Don’t Call It a Comeback! ‘Kingdom’ EP Resets the MMA Drama for Its Final Season


First off, if you’re not watching Kingdom, we’re in a fight. But we can’t fault you if you tried and couldn’t find it anywhere. Originally only available on DirecTV, the knockout MMA drama’s first two seasons are now streamable on Amazon Video, and they are totally worth the rental fee.

Gritty, perfectly executed, absorbing—and you won’t find a stronger cast outside of an ER—this tale of the deeply dysfunctional Kulina family and the Navy St. gym they orbit is heading into its third and final season with a time jump that positions the key players in some surprising spots and a set-up that’s sure to keep fans cheering from the front row straight through to what may be the show’s most epic battle (in and out of the ring) to date.

Here, executive producer and creator Byron Balasco addresses the cancelation of the top-notch drama and what he has planned for the Kulinas and company.

You didn’t know when you were writing and finishing Season 3 that this would be the end, right?
Byron Balasco:
No, I didn’t…we fully expected we would be going forward, yeah. But I like to end each season with this feeling that this chapter of our characters’ lives has closed anyway, so that the new season will be unexpected in terms of where we come in and what stories we’re going to tell.

Which is what you do masterfully in the season premiere. It really set me back on my heels when we find out how much time has passed.
Yeah, good, I’m glad. I felt like after the first 30 episodes, we had closed a movement, so I really wanted to, as you see, jump ahead, reset and drop in on these people down the line.

Matt Lauria as Ryan Wheeler in ‘Kingdom’

It’s not like they’re in startlingly different scenarios, but obviously time has passed, and things have changed. One of the biggest things is Ryan (Matt Lauria) developing a level of spirituality, which I feel like he’s always struggled with.
Right! I think with Ryan, a lot of this season, we start getting a glimpse of the guy that we’d only heard about before this series started: The guy that was successful, the guy that hurt a lot of people around him, the guy that hurt his father. I think a lot of Ryan’s story, in particular with the religion stuff, it’s that his life and family’s been completely shattered and broken apart. I think this notion of religion is something that he remembers from his childhood and is like a shard of his family that he can grab onto. He’s trying to cling to it so that he doesn’t disappear into isolation and become the guy he was before we met him.

And then with Jay (Jonathan Tucker), we find out in the first episode that it’s been a year since he stepped into the ring, and now he’s selling houses, has a kid and maybe even a wife?
It’s his girlfriend and their child; they’re trying to make it work. There’s genuine love, but this child happened unexpectedly and fast. It’s a classic thing of two good people who care about each other but didn’t really get a chance to really know the person before they were thrust in the situation.

And leave it to dramatic Jay to find himself an actress.
Right, exactly. [Laughs]

What can you tell us about where he’s headed, because I can’t imagine he’s going to be working in real estate for long…he’s terrible at it!
[Laughs] Yeah, he’s really fighting his true nature, and I think a lot of it is the rejection of how he was raised—or how he perceived that he was raised—by Alvey (Frank Grillo). I think he’s doing everything he can not to become Alvey. That starts with rejecting fighting, rejecting that life, and trying to forge a life that he believes is acceptable and stable, even though he is completely fighting his true nature. The cracks are showing, and it’s quite frankly something he’s not going to be able to maintain.

Jonathan Tucker as Jay Kulina in ‘Kingdom”

Speaking of Alvey, you set up in the premiere that he may actually step back into the ring. But I’m worried if that’s what’s going on with him. He’s not well.
Well, Alvey is inching towards [a possible] fight and getting back into that mode. When we meet him, he’s doing well, business-wise, but there’s no Lisa (Kiele Sanchez), there’s no connection. He’s left to his own devices, and he’s in a hole and drinking…

He’s a mess.
Yeah, he’s a mess. He’s empty. It’s always that thing of you’re chasing a high or you’re chasing a goal or you’re chasing an accomplishment to distract yourself and keep you safe from yourself. Then you get it, and then you’re just back left with yourself again.

He’s so checked out that he still hasn’t caught on that his youngest son, Nate (Nick Jonas), is dating a British man!
That’s right.

Where are you taking Nate in this whole relationship, because now it seems like a year later, he’s finally comfortable in his skin.
He is. That’s the thing, he is comfortable in himself. He’s allowing himself to live this truth of who he is, but he keeps pushing back the ultimate thing, which is having to tell Alvey. It’s going to come out, because eventually, if you’re really going to live, you can’t live in the shadows like that. So as much as he’s enjoying himself, and in love and feeling accepted, I think the fact that Jay knows and accepts it is almost a little salve, a little hit of methadone, to get him through. But the real truth is still lingering down the road waiting.

Nick Jonas as Nate Kulina in ‘Kingdom’

I love the idea that with his new comfortability in this new relationship, you actually get to write more for Nick Jonas to actually say. Nate has been so withdrawn and so introverted for so long. It seems like he’s finally speaking and being heard.
Yeah, he’s able to assert himself. Again, when you’re hiding, the whole goal is to not be heard or seen. I think now he’s able to not only speak for himself, but also speak up in terms of his place in the family and where he fits in. He’s really the only one right now who’s got their s**t together, really. You know what I mean?

Kingdom Season 3, Wednesdays 8/7c beginning May 31 on AT&T’s Audience Network, which is available on AT&T U-verse and DirecTV. The series can also be seen on the DirecTV NOW streaming service.