Stallone Rules All in Taylor Sheridan’s New Show
Dec 25, 2022
To say Taylor Sheridan has had a successful career on television is putting it lightly. After writing the Sicario films, receiving an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Hell or High Water, and directing the acclaimed thriller Wind River, Sheridan moved over to the small screen with Paramount Network’s smash hit Yellowstone, a series that has become one of the biggest shows on cable television. Since then, he’s created a handful of spin-offs for said show that have either premiered on Paramount+ or are about to, as well as built up an impressive slate of new and incoming series for the burgeoning streaming service. One of those is Tulsa King, which holds the distinction of marking the television debut of Rocky Balboa himself, Sylvester Stallone. Sheridan has teamed up with Terence Winter, who has an impressive resume himself, including The Sopranos and The Wolf of Wall Street, for one of the most highly anticipated new shows of the year (well, of the ones that don’t involve dragons, elves, Jedis, and superheroes).
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Tulsa King opens with New York mafia capo Dwight “The General” Manfredi (Stallone) being released from a 25-year stint in prison. The world has clearly changed around Manfredi, and he has trouble adjusting, especially when his mafia family claims that they have nothing left for him in New York and send him down south, to Tulsa, Oklahoma, claiming that it is ripe for the mob’s taking. Bewildered, Manfredi flies down to the city and attempts to make do with what he’s got. He quickly forms a bond with Tyson (Jay Will), a young cab driver who finds himself thrust into Manfredi’s sketchy world of crime. Manfredi also attempts to extort a local Marijuana dispensary run by the lovable slacker Bodhi (Martin Starr). Aside from building an organized crime presence in Tulsa, Manfredi also spends his nights going to a local cowboy bar, going to nightclubs, and trying to learn about everything he’s missed during the 25 years he was in the slammer, including trying to make amends with his estranged daughter.
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Image via Paramount+
If you’ve seen any of the marketing for Tulsa King, then you’ll know exactly what you’re getting from the new series. The show may not be the kind of prestige television that made Winter a star, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the most entertaining new series to come out this fall. The first two episodes have the perfect mix of grit and dark humor with Stallone in the forefront, giving a fully committed and weirdly delightful performance as Manfredi. There are more than a few scenes where we find this character either arguing with a talking traffic light, paying a hotel receptionist $100 to call an Uber, ranting about “kids these days,” and talking with a woman who claims that he looks like a “solid 55.” Similarly to what Clint Eastwood did in The Mule, Stallone’s character throws out comments left and right that would likely garner plenty of side-eyes in public, but the actor still has that kind of screen presence that makes us so drawn to him. His performance in Tulsa King may not have the same level of empathy that he brought to Rocky nor the gruffness of John Rambo, but he still brings enough Stallone-isms that longtime fans of his will be pleased. Manfredi is never portrayed as some humane being; he is in the Mafia after all, and Stallone’s performance expertly shows the toxicities of this character and how he’s mostly unaware of his broken nature.
The supporting cast around Stallone is perfect. Will and Starr in particular are definite scene-stealers as Tyson and Bodhi. As Tyson, Will brings a youthful energy to the series and his chemistry with Stallone is excellent. One scene, in particular, has Will’s character trying to explain to the mafia capo what “gangster” means now compared to what it meant 25 years ago, which perfectly captures the overall tone of the show. Starr, as expected, largely serves as the comedic relief, but as he has proven before, such as in the most recent Spider-Man films, he’s a natural at it. Andrea Savage also turns in a strong performance as Stacy Beale, a weary ATF agent who has an interesting connection to Manfredi. While Savage, like Starr, is more known for her work in comedies, she proves to be the perfect fit for Beale, especially as her ties to Manfredi put her in an uncomfortable situation.
Image via Paramount+
The first two episodes run at a brisk pace, clocking in a little over 40 minutes each, and waste no time jumping into the story. Even if the writing in the series can at times come across as a bit stiff and awkward, particularly when we see Manfredi interact with some of the locals, it never betrays the series’ identity. This isn’t trying to replicate Yellowstone or The Sopranos, and it largely works because of that. So often films and shows set in the mafia display their characters as uber-confident, ruthless characters with thick accents and a love for Italian food. The Sopranos and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman shined a light on the mob in a much different way, showing the costs of a life of crime and what’s going on inside the head of these mobsters. Tulsa King rides that line between the two. Stallone’s character isn’t one to express his feelings out loud, but as the series starts to dig deeper into Manfredi’s story, we see what breaks him. A lot of the first two episodes play out more like a fish-out-of-water tale rather than your typical mob show, a choice that will likely make the chaos that unfolds in the latter episodes all the more enjoyable.
Fans of Sheridan’s prior films and series as well as fans of Stallone will feel right at home with Tulsa King. It’s the kind of show that knows its audience and isn’t trying to woo over any naysayers. Some of it may come off as a little wooden, but much like its central character, the intrigue never fades. Sheridan is clearly keeping busy at Paramount+ with all of his new shows and Yellowstone spin-offs, and he hasn’t disappointed his fans yet.
Tulsa King premieres November 13 exclusively on Paramount+.
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