of the show will some of them merely existing in that fictional world. A waiting room for a revisit down the line.
Confession: I'll howl at the moon on August 2 when the series finale premieres, but that will only happen because Balasco, Grillo, Tucker, Jonas, Lauria, Sanchez and company created something wildly electric in my mind. Something that won't soon shut off or need to depart.
If you haven't watched this series yet, you have two weeks to stream it on DirecTV or binge it on the Audience Network. The first season is available on DVD, with the second one arriving soon. If all else fails, come over to my house with steak, whiskey, and handwraps. This show is so good, you should ask the neighbor you hate if he has cable.
Kingdom is living proof that good-scratch that, great-things must come to an end. How does this show go out? Let me tease you a bit and say that Kingdom goes out with a clinched fist wrapped around a beating heart asking for one more fight.
You'll want more, but that's the point.
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