opinion | Sylvester Stallone took on his first series role at the age of 76, playing an aged gangster with ambitions on Paramount+, the “Tulsa King”. Our editor Michael Hille is enthusiastic about the series and thinks: Stallone has never been seen like this.
The whole series world has revolved around “The Last of Us” since the beginning of 2023 – rightly so, because the end-of-the-time series inspired millions and created a narrative level that is rarely achieved on television. As soon as this story is over, we, hungry series fans, are already looking forward to it the next masterpiece submitted later. It can be found on the Paramount+ streaming service, which is still young in this country, and it has a Hollywood legend on board who has so far shied away from the TV landscape: Sylvester Stallone.
We’re talking about “Tulsa King”, a series that is surprising for two reasons. Reason #1: Although it doesn’t sound like it from the premise of the content, it’s immensely fresh and novel. Reason #2: It shows Stallone of all people in a way you’ve never really seen him before.
Long live the “Tulsa King”: The new original from Paramount+
Mafia boss Dwight “The General” Manfredi (Stallone) has been in prison for 25 years. After his release, he has to realize that he has been in the New York underworld for a long time replaced by youngsters who have no respect whatsoever for him and his successes. So that he can’t become dangerous to them, Charles “Chickie” Invernizzi (Domenick Lombardozzi), the family’s underboss, gives him a thankless job: He’s supposed to move to the country somewhere in the US state of Oklahoma in the 400,000-inhabitant community of Tulsa and there a set up a new sales office for the mafia.
Already on the taxi ride to Tulsa, Manfredi involves the driver Tyson (Jay Will) in his projects. In Tulsa, he marches straight to the local “dealer” to extort a share of the protection money – and learns with complete amazement that Bodhi (Martin Starr) is the perfectly legal operator of a marijuana business. There’s no question about it: there really isn’t much to get in Tulsa. How do you bring organized crime to a sleepy, disorganized community? Frustrated, Manfredi lets himself be seduced by the mysterious Stacy (Andrea Savage) in a bar on the first night and ends up in bed with her. She only finds out a day later who she slept with and is now developing professional interest in Manfredi: She works for a police agency that explicitly investigates alcohol and arms smuggling.
“Tulsa King” and Sylvester Stallone surprise several times
An older man tries to build up a gangster empire in the country, but fails at the beginning with the most banal things in the world and also has a direct opponent from the police in the closest ranks – many viewers should be able to guess the “Breaking Bad” bells are ringing. And this is exactly where “Tulsa King” surprises after just one of the nine episodes: It’s not a hard gangster thriller or an emotional character drama. Above all, “Tulsa King” is very funny. The trailers didn’t really suggest that, and “Tulsa King” may not be directly comedy, but the ease with which head writer Taylor Sheridan (known for dark films like “Sicario” and even darker series like ” Yellowstone”) and Terence Winter (known for the serial mafia epics “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire”) tell their story, amazed.
Especially since Sylvester Stallone has rarely tried his hand at being a comedian – apart from the legendary film “Stop! Or my mommy will shoot!”. In fact, this role interpretation suits him perfectly. His stoic, numb facial expressions (mostly in response to the strange behavior of Tulsa’s “hicks”) are hilariously funny and genuinely likeable. Even more surprising: Sylvester Stallone of all people, who for more than 30 years has been trying by all means to age as little as possible, both visually and in the eyes of the audience, plays offensively here with his Ü70 status. Manfredi may be a gangster, a tough and gruff guy, yes he is also a “boomer”, an old man who feels left behind and also lost touch with the younger generation through his time in prison. At the beginning of the series, he watches in disbelief at teenagers walking across the street with smartphones and VR glasses. One can’t help but think in those scenes, “Rambo has gotten old.” But that doesn’t make it any less cool.
It was only logical: “Rocky” would eventually be followed by “Tulsa King”
There’s no question: the series lives on Sylvester Stallone, who, perhaps for the first time since “Cop Land” from 1997, can really fully show what he’s for a great character actor slumbers in him. Manfredi finds it amusing how simple life in Tulsa is. He is an archetype of US cinema, a character as played by John Wayne, the conservative rebel. And the sacred, wild land lies at his feet, the dusty streets, shimmering pubs and endless desert landscapes. The world has gotten complicated for someone like Manfredi, but in Tulsa he can make it easy again. But he can’t escape his loneliness, deep inside him. “Tulsa King” also shows this man as one who is afraid of change, whose only alpha male demeanor his overwhelm with the world should compensate.
Whether it’s the western (the free country that must be conquered) or the rising star (the misfit/underdog fighting his way to the top), “Tulsa King” is in the best tradition of the cinematic myths that gave rise to the material. Stallone finally becomes his great role model Marlon Brando. His playing is always a spectacle of his character, his fist is actually on the back of his neck in several respects. He conquers the land before him, he wins the favor of those around him, but nothing can fill the void that yawns inside him. “Tulsa King” is very close to the great character studies of the 60s and 70s, but at the same time its logical continuation, its cinematic heritage. As a modern series production, it allows insights into all the little moments away from the “mission”, into the little weird and funny situations that someone like Manfredi gets into when he gets involved with relaxed stoner types like Bodhi or ambitious policewomen like Stacy. It is thanks to the famous screenplays and the gifted ensemble that “Tulsa King” not just a Sylvester Stallone show is, but Tulsa feels like a living place – just maybe in one that has been in hibernation for decades.
Sylvester Stallone deserves his icon status. As the author and actor of “Rocky”, he had a lasting influence on US cinema, his characters and himself are milestones in pop culture. It only makes sense that it’s him now who breaks down his own type on TV and lets him age but not become obsolete. You can call “Tulsa King” like his boxer film once did Story about the American dream see: Diligence and persistence pay off at some point, throw off profit and – even better – maybe even make you happy. It fits perfectly that he is returning to this topic at the end of his career, because where is it actually written that only young people are allowed to dream the American dream, but not the older generation?
“Tulsa King” is a swan song to old Hollywood cinema, to American small town and gangster myths and to Sylvester Stallone himself, but at the same time it is also perhaps her last big celebration. An icon as big as Stallone needs a really big exit. Luckily he hasn’t reached this one yet: A second season of “Tulsa King” is already in the works.
A new episode “Tulsa King” is out since March 19, 2023 always weekly at Paramount+ in subscription.