‘Tulsa King’ Earns Its Crown, Somewhat

When I first heard that Taylor Sheridan was shooting a TV series set in Oklahoma and starring Sylvester Stallone as a mobster, I was very thrilled. And even through most of the production was in Oklahoma City, I was still interested in seeing it. However, the first few episodes of the nine-episode first season seemed sloppy and dull.

As I wrote in the first post, Dwight “The General” Manfredi (Stallone) seemed to wander around most scenes with this Rip Van Winkle/OK Boomer mentality. He couldn’t understand how much had changed in the last 25 years despite never once picking up a newspaper or seeing a TV show or movie the time he was in prison. It made the show rather drab as most scenes revolved around Dwight not understanding why some businesses don’t accept cash anymore or understanding what a medical cannabis dispensary was.

Also, the character of Dwight wasn’t too likable to begin with. He seemed to be too brash and prone to violence. He really came off as a bully in the first few episodes as he walks into a dispensary and starts beating up the security guard before telling the propriertor, Bodhi (Martin Starr), that he’s going to be the new partner and offer protection but really taking thousands from his safe. Ironically, there are so many dispensaries in Oklahoma the fact that Bodhi can be so successful as he claims is hard. A dispensary in a rundown gas station in the middle of nowhere wouldn’t last. We later find out Bodhi has some darker secrets.

Dwight befriends a cab driver, Tyson Mitchell (Jay Will), and he becomes an associate and driver. There’s an old acquaintance, Armand “Manny” Truisi (Max Casella), from New York, that suspects he’s been found out and tries to kill Dwight in a drive-by while Dwight is taking a driver’s exam which gave the series some much needed action and excitement. It turns out that Manny left NYC to start over and the two work together. We later find out why as it’s revealed the crime Dwight went to prison for. Initially, it made the murder look like a hit Dwight had to make but we found out it was more of a mercy killing.

As the series went on, there was more depth to the characters that should’ve almost immediately started around the third episode not the fifth. But this is the problem with modern-day TV shows, they got to hit the ground running or else audiences tune out. Dwight has to deal with The Black Macadams, an outlaw biker gang led by Caolan Waltrip (Ritchie Coster), who seem to have created an unofficial organized crime hold of Tulsa. The problem I have here is the bikers are walking stereotypes with the exception of Waltrip who manages to be a worthy adversary to Dwight. That’s why it pains me that showrunners Sheridan and Terence Winter got rid of Waltrip in the season finale.

It might have worked more if they had kept him around for season two but I understand. The Black Macadams are on the radar of law enforcement including ATF Agent Stacy Beale (Andrea Savage) who has a relationship with Dwight that it never really focuses on. While I liked the series, I felt that there was too much thrown in that characters are just introuced to appear in a scene or two each episode but we never really feel for them. Beale talks about an incident involving the “Miracle on the Hudson” which happened on Jan. 15, 2009 in which pilot Chesley Sullenberger landed a commercial passenger airline on the Hudson River and everyone survived. Beale says there was an incident that got her booted out of NYC but never ellaborates.

Most of the episodes ran under 40 minutes including credits. Yet, the show is on Paramount-Plus which should’ve given it more leeway to make episodes 10-15 or even 20 minutes longer. The Orville: New Horizons benefitted from longer episodes that seemed like shorter movies. However, something tells me that Paramount and MTV Entertainment Studios only had a lukewarm belief that the show would be successful and didn’t want to spend more money on filming scenes that are more character development because what happens if the show bombs.

I have a feeling these pages of scripts that weren’t used will find their ways in season two. I understand you don’t bring the shark out early in Jaws or show King Kong in the first reel. But some characters like Margaret Devereauz (Dana Delany), the owner of a horse ranch, and Joanne Manfredi (Annabella Sciorra), Dwight’s younger sister, had the feeling they had bigger roles and scenes that were not filmed. Delany at 66 still looks as stunning as she did on China Beach and her character seems to be a possible love interest to compete with Beale but she still remains a mystery. Does she know more than we see?

There also was a subplot involving the family dynamics back in NYC as Pete “The Rock” Invernizzi (A.C. Peterson) is the ailing boss of the crime family. At the same time, his son, Don Charles “Chickie” Invernizzi (Domenick Lombardozzi) is the underboss poised to take over. There’s a little bit of tension between Dwight and Chickie the series never really delves into. But I commend the showrunners for giving Chickie a more three-dimensional arc as he is very religious and seen one time at a Catholic church speaking with a priest about his relationship with his father. These are the scenes that give hit TV shows a feeling you’re not watching a by-the-numbers formula show. It elevates Tulsa King over something that is more than Urban Cowboy meets The Sopranos.

Some hit TV shows struggle during their first seasons. Try going back to watch the first episode of The Simpsons or Cheers and they’re kinda dull. Even the first episode of Saturday Night Light is hardly watchable even compared to some of the worst episodes during the worst seasons. Like I said before, the show has some legs and I feel that it found its footing throughout the season. But at the same time, I felt the series still stuck to some other stereotypes that it didn’t need to. At a bar/club owned by Mitch Keller (Garret Hedlund), another underused character, musicians play Three Dog Nights’ “Never Been to Spain” because of its reference to Oklahoma. I had to groan and roll my eyes.

Here’s some tips to Sheridan, Winters and Stallone for season two and beyond. First, show more of Tulsa rather than in establishing shots. I feel this had to do with the financial issues. There’s a production studio in OKC so I can understand why they kept closer especially with how expensive gas and products were during 2022. But the Cherokee Nation Film Commission is offering incentives and part of Tulsa is part of the Cherokee Nation. Look into that. Second, expand the episodes to run longer so we get to see more of the characters. Now, that they’re established, let’s use them more. And finally, move away from some of the stereotypes. Yes, people drive trucks and dress as cowboys but they do that everywhere. For what it’s worth, you’ll find more people into transcendtal meditation like Bodhi than you will at rodeos. Also, the whole thing with the crooked cops was way too clicheT and actors playing them so wooden, I’m glad they didn’t show more. They either need to drop it entirely or work on it the way The Sopranos (which Winters was involved in) used it.

The first season ends on a cliffhanger as they all do which makes me hopeful the second season will improve on the missteps of the first season.

What do you think? Please comment.

Published by bobbyzane420

I'm an award winning journalist and photographer who covered dozens of homicides and even interviewed President Jimmy Carter on multiple occasions. A back injury in 2011 and other family medical emergencies sidelined my journalism career. But now, I'm doing my own thing, focusing on movies (one of my favorite topics), current events and politics (another favorite topic) and just anything I feel needs to be posted. Thank you for reading.

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