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Photo: Brian Douglas/Paramount+

Television

‘Tulsa King’ season 1 first impressions: A mafia big fish in a small pond

Sylvester Stallone makes his scripted television debut in Tulsa King.

Sylvester Stallone has had a lengthy career in Hollywood, but other than guest roles, he’s never been a featured regular of a scripted series on television. That’s why the upcoming Tulsa King is sparking up buzz since it will serve as his debut.  

Stallone plays Dwight Manfredi, a New York mafia capo who spent the last 25 years locked up in service to the family. Upon his return he doesn’t receive the grand welcoming he expected and is sent to Oklahoma to establish operations. It’s a typical big fish in a small pond but the man they call “The General” is willing to make it work.

Tulsa King is driven by Stallone’s star power. He has a commanding presence that draws you in with his super cool vibes. There’s a magnetism about Manfredi that he can instantly get along with anyone. Maybe it helps to always have a huge wad of cash with you. He manages a balance of amiability and intimidation, which is perfect for the business he’s in. But beneath the tough exterior is a tortured soul trying to transition back into this modern world and come to terms with the lost time.

'Tulsa King' season 1 first impressions: A mafia big fish in a small pond
Photo: Brian Douglas/Paramount+

The series also sports a strong cast with Martin Starr as Bodhi, a marijuana dispensary owner, Jay Will as Tyson, Manfredi’s driver, and Garrett Hedlund as Mitch, who runs the local bar. They all add even more character to show that is filled to the brim with its star. Their youth and interactions inject a freshness to Stallone’s familiar role and the actor feeds off of their energy. Starr and Will in particular bring out a comedic side that’s more different than the machismo action guy one liners we’ve grown accustomed from him. Dwight’s new crew is definitely not your usual Italian mafia gang.

Early on, Tulsa King develops some interesting threads to explore as the series progresses. He has a love interest where things get complicated very quickly. There is a mysterious guy lurking from Manfredi’s past whose intentions are still unknown. In addition, they begin playing with the themes of fatherhood exploring Dwight’s issues with his own and how his incarceration left him absent in his daughter’s life.

From a narrative standpoint, the show does go to the “how much society has changed” well one too many times where Manfredi can come off as an old man waving at clouds. Furthermore, there’s inconsistencies that occur where he marvels at the power of a smartphone but for some reason is an expert and state and federal laws with regards to the legalization of marijuana. We get that he’s like Rip Van Winkle waking up in a new era, but he can’t be knowledgeable about one subject and clueless about the other when both occurred during his time in prison.

Tulsa King benefits from the charisma of its lead, while the supporting cast inject enough freshness to Stallone’s familiar character and tropes.

The series premiere of Tulsa King airs Sunday, November 13, on Paramount+.

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