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Mafia capo Dwight Manifredi (Sylvester Stallone) has just been released from prison after completing a 25-year sentence. Expecting he’ll be welcomed home by his mob brethren with a party and a return to his former status in the New York crime family, Dwight is instead informed by the new leadership that he’s being exiled to Tulsa, Oklahoma to set up a new outpost of the crime enterprise.
Aside from Stallone, who’s making his debut in a scripted TV series role, familiar faces include The Sopranos alums Annabella Sciorra, Max Casella, Domenick Lombardozzi (The Wire), and Vincent Piazza (Boardwalk Empire). The talent-packed cast also includes Silicon Valley scene stealer Martin Starr, Andrea Savage (Episodes), Garrett Hedlund (Triple Frontier), and Emmy-winner Dana Delaney (China Beach and Desperate Housewives). Tulsa King is the brainstorm of Taylor Sheridan, also creator of Yellowstone and its spin-offs, with The Sopranos writer and producer and Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter as Sheridan’s co-showrunner.
Mob dramas are among the most reliably good of all drama genres, and Tulsa King is no exception. The premise is simple, but intriguing: Dwight’s multi-decade stint in the hoosegow has left him without a job to come home to. Is there really no place for him in the “family” tree, or do his old pals simply not want to share their ill-gotten gains with him any longer? He’s not sure, but the 75-year-old needs to make a living somehow, and his fellow mafiosos know he’s not going to go away quietly if he’s turned away. They say Tulsa offers not only a new market for their business, but an opportunity for Dwight to be his own boss, so to speak. He’s not thrilled about the prospect of laying down roots in the Sooner State, but when guns are pulled and no end of violence is threatened, Dwight packs a bag and heads West.
After touching down, he wastes no time laying his claim to that series title. A friendly car service driver, Tyson, finds himself in Dwight’s employ after he helps the new man in town suss out a cannabis dispensary that will help Dwight make a pile of seed money and become the first leg of his Tulsa empire. Tyson is Dwight’s savvier associate, though his innocent use of “gangster” during bonding chit chat almost gets him on the bad side of his new manager. It’s one of the pilot’s lighter moments, along with Dwight’s aggressive use of a coffee cup to get the attention of the naïve hippie dispensary folk who ensure Mr. Manfredi has begun to make his mark before he even finds a place to park his Italian loafers for the night.
The remainder of the premiere episode reveals a twist that will almost certainly help form one of the season’s major ongoing storylines. It also introduces several more characters who will help Dwight realize his new hometown might not be the worst place he’s ever been. And with all the aforementioned Sopranos–related pedigree, I’m expecting even more clever intrigue, and no end of deeper conflict with his New York compadres now that the obligatory pilot exposition is behind us.
Prediction: he owns his first pair of cowboy boots by the season one finale.
A swaggering, charming Stallone playing a fish-out-of-water mobster + a healthy dose of humor + a round-up of equally fun supporting cast members = what’s not to love?
Your fellow The Sopranos, Godfather, or Goodfellas fans who are looking to see how East Coast mob life might unfold down South in our present times, and how the man who brought Rocky and Rambo to big-screen life fares on television.
If it seems like Stallone is enjoying himself playing a mobster, it’s with good reason. He has often said that he wished he would have starred in The Sopranos, playing a mob guy whose personality was more similar to his own. It’s certainly no coincidence, then, that his first TV series is co-written and co-run by Sopranos alum Terence Winter, and his co-stars are Sopranos alums.
Also note: the drama will release new episodes each Sunday night, just like the old days with The Sopranos.
Where to stream it: Paramount+