Tulsa King

2 out of 5z

Created by: Tyler Sheridan

covers season 1

Within his Paramount Plus kingdom, Taylor Sheridan has been able to leverage his Yellowstone popularity into not only a small world of connected shows – 1883, 1923 – but has also started building Shondaland-esque run of ‘created by’ or ‘produced by’ shows. With Tulsa King, he gets both of those tags, and has stepped even further back than the written-by Mayor of Kingstown: he cowrote the premiere, then stepped back and let other directors / writers take the reins. Not that that has to mean anything – I didn’t think of Kingstown (thoughts are still forming on Sheridan’s body of work in general), and obviously there are plenty of talented creators who can work on a show besides Sheridan – but there is something to the cast-off idea vibe, of Sheridan scribbling down some thoughts for a pilot and giving it to Paramount to figure out the rest, that persists in Tulsa King’s nine episode first season. Star Sylvester Stallone perhaps gives it some oomph, and even though he rather phones it in here, vacillating between mugging for the camera and trying to muster energy for generic, rah-rah speeches or old man rants, I’d bet that the show would be even less engaging without his screen presence; he, at the very least, physically adds something, and as an actor, he still has that kind of buried hostility of Rocky that keeps a baseline energy on screen.

That aside, this is very, very phoned in stuff: Dwight Manfredi (Stallone) is released from prison after doing a stint for the mob, and instead of getting his 25-year sentence reward, is shuffled out to pasture to set up shop somewhere far away from the city – to Tulsa. He knows he’s being shoved aside, but does his duty anyway and does it well, hiring up an assistant (Jay Will) and initimidating a weed shop owner (Martin Starr) into giving him a cut as first orders of business. Having a fling with an FBI agent (Andrea Savage) and running afoul of the local biker gang form the main plot threads, as Manfredi also reflects on how life has changed while he’s been away – yes, there’s a rant on pronouns – and tries to reunite with his daughter (Tatiana Zappardino).

Just as with my comment on Sheridan, the setup isn’t bad per se, but it’s all half-baked in execution, with the show trying to wander toward some exploration of manhood and its failures; of lives of violence; and then praising manhood and making light of its failures, and giving a pass to the violence as long as you win and etcetera. The subplots are introduced lazily and forgotten, requiring final episode mentions of each. Savage is exciting to see in a serious role but feels wasted; much like the majority of the plot, the writers can’t figure out if she’s good at her job or not, and so she – and most of the cops / FBI – come across as filler. The same could be said for all of Manfredi’s mob pals, spouting nonsense dialogue you can just apply an Italian accent to and mutter and call it a day.

As a comedy – abortive pronoun rant aside – the show can work. Seeing Manfredi force his way through modern society and a culture very much unlike the big cities with which he’s familiar makes for profanity-laced comfort food TV, and allows for more ignorance in terms of the ‘might makes right’ equation the writers realize is outdated but keep falling back on. As a drama, nothing in it makes much sense, or has much followthrough, and with three Expendables movies in the rearview being Sly’s swan song to action flicks, it feels uncomfortable watching him try to pony up for some running and gunning here; just let the man retire and make the old-man comedy that’s bopping around in Tulsa King.