The mob in Tulsa? How outrageous!
BQB here with a review.
Here’s a conundrum.
This show kinda stinks. I say kinda because it has some fun moments, some good characters, even a decent premise, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Frankly, if it weren’t for Sylvester Stallone playing the main character, I would have passed by now.
Therein lies the rub. As a former 1980s kid, I was fed a steady diet of Arnie and Sly action flicks, so I want this show to do good and I am hoping that Paramount will recognize a lot of fans are coming for the Sly and they’ll stay if they kick things up a notch, be it with better writing, bigger budget or what have you.
The plot sounds good on paper. A New York mafia captain goes to jail for 25 years. He refuses to rat on his degenerate colleagues, seeing the “bid” as the cost of doing a depraved business. A life of organized crime can lead to big money, but if you want to rake in the big money, you have to take the punishment that goes with it. So-called protection is the name of the illicit game, with crooks sworn to watch each other’s backs, so, well, at least in the movies anyway, a convicted mafioso would rather rot in jail than snitch on a compatriot in crime.
A quarter century later, Dwight “The General” Manfredi (Stallone) is released, but the mob family he once served has moved on without him. Being their man on the street in Tulsa, Oklahoma is the best job they can offer Dwight, a seemingly lousy job that he begrudgingly accepts.
From there on, it’s a fish out of water story as Dwight takes Tulsa by storm, forming an unlikely crew of redneck hillbillies, pot dealing hippies and others you wouldn’t normally see at a NYC mob boss’s table.
It sounds great, doesn’t it? A washed up mobster takes a lousy assignment and spins gold out of lead? Eh, the problem is, and I mean no offense because who am I to criticize when I have no TV show to call my own, but IMO, the writing is blah. I say that with love in that with some tweaks, this could turn out to be a great show, and also that perhaps the writers, producers etc have done the best they could with what they were given. Perhaps if fans show the show enough love, Paramount will invest more buckaroos. There have been past shows that struggled the first season or two only to hit home runs in later seasons and this has that potential.
What do I mean by bad writing? The most important rule for a writer is show, don’t tell. You want your reader to know your character is sick? Don’t just start your chapter with the sentence, “Burt was sick.” Start it with Burt on his knees, puking his guts out into a toilet bowl, his forehead hot and sweaty, his eyes rolling into the back of his head before he passes out on the cold tile.
Tulsa King is all tell and little show. The mobsters just tell Dwight to head to Tulsa. There’s very little explanation of the decision other than according to the NYC mob, there’s no organized crime there so it is a city ripe for the taking. Personally, I have a hard time thinking that NYC mobsters are sitting around thinking about how to conquer Tulsa all day. Had I been in the writer’s room, here’s how I would have approached it:
MOBSTER 1: Yo, Dwight did 25 years for the family ova heah. We gotta take care of him and get him a job already, capiche?
MOBSTER 2: Yeah, but all our big jobs are filled so fahgeddaboudit.
MOBSTER 1: What if we send him out of NYC?
MOBSTER 2: Where? We already got Vinny the Snake runnin’ things in LA and Tommy the Tuna on the street in Chicago. Freddy the Mackerel is our man in Miami and Bobby Blue Shoes is our guy in Detroit.
MOBSTER 1: Throw a friggin dart at a map already!
(Dart is thrown at a map of the US. Lands perfectly on Tulsa. Dwight is on the next plane to Oklahoma.)
Meh. When I don’t hear my phone ringing, I’ll assume that’s Paramount not calling me with a consultant deal. Oh well. Moving on.
With network formulaic precision, Dwight just does stuff and things just happen instantly. He gets to Oklahoma. He takes an Uber. Suddenly his Uber driver is his right hand man. Dwight takes over a pot store, offering his protection for a fee. Dwight goes to a bar and meets two rednecks who want in on his mob game. He goes to another bar and has a lady love interest who just happens to be an ATF agent. All this in the first episode.
Part of me gets it. TV moves fast. Network style TV moves faster. There isn’t time to develop, unless the show gets picked up a second season, then maybe you can get to know everyone.
To the show’s credit, attempts are at least made to cover up bad writing. Dwight is 75 and has been cut off from society for 25 years, so he’s learning everything for the first time. He’s surprised cabs are a rarity and that one must hire an Uber on a smart phone and by the way, WTF is a smart phone? And wow, weed is legal? Humor is rampant as Dwight demands money for protection from the pot store owner, with it being fairly obvious that in this dusty town the only one the pot store owner needs protection from is Dwight. Dwight’s young driver turned protege is interesting, a 25 year old who still has time to go to college, get a career going and be a success, but he falls in love with the promise of quick cash and Dwight is uneasy about getting a young man into “the life” as he has his own regrets.
So yeah, maybe the show is deeper than I give it credit for. But the big problem is we are often spoon fed key details, character backgrounds and plot info. Stallone is a big draw and is charming but hopefully the show will be given time to expand and fix some problems.
STATUS: Shelf-worthy. Give it time. Minus one gold star because Paramount Plus needs to fix its platform so you can do crazy things like not have to fast forward the show if you switch TVs. It should just pick up where you left off and you definitely shouldn’t have to have it stop and bombard you with commercials when you are fast forwarding.