After more than four decades of feature film superstardom, Sylvester Stallone transitions to television for his first leading role (setting aside a few cameo appearances here or there) in an ongoing series. The crime drama Tulsa King was tailor-made – or, in this case, you might say “Taylor-made” – to suit the actor’s established screen persona.
As much as Stallone may be the star, the show’s other big draw is the involvement of prolific writer/producer Taylor Sheridan, whose Yellowstone is a cable TV powerhouse, and who also has his hands on seemingly dozens of other projects either on the air (Mayor of Kingstown, 1883) or in development. Between all of those and his feature film work (Sicario, Hell or High Water, etc.), Sheridan has cultivated his own following as the creator of very masculine, testosterone-driven storytelling with some amount of skill and intelligence behind it. Naturally, that made him exactly the guy Sylvester Stallone would want to entrust with shaping his new TV career.
|Episode:||1.01 – Go West, Old Man|
|Release Date:||Nov. 13, 2022|
Stallone plays Dwight Manfredi, an aging Mafia enforcer just released from a 25-year stint in prison. Upon his re-emergence into society, he struggles to adjust to a world that has changed a great deal during his absense. Loyal to a fault, Dwight is ready to get right back to work for his New York crime family, only to find that the new generation of leadership has little use for him and even less respect for his rigidly-held notions of honor. When they assign him the uneviable task of setting up a new base of operations in Oklahoma, of all places, he feels outraged at what he perceives as banishment, but resolves to prove his value and continued relevance anyway.
Arriving in flyover country, Dwight immediately starts earning by muscling his way into control of a legalized pot dispensary and forcing its dumbfounded owner (Martin Starr from Silicon Valley) into paying him for “protection,” which soon evolves into money laundering as well. He also adopts a smart-mouthed cabbie (Jay Will) into working as his personal driver and helping him get the lay of the land. With little presence from organized crime in the area, and thus little resistance to his strong-arm tactics and little direct competition, Dwight feels confident that he’ll have the run of the place in no time.
Obviously, Tulsa King is a fish-out-of-water story. The first episode derives a lot of humor out of the contrast of Stallone’s muscle-bound, East Coast Mafioso navigating his new life in the Bible Belt. Sheridan is a smart writer, and infuses the dialogue with a fair bit of wit and character rapport. Dwight is an appealing antihero, and Stallone plays him with plenty of charisma.
That said, if you’ve seen the two-minute trailer for the show, you’ve also pretty much seen the premiere episode. Just about every story beat was condensed into that ad, and the episode proceeds through them in a very predictable fashion. With so many irons in the fire simultaneously, one has to wonder if Taylor Sheridan is starting to run out of fresh ideas. This one seems a bit by-the-numbers, at least so far.
The best part of the pilot episode is Andrea Savage playing a recent divorcee who has a perhaps ill-advised one night stand with Dwight. Her reaction afterward at realizing just how old he is earns a big laugh, and she has a fun plot twist at the end.
I’m not sure that Tulsa King is great TV, but it’s solidly entertaining enough to justify watching a little more to see how it develops.
Tulsa King streams on Paramount+ in 1080p SDR video and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. It looks and sounds fine. Not amazing, just fine. This is a handsomely put-together series, but lacking the latest in either 4K or Dolby Atmos, nothing about it dazzles. [Update: I’m informed that the series is available in 4K resolution on some devices, though still only Standard Dynamic Range.]
The show is presented in Variable Aspect Ratio format. The opening credits and majority of scenes set in Oklahoma (as well as one random shot at the beginning) are framed at a wide 2.35:1, while those in New York are a taller 2.00:1. As such, the show is unfortunately not safe for Constant Image Height projection.
The pilot episode runs a short 42 minutes and has several obvious pausing points that feel like they were designed for commercial breaks, which makes me wonder if the show was originally planned for cable rather than streaming (or if the producers are just future-proofing for syndication later).
Watching on premiere night, I experienced a number of buffering problems that forced me to stop and restart it a couple times. I’m not sure if that was device-specific, a result of high-demand streaming for this show, or simply the fault of the Paramount+ app being a glitchy mess as usual.