‘Tulsa King’ assessment: ‘The Sopranos’ meets ‘Yellowstone’

It’s 2022, for a short while but, and Sylvester Stallone, 76, is starring in his first scripted tv sequence, the likable crime comedy “Tulsa King,” premiering Sunday on Paramount+.

Stallone performs Dwight David Manfredi, “a mug lately out of the jug,” in Frank Loesser’s immortal phrase. Dwight, a Mafia panjandrum, has spent 25 years in jail, having taken the rap (so far as I can determine) for his boss “whacking a guy I actually liked who didn’t deserve it” — so difficult, the mob life — and refusing to rat out anybody to scale back his sentence. His spouse has divorced him; his daughter is estranged. However as a substitute of receiving some comfortable sinecure for his sacrifice, he finds himself exiled to Tulsa, Okla. to “plant a flag.” That is framed as a present — the one one below the tree — and Dwight determines to make the most effective of what he imagines will likely be a foul factor. However not earlier than laying out chilly a disrespectful younger capo and thereby portray a goal on his personal again.

“Tulsa King” was created by Taylor Sheridan, as soon as once more framing a sequence round a venerable display icon, after “Yellowstone” (Kevin Costner) and its prequel “1883” (Sam Elliott), with Harrison Ford set for the upcoming sequel-prequel “1923.” His co-showrunner is Terence Winter, who created “Boardwalk Empire” and spent a number of seasons on “The Sopranos,” and “Tulsa King” feels just like the chemical bonding of their pursuits and backgrounds. (Sheridan is from backwater Texas, Winter a baby of Brooklyn.) Or these outdated adverts wherein chocolate and peanut butter collide to make a Reese’s Cup.

Dwight lands in Tulsa, to be greeted curbside by a grasshopper, a girl with holy water and Tyson (the interesting Jay Will), a jovial cab driver who, earlier than the luggage are even out of the automotive, has been employed as Dwight’s driver and given a wad of money to purchase a Lincoln Navigator. However even earlier than that occurs, Dwight has him cease at a pleasant, peaceable pot dispensary on the way in which into city, run by Bodhi (an eye-rolling Martin Starr, at his driest and most acerbic). Dwight causes a stir and affords him a deal he can’t refuse.

“I’ll protect you from the gangs,” says Dwight, who solely needs 20% of the earnings.

“What gangs?” wonders Bodhi.

“And the law.”

“It’s legal.”

Nonetheless, Dwight is to not be trifled with, particularly as soon as he learns that Bodhi has half 1,000,000 {dollars} sitting across the workplace. And like Dorothy in Oz, however with muscle, he provides one other companion to his get together.

Subsequent to be launched is Stacy (Andrea Savage), whom Dwight meets at an area cowboy bar he’ll return to repeatedly. After they sleep collectively, she’s shocked to be taught he’s 75 — she figured him for “a hard 55” — and makes a fast, embarrassed exit. (Kudos to Sheridan and Winter for making Stacy as uncomfortable about this because the viewer himself may be, and for not making Stallone really play a tough 55. Or 70, for that matter.) As if that weren’t sufficient, it seems that Stacy’s a federal agent, and at work the following morning she discovers that Dwight is one thing greater than the match outdated man she picked up the night time earlier than. “At least he’s got integrity,” she says, when she learns they had been by no means in a position to flip him.

Goodness is aware of, the viewing public has a passion for mob varieties behaving badly, and Stallone is convincingly robust, not only for a septuagenarian. Nonetheless, there are the customary clues designed to point out that Dwight, just like the boy within the Shangri-Las music, is good-bad however not evil. Whom he chooses to punch, for instance — a racist automotive seller, a drunk bothering a girl — and the truth that he appears so much smarter and nicer and extra delicate than his outdated felony associates. “I want to be your friend,” he tells Bodhi, and he would possibly effectively consider that to be the idea of their relationship. He’s chivalrous. He misses his daughter. (Fatherhood is rising as a little bit of a theme.)

Accordingly, the present is at its finest when it steps away from the felony plotlines and lets Dwight, who expresses some remorse over his profession path, present his softer aspect: conversing with bartender Mitch (a profitable Garrett Hedlund) on the Bred 2 Buck Saloon; consuming ice cream with Tyson; teasing Bodhi whereas by chance excessive; or attempting to make sense of a world wherein “GM’s gone electric, Dylan’s gone public, a phone is a camera, and coffee — five bucks a cup! And the Stones, bless their hearts, are still on tour.”

Fortunately, as soon as the expository formalities are out of the way in which, “Tulsa King” (based mostly on the 2 episodes out there for assessment) concentrates extra on character and comedy. Stallone is probably not the world’s best thespian, however he’s obtained appeal and presence and comes with numerous cultural capital, and he’s surrounded by professional gamers, together with Max Casella as a mob expat and a-yet-unseen Dana Delany as a wealthy girl with a horse farm and wildlife protect. I’d be completely happy sufficient had been Dwight, who finishes the opening episode declaring, “from this point on this city and everything in it belongs to me,” had been to content material himself evaluating boots with fellow barflies and grabbing snacks with Tyson. And that’s the reason I’m not a screenwriter.