Tulsa King Is Showcasing Some Of Sylvester Stallone's Best Work, So Get On Board Now

Sylvester Stallone in Tulsa King
(Image credit: Paramount+)

Initially, the names Taylor Sheridan and Terence Winter were what intrigued me the most about the new Paramount+ series Tulsa King. Together, these executives had created and shepherded some of the most powerful television to drop in the past 10 years, including Yellowstone and its spinoffs, Mayor of Kingstown, Boardwalk Empire, and The Sopranos. Pretty impressive. Sure, Tulsa King starred Sylvester Stallone, but it had been awhile – probably Creed in 2015 – since the Rocky star caught my eye with a strong performance. 

Basically, I wasn’t prepared for how incredible Stallone is in this show, even with the early raves from critics.  

Tulsa King relies on a fish-out-of-water premise. Dwight Manfredi (Stallone) served a 25-year prison sentence in order to take the fall for a fellow member of his New York Mafia family. Upon release, Manfredi finds that the new generation of East Coast mobsters have no need for his services, so they exile him to Oklahoma with the directive to find out how to earn. And if there’s one thing that Manfredi is very good at, it’s earning. As the tapestry of Tulsa King unfolds, Stallone has had to flex muscles I personally had forgotten he had as a performer, going beyond the obvious tough-guy mafioso cliche to connect with deeper emotions that have resulted in some of the actor’s finest work. 

Here are three reasons why Stallone has been so perfect for the new show Tulsa King, as well as reasons for you to get on board with this program before it really takes off… even if a Yellowstone crossover doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

Stallone in Tulsa King

(Image credit: Paramount+)

He’s a family man.

Dwight Manfredi is a tragic figure. By agreeing to serve the 25-year sentence, he secured his place in his criminal family… but it cost him everything with his actual family. His ex-wife freezes him out. His daughter, Tina (Tatiana Zappardino), treats him like a complete stranger. Dwight thinks his banishment to Tulsa will continue to keep him from his loved ones, but he’s determined to make amends, somehow. 

As Season 1 of Tulsa King unfolds, Dwight is given reason to return home to New York City, and Stallone is able to wallow in the guilt and remorse that comes with his complicated life decisions. Compelling arguments are formed as this fractured family figures out if they even want to reconcile. And when skeletons from Tina’s closet start to emerge, it unleashes fresh emotions in Dwight that light a fire under Stallone. 

Maybe it’s because the actor is older, and has life experience as well as his own family to reflect on. But I wasn’t anticipating Tulsa King to dig so deep into the personal issues that are plaguing this gangster, but the show doesn’t lose any of its momentum when we shift away from the crime and into the characters. If anything, the show improves in those moments.  

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Tulsa King

(Image credit: Paramount+)

He’s also a ‘Family’ man.

That is not to say that Tulsa King abandons the relationships that Dwight has with the criminal organization that sends him out to Oklahoma. Part of me wondered, once Dwight started to set up shop in Tulsa, that the NYC element of the story would dry up. Hardly. It’s every bit as bloodsoaked as the situations Manfredi is encountering out west. The opening credits to Tulsa King expertly blend the Big Apple with the Heartland, and that’s an indication of how the actions in one city very much are going to have an affect on the results in another. 

Again, Stallone is a complete natural as a capo defending his turf in the highly competitive Invernizzi family. Dwight has an ally in Pete “The Rock” Invernizzi (A.C. Peterson), but the younger generation – led by “Chickie” Invernizzi (Domenick Lombardozzi) – have little respect for this veteran gangster, making trips back to Manhattan a literal minefield for Dwight to maneuver. It’s exhilarating watching a tough-as-nails Stallone injecting himself into “family” business, taking zero prisoners as he reestablishes his position. Sooner or later, the powder kegs that Dwight has lit in both cities are bound to explode.  

Sylvester Stallone in Tulsa King

(Image credit: Paramount+)

He’s a big fish in what’s becoming a deadly pond.

Back to Tulsa, where the meat of the story takes place. It would be so easy for Tulsa King to lazily exploit the overtly Italian stereotype trying to get a leg up in horse country. And there’s some of that. But Stallone plays the material so smartly, deflating that cliche instantly and forming a legitimate bond with the locals… forming a team that he lovingly compared to The Gang Who Can’t Shoot Straight during an interview with CinemaBlend. Stallone’s performance is so well-rounded and multi-layered because he has wildly colorful and different characters with which to “dance,” from a performance standpoint. There’s a love interest (Andrea Savage) who’s also an ATF agent. There’s the owner of a weed dispensary (Martin Starr) whom Dwight is terrifying, a professional driver (Jay Will) Dwight must protect, and the owner of a shitty watering hole (Garrett Hedlund), with each of them drawing out different sides of Dwight that Stallone adores exploring. He’s in complete control of the character, no matter the situation, and it helps keep Tulsa King on its metaphorical toes. 

Which is good, because I’m six episodes in to this 10-episode series, with Episode 7 dropping on Christmas Day. And things appear to be getting even more dangerous for Dwight and his crew in Tulsa, as well as Dwight and his immediate family back in New York. Stallone has been an outstanding guide through these difficult situations, with credit both to his acute performance and some spectacular screenwriting. If Tulsa King can maintain this momentum, you are going to need to grab a Paramount+ subscription and start watching. This is appointment television.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Having been with the site since 2011, Sean interviewed myriad directors, actors and producers, and created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.