Tulsa King Review: Mobster Sylvester Stallone Wanders Around Punching Everyone In This Dull Comedy-Drama

Dads rejoice! There's a new show where an older guy wanders around complaining about stuff and punching anyone who gets in his way! And that guy is played by none other than Sylvester Stallone. Stallone is the titular "Tulsa King," a mobster who gets out of jail and gets relocated to Oklahoma. The series is the latest from Taylor Sheridan, the man responsible for the ubiquitous "Yellowstone" franchise. "Tulsa King" will likely appeal to the same dads who love all-things "Yellowstone," especially since the thrust of the entire show seems to be Stallone's annoyance at all things modern. 

His character, Dwight "The General" Manfredi, has been in prison for 25 years. As a result, the outside world is a mystery to him. He carries cash instead of a credit card! He doesn't have a cell phone! He doesn't understand why a coffee shop gives him a paper cup instead of one made of glass! In Dwight's eyes, it's the world and its progress that's annoying, not his insistence on his old, stubborn ways.

After finally getting out of prison, Dwight expects some compensation from his fellow mobsters. Instead, they ask him to head to Tulsa to set up shop — and kick-back money to New York when he does. Dwight is horrified at the idea — he expected more, and he expected to stay in the Big Apple. But he's a good soldier (or capo in this case) and agrees to head to Tulsa. Almost as soon as he's off the plane, Dwight begins setting things in motion. 

Punch first, ask questions later

This entire setup isn't bad, per se. But it's nothing we haven't seen before. It's essentially every fish-out-of-water story ever told. It also feels beholden to more recent shows — it's basically "Schitt's Creek," but with mobsters. Again: fine. You can work out something good from that premise. But "Tulsa King" feels like it's going through the motions. It also takes way too many shortcuts. As soon as Dwight leaves the airport he recruits a taxi driver named Tyson (Jay Will) to be his personal chauffeur. Then, Dwight learns about a medical marijuana place run by Bodhi (Martin Starr), a wimp who lets Dwight essentially take control and insist on a 20% kickback. It's not entirely clear why Bodhi goes along with this — his business is legal. There's an insinuation that Bodhi is skimping on his taxes and therefore Dwight has him over a barrel. But would anyone really put up with some random dude who wandered into your store and started bossing you around? Especially in Tulsa, where there's no other mob presence? 

A pattern begins to form. Dwight heads to one spot after another, gets into a confrontation with someone, and proceeds to punch them right in the face. And, at least in the two episodes given to critics, absolutely no one reports him. It's like the police simply don't exist in Tulsa. However, there is a local ATF agent (Andrea Savage) who ends up in a one-night stand with Dwight before she learns who he really is. 

There are folks in town sympathetic to, or at least friendly with Dwight, like a local bartender, played by Garrett Hedlund, who is willing to shoot the breeze with the gangster whenever he wanders in. But "Tulsa King" seems much more interested in dishing out things, and people, who annoy Dwight so much that he has no choice but to punch away. It's a male fantasy writ large — all you need to get by in this crazy world is your fists and a tough attitude. Don't take no s*** from nobody, as Dwight might say. 

Stallone is good here

The real draw here is Stallone, in his first starring role on TV. The actor, with his beefy frame and mumbly voice, is amusing and entertaining as Dwight, even if I started to get sick of watching him punch everyone. Stallone brings just the right amount of humor to the part while also leaning into a certain melancholy. After all, Dwight has been away for a long, long time, and now he's stuck in the middle of nowhere. He's also saddened that he hasn't spoken with his daughter in 18 years, and of course, he carries around an old birthday card she sent him and gazes at it with regret. 

Still, "Tulsa King" should be better. While the basic premise is that Dwight is out of his element, he seems to adapt to his new life almost immediately. I get wanting to speed things along, but shouldn't it be slightly difficult for Dwight to get up and running? Instead, he's got an operation going mere hours after his plane touches down. "Tulsa King" features some stellar behind-the-scenes talent, including writer Terence Winter ("The Wolf of Wall Street," and "The Sopranos") and director Allen Coulter ("The Sopranos"), but they're not able to elevate the show to something stronger. Perhaps that's fine. Perhaps the point-and-shoot nature of "Tulsa King," coupled with the fantasy tough guy act will be all the intended audience needs. So dads, kick back in your armchairs, crack open a brew, and get ready to watch Sylvester Stallone give multiple characters a punch in the face. 

"Tulsa King" premieres on Paramount+ on November 13, 2022.