I Am Obsessed With Sylvester Stallone’s Cowboy Capo in ‘Tulsa King’ and You Should Be Too.
Some people call him the space cowboy. Some call him the gangster of love.
Sylvester Stallone is an old mafia capo just out of prison. ATF agents are trying to crack down on a white nationalist biker gang. Martin Starr owns a weed shop. One would think those were three separate storylines from three very different television shows, but one would be very, very wrong!
Because all three are woven seamlessly together into the insanity that is Taylor Sheridan’s (creator of Yellowstone) new series, Tulsa King.
Tulsa King follows Stallone as Dwight Manfredi, a capo who just finished doing twenty-five years of hard time as the fall guy for his don. He kept his trap shut and now that he’s out he expects to be rewarded for his loyalty. Unfortunately for him, times have changed and his boss has a short memory, and so his “reward” is to be sent to Tulsa, Oklahoma to get a foothold for the family going. Manfredi is not just a man out of time, having to learn about iPhones and Uber and social media, but now a man out of his territory. He is a fish out of water, but doubly so.
And yet nothing truly phases Manfredi. Stallone plays him with a befuddled but hard affability. A dangerous man, but one who is still ultimately likable as he bemusedly takes in his new surroundings and tries to learn about things like vape pens and pronouns. Manfredi is Rocky Balboa – if Balboa had stayed as a low-level enforcer and street tough. Manfredi quickly hires himself a driver named Tyson, (played by the charming and charismatic Jay Will) and his first order of business is taking over Martin Starr’s weed shop. His second order of business is having a one-night stand with ATF agent Stacey Beale. He also quickly ropes in his former associate Armand Truisi (who has been in hiding for twenty-five years) and befriends Mitch Keller (Garrett Hedlund) the owner of his favorite watering hole, the “Bred2Buck Saloon.”
Yes. The Bred2Buck Saloon.
The name of that saloon is indicative of what makes this show so strange and incredibly watchable. The tone is constantly shifting from the serious to the ludicrous. Is it a drama? Is it a comedy? Is it a soapy crime procedural? Yes. The audience careens alongside Manfredi as events happen quickly and without fanfare. This show is not going to spend eight episodes building to his eventual move to Tulsa as he slowly tries to piece his life back together. Oh no.
Within the first 10 minutes of the pilot, we watch Manfredi get out of prison, beat a guy with a phone, and get on a plane to Tulsa. Wham bam thank you, ma’am. In fact, we watch Stallone’s Manfredi in a series of increasingly strange and hilarious scenarios. We watch Stallone escort a bachelorette party into a strip club (and beat up the bouncers when they want the women to get off the stage.) We watch Stacey the ATF agent freak out that she slept with a 75-year-old man, (Stallone) to his face. Oh to have been in the room when Sheridan pitched that to Stallone! We watch Stallone hotbox a car with Martin Starr and go on a rant about Arthur Miller! There’s a white stallion that wanders around downtown Tulsa and you think it’s perhaps a visual metaphor or Manfredi’s guilty conscience, but actually it is a literal horse that everyone can see. (So I guess the answer, like for much of this show is: yes all of the above.)
We even get a Stallone cowboy makeover (well, almost)! As a fan of the truly horrible and amazing Rhinestone – starring Stallone and Dolly Parton, about a country western singer tasked with turning a New York City cab driver into a new country star – my heart was soaring.
But just as you think the show is leaning a bit too knowingly into this camp sensibility it pulls back and gives you an intimate scene of Manfredi trying to reconnect with the family he isolated himself from for twenty-five years because he couldn’t stand for them to see him locked up. He has a daughter who refuses to take his calls and there is a scene with his dying brother that is particularly heart-wrenching.
And none of this wild tone shifting would be possible without Stallone’s previously mentioned unflappable performance. He, much like Manfredi, is both the unstoppable force and the immovable object. He anchors the whole production with his congenial flexibility. If that sounds like a contradiction, a flexible immovable object, congratulations you now understand what makes the show so fascinating and endlessly watchable.
Because the show really is less about Manfredi having to change to fit in with Tulsa than it is Tulsa having to change to accommodate him. Manfredi is a tornado, plowing through this quiet territory and taking what he wants with little pushback. In this fish out of water story, the fish is a shark, and it’s the water that isn’t ready for him. Case in point, he even convinces Tyson’s concerned and suspicious father into fighting the aforementioned biker gang with them. (What happens next involves a hilarious needle drop and a lot of baseball bats, but I don’t want to spoil everything.)
The show is a wild and fast-moving spectacle. I honestly can’t tell if it’s good good or bad good, but I do know that I love watching it and I can’t wait to see what absolutely buckwild things happen as the season progresses. Because, and I can’t stress this enough, it is the most ludicrous show on television and also I could watch a million more episodes of Sylvester Stallone getting high with Martin Starr.
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