Mixed martial arts aka MMA is one of the fastest growing sports in America, and despite having come about thanks to the Ultimate Fighting Championship back in the 90s, it’s had relatively little fictional attention, bar Never Back Down, which is notable only for featuring both Amber Heard and the entire script for the Karate Kid but with karate crossed out and MMA written in instead.
Now we have Kingdom from the DirecTV-exclusive but generally unknown Audience Network, which despite only being two episodes in has already been renewed for two seasons, so clearly is doing something right. I’m not sure what though.
It stars Frank Grillo (best known now for Captain America 2, but previously the only normal person in monsterville in The Gates) as the owner of a Venice beach gym and a pro MMA fighter. He’s moderately pleased when former partner Matt Lauria gets out of jail and comes to train again and tries to help Grillo’s son and heroin addict Jonathan Tucker (The Black Donnellys) – only moderately, because Grillo’s now going out with Lauria’s ex-girlfriend Kiele Sanchez (The Glades). Cue much manly tension and bro-talks.
The best that can be said about Kingdom is that it’s competently made and not as meat-headed as you might think. Most of the show is about MMA training, with the now-compulsory monster truck tyres and sweat suit scenes, but the few proper MMA fights are pretty well handled. Being a jiu jitsu person at heart, they all seem a bit limited and silly to me but YMMV. The dialogue is bland and I doubt a single line registered as being interesting or insightful the entire time, with most being nondescript or occasionally offensive. Appropriate for the kinds of guy involved? Possibly. But this isn’t a realistic show so that’s not really an argument that passes muster. Either way, it’s certainly no Rocky, but it’s nowhere near as toxic as Never Back Down’s dialogue.
But against even those minor positives, I have to say it has a lot of flaws, including a whole set of characters whose appeal for most people is going to be extremely limited, as well as a massive woman-problem, with women only there as girlfriends, sex objects and plot motivators/characterisation tools for the men, rather than because the producers seem to think they have any intrinsic worth. I think I did manage to spot a couple of women in the gym who weren’t there serving a purely decorative function, but they didn’t get any lines, so I’m not sure they count – and they were largely offset by the naked, equally dialogue-less women elsewhere.
The ending (no spoilers) showed the programme’s other big problem: how it deals with the few blacks and Latinos it has. Despite the Los Angeles setting, there are no black characters in the cast and the only Latinos I spotted were women-abusing, murderous criminals. Lovely.
Oh well. Maybe someone else can come up with a decent MMA series instead. Because this isn’t it.