If you’ve made your way to Paramount+ and are even considering checking out “Tulsa King,” you already know what you’re about to get. “Yellowstone” and “1883” creator Taylor Sheridan has proven extremely effective at delivering entertaining tough-guy series helmed by grizzled elders, and his newest is no exception, although far less in ambition and polish than his other Paramount hits.
Despite the prestige pedigree of the co-showrunners — Sheridan wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for “Sicario” and Terence Winter created “Boardwalk Empire” and wrote “The Wolf of Wall Street” — there’s a distinct straight-to-DVD quality to Tulsa King, but that shouldn’t turn off anyone who’s excited for a mob series starring Sylvester Stallone in his first series regular TV role. Sly’s dialogue is harder to comprehend than ever, and we don’t waste much time in setting up backstory before getting straight to the meat of the premise: A Long Island mafia capo, Dwight “The General” Manfredi, gets released from prison after a 25 year sentence, and in short order, he’s dispatched by his boss to Tulsa, Oklahoma to create some business in an unlikely and very underserved market.
“Tulsa King” is as much a fish-out-of-water comedy as it is a mob drama. From the moment he rolls into The Sooner State, he starts to collect a ragtag band of friends, starting with his taxi driver Tyson (Jay Will), whose use of the word “gangster” as a slangy compliment shocks Manfredi. That’s just the first of many Austin Powers-esque gags that has Manfredi reckoning with the fact that time has marched on while he’s been away from society (he’s blown away that there are apps on phones that can call cabs).
At least judging from the first two episodes, this isn’t a particularly gritty mob drama (apparently by design courtesy of Stallone). Manfredi’s assignment in Tulsa turns out to be somewhat low stakes, at least at first. He barges into a medical marijuana dispensary run by Bohdi (Martin Starr) and offers “protection” no one asked for in exchange for laundered cash — even though he is, of course, the only threat. Although Manfredi talks tough and isn’t afraid of punching several faces, we learn he’s a mafioso with a heart of gold. He takes a break from establishing a crime ring to punish a racist car salesman and protect a bachelorette party from handsy dudes in a strip club.
It’s all absurd but quite a bit of fun — no more absurd than the budding romance between Stallone and Andrea Savage (“I’m Sorry”) as one of the revelers from the bachelorette party. Of course, Stallone isn’t at the top of his game, but he doesn’t need to be, and it’s clear he’s having the time of his life.
It doesn’t really matter that “Tulsa King” doesn’t do drama or comedy particularly well — your dad or grandpa will love it.