First Watch: Kingdom: “Set Yourself on Fire” (Season 1, Episode 1)

On April 9th, 2005, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (and mixed martial arts in general) forced its way into the mainstream with the fight seen around the world. Since then, the UFC has expanded their coverage significantly, boasting almost 50 events this year with many of them taking place in countries the promotion had never been to before. While I am hardly surprised by the films that arose alongside the upswing in MMA popularity like Never Back Down or Here Comes the Boom (and even less surprised by how bad both of those films are), I find it a bit odd that it would take almost ten years from that tremendous moment for a (non-reality) television show about MMA to premiere.

With the arrival of Kingdom (no, not the one with Stephen Fry), that day has finally come—for some. The series is only available on DirecTV’s “Audience Network” … which really hinders the potential audience for the show. If you don’t have access to DirecTV, you can probably get your hands on the episodes when it makes its inevitable iTunes or DVD release later on down the road.

I picked up this series, regardless of how few of you will actually get a chance to watch it, because—besides here at my computer—I’ve probably spent more time on the mats of my old jiu-jitsu school than anywhere else in my life. There was no way that I was going to pass up a series based around mixed martial arts, even if it was most likely going to be like the pure cheese that was Never Back Down and Never Back Down 2 (Thanks to Cody for letting me know they made a sequel).

Fortunately, my worries were unnecessary this time around.

What allows Kingdom to succeed where others have failed is the focus on realism rather than going for the over-the-top, action-packed fights that have plagued martial arts films for ages. There is no underground fight league filled with baddies ready to battle to the death in Kingdom—just a family of martial artists struggling to get by while they attempt to follow their dreams. It is realistic, it is relatable, and it is damn good.

Kingdom’s brilliance comes from the family dynamic between Alvey Kulina (Frank Grillo) and his two sons, Jay (Jonathan Tucker) and Nate (Nick Jonas). Ol’ King Alvey bleeds mixed martial arts—there is no doubt about that. Alvey is entrenched in the martial arts lifestyle. He eats healthy, he exercises constantly and he runs his gym all day. He is living his dream. Alvey’s paradise is far from peachy, though.

His eldest, Jay, is a junkie ex-fighter who seems like he was driven out of sport and home by his father’s hypocrisy. His second son, on the other hand, is an unproven prospect who seems to be a vessel for his father to live vicariously through, but he also has to succeed where Jay failed—that’s a lot of pressure for one kid. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to find out that Nate never had any interest in fighting.

And that is where I think Kingdom will gain most of its fans. Not from the cameos from big named fighters like Cub Swanson or Joe “Daddy” Stevenson, or even from the best beard in the business, Mike Beltran. I think Kingdom will sink or swim solely on the drama in the Kulina clan. Everyone can relate (or at the very least, empathize) with being forced into doing something because it was family tradition or something someone else really wanted you to do. Especially sports.

If nothing else, Kingdom (and The Flash) provided a much needed respite from the pilots this Fall which have come in mostly in the passable to insultingly bad range. I look forward to seeing how the series unfolds over the next few weeks and that is a great feeling to have after a drought of good television.

  • Rating: Almost worth having a DirecTV subscription/10.
  • Comment: Kingdom approaches the oft-wronged (by film, anyways) mixed martial arts community in a way that does not make sacrifices to cater to those unfamiliar with the sport while still providing a captivating hour for everyone willing to give it a shot.
  • You might like Kingdom if you like: mixed martial arts, sports, family drama, Never Back Down (but wish it was good).

Kingdom airs on the Audience Network at 9pm on Wednesdays.

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About Daniel

I'm a guy who spends way too much time playing board games and watching television with his friends. View all posts by Daniel

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