‘Tulsa King’ Review: Taylor Sheridan stars as Sylvester Stallone.

By | November 13, 2022

“Tulsa King,” the new Paramount+ drama created by Taylor Sheridan and Terence Winter, is entirely too conventional and too unsuited to be an epic series. And yet it is remarkable—and ironically so—for two reasons.

For one thing, “Tulsa King” continues the paradoxical development of writer-director Sheridan, one of the major television successes of the past decade. Once famous for his low-profile lead roles in “Sons of Anarchy,” Sheridan has branched out into a burgeoning small-screen empire with a handful of well-received neo-Western films. In addition to his flagship “Yellowstone” and his four spin-offs, Sheridan has built an ever-expanding slate of projects and a brand of storytelling apart from household names like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy.

Another amazing thing about “The King of Tulsa” is the star Sylvester Stallone, who made his TV series debut at the age of 76. There is nothing new about yesteryear’s box office hit actors reinventing themselves in the land of good and plenty on television. But Stallone, whose post-“Rocky” filmography has split between setting-heavy action franchises and failed attempts at playing soldiers of fortune like “Rambo,” is a different kind of actor. Until he won a Golden Globe for his supporting role in “Creed,” Stallone’s ability as a lead actor was hotly debated. He is no one’s favorite actor.

In “King of Tulsa” Stallone lived the role that was clearly conceived in his mind, and it makes all the difference. “The King of Tulsa” is a misfire, but when the show works, it does so thanks to Stallone’s charming, if characterful, performance. Stallone’s range is as compact as ever, but he’s guided by the precision of a boxed contortionist. “Tulsa King” isn’t a great show with him, but it would be a lot less fun without him.

Stallone stars as Dewitt “The General” Manfredi, a New York mobster who has been sentenced to 25 years in prison and is out of the organized crime game. After his release, Dwight awaits his return to his family at his favorite gentleman’s club and in a montage set by Ace Frihly’s “New York Groove.” Instead, he was left on Long Island for a tense meeting that proved just how much reorganization had been accomplished during his long absence.

Chickie (a thick-hatted Domenic Lombardozzi) tells Dwight that there is no room for him in the New York firm. The only option is to accept a new job: establishing a foothold in Oklahoma’s second-largest city. In Tulsa, he faces the dual challenge of defining a new business environment while adapting to the different world he left behind. Maybe there is a certain country for old people, and Dwight is determined to capture it.

The premise suggests an uphill battle for the aging rogue, applying his old-school ways to today’s nursery rhymes. But the pilot immediately destroys that ability by placing Dwight on a glide path. A quarter of a century of ups and downs hadn’t dulled Dwight’s criminal instincts one bit. Indeed, after only a few hours in the Sooner State, and still lugging his luggage, Dwight has already lined up a personal driver (Jay Will) and his first reluctant escort racket. He literally walks into a weed dispensary on a lark, and within minutes has his owner Bodhi (Martin Starr) under his thumb.

Predictably, Dwight’s second act won’t always be this smooth, but there isn’t much to suggest road jams ahead in the two episodes that have panned out to critics. The episodes are more interested in keeping viewers from turning on Dwight as a criminal anti-hero with a clear moral code. The pilot gives Dwight opportunities to face casual racism and become a bar patron to get close to women, with just enough virtue to let viewers know he’s a capo they can love without guilt.

There isn’t even a well-defined antagonist at the end of the two episodes. Certainly, there are hints that his pre-prison life is creeping in to make his new one difficult. And nothing good can come of his awkward relationship with Dwight’s romance with Stacy Belle (Andrea Savage), which becomes clear for literally two seconds to anyone who cares to think about it. But, at least in the first two episodes, Dwight’s only enemies are the rideshare apps, Tik Tok trends, and meme shares he’s unleashed in his absence.

True to Sheridan’s brand of conservative-skewing, Dwight whines about personal gender pronouns, though he has no reason to even know about such contemporary culture wars, much less have a dog in the fight. “What’s the deal with pronouns” sounds like something Stallone might say himself, even if the monologue means nothing to the character he’s playing. Which makes Stallone surprisingly in a scene he normally doesn’t see. Building the world around which “The King of Tulsa” revolves, Sheridan and Winters have created a character that Sly can’t help but get right.

“Tulsa King” premieres on November 13 On Paramount+ With new episodes released every week.

Category: tv

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