The Pitch: Over the past several years, Taylor Sheridan has found himself a nice little niche making hours and hours of great dad TV, specifically the hit Paramount Network series Yellowstone and its accompanying spinoffs. But one underlying quirk of his output is also his ability to bring high-level stars to TV to his original series: Kevin Costner in Yellowstone, Jeremy Renner in Mayor of Kingstown, Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren in the upcoming 1923, and now Sylvester Stallone in Tulsa King.
Stallone swaggers onto the screen in the new Paramount+ series as Dwight Manfredi, a one-time capo who just completed 25 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, keeping his mouth shut out of loyalty to his boss. But upon his release, he doesn’t receive quite the homecoming he was looking for, as the family’s new underboss Charles “Chickie” Invernizzi (Domenick Lombardozzi) decides to reward his loyalty by shipping him off to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Dwight can set up business for the organization.
Recognizing the assignment for what it is — banishment — Dwight heads out to Tulsa anyway, and begins the process of rebuilding his life as a free man, while also discovering what kinds of opportunities are possible for a business-minded man who isn’t afraid to use a little violence to get what he wants.
Escape to Victory: Casting Stallone as the lead in a mafia story feels like an easy sell, despite it being something he’s done very rarely over the course of his career — in between the Rockys and Rambos and cop projects, perhaps the only notable instance of him playing in this genre is the 1991 comedy Oscar, which was not well-received. (Oh, but he did play Mafioso #2 in the 1976 comedy Cannonball!)
Dwight as a character is a curious nut, as there are times when his ruthlessness isn’t so charming — it’s one thing when he decks a surly capo or racist car salesman, another thing when he mets out violence against those less deserving. His whole purpose in coming to Tulsa is essentially to bring mafia business practices to a community unfamiliar with them; it’s one thing to relate to his plight, but it’s another to watch him exhort people who were just living their lives before he came to town.
That said, this premise is tailor-made to fit his persona, and Sheridan and executive producer Terence Winter (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire) know where the chief pleasures of this story lie: The opportunity to watch a made man contend with not just how the world has changed over the last 25 years, but a city whose understanding of “organized crime” is entirely limited to gangster movies.