Tulsa King Series Premiere Review: Mafia’s Rip Van Winkle Stakes a Claim in Tulsa

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If you didn’t laugh yourself silly at Tulsa King Season 1 Episode 1, we probably can’t be friends.

Sylvester Stallone has hit paydirt with Dwight Manfredi. The press materials called him Dwight “The General” Manfredi, but if you paid attention to Tulsa King Season 1 Episode 2, you know his real nickname was Five-Star.

By the time we catch up with Dwight, he’s done 25 years for murder and made the best of what he could from his time behind bars.

No doubt, prison changes a man. It’s possible that prison changed Dwight D. Manfredi for the better. He’s got a wicked sense of humor and is brimming with intelligence.

Prison also taught him that any man standing to his rear is up to no good, and that was the first indication that he’d grown out of his mafia compadres. They wanted to treat him as just another capo, but Dwight is much more than that now.

That, combined with his expectations upon release, didn’t win him any favors with his old buddies. Before he was banished to Tulsa under the guise of expanding mafia horizons, he clocked a made man, breaking his jaw. Dwight’s still got a few moves, and they serve him well in his new hometown.

But for everything that Dwight was on top of in the joint, he wasn’t on top of modern culture, and it hits him like a two-by-four to the face.

Culture has changed dramatically since 1997, when the world was just beginning to open with household internet and cell phones. Missing out on so much puts Dwight a little bit behind the eight-ball, but he’s a fast learner.

Dwight [exiting the airport and accosted by a grasshopper]: Whoa! What the hell is that?
Woman: It’s a grasshopper. They’re harmless.
Dwight: That thing’s the size of my cock!
Woman: Excuse me?
Dwight: Actually, I’m more endowed than that, so [she sprays him in the face with holy water].

Still, nothing prepared him for a woman to spray him in the face for a few salty words, but it was the perfect introduction to his new life in Tulsa.

Dwight was rescued from the airport and from a dreary introduction to Tulsa by cab driver Tyson, who became Dwight’s right-hand man without question. The two have an easy partnership, cemented when Dwight stood up a car dealer who saw a black man with cash and sensed a grave threat.

It’s easy to see why Dwight trusts Tyson. Well, he’s a capo, so he’s used to making people tolerate him even if they’d rather not, but Tyson doesn’t sense Dwight as a threat.

That makes it easy for Tyson to tell Dwight what’s what, from how gangsta has taken on an entirely different meaning than gangster to how to secure an ID and a credit card with virtually no personal history. Dwight soaks up what Tyson tells him like a sponge, which makes sense after 25 years of self-imposed education.

I’m a big fan of fish-out-of-water stories, so every ill-conceived move Dwight made tickled my funny bone. You soon discover that he’s unlikely to make the same mistake twice.

Dwight is a go-getter. It’s probably how he climbed the mafia ranks, but on his own, without the family shoring him up, he seeks interesting people, sparking up conversation and making friends wherever he goes.

I got a kick (no pun intended) out of his alligator shoes-to-boots comparison, but it shows how easy he is to talk to. Dwight stuck out like a sore thumb in the Bred2Buck Saloon, but he left with a new friend in Mitch and a free ride to the local karaoke strip club (what a combo) with new gal pal, Stacy.

Let’s be honest, any show that puts a 75-year-old man in the general vicinity of a woman under 50 will get called out.

So, Stacy called out Dwight instead. Stallone really could pass for a hard 55 (a phrase that cracks me up in its own right), but Stacy got the heebie-jeebies when she realized she’d just crossed the age canyon, and he hightailed it out of there.

But Stacy has her own baggage, facing a divorce and fighting addiction (and clearly failing), so she’s not above finding the old geezer attractive; he’s got integrity, after all.

Stacy: I’m just saying; at least he’s got some integrity.
Agent: Nothing sexier than a cold-blooded killer with principles.

Based on her reaction, an honest conversation with her girlfriend, and her tip to Dwight that if he gets jammed up in Tulsa, it would be unlikely she could help, it seems Stacy is in it for the long haul.

That doesn’t mean they’ll become the hottest ticket in town, but he intrigues her personally more than he piques her interest from a job perspective. She says she won’t be able to step in but saying it leans toward the opposite. She could be his eyes and ears on the ground, warning him of impending doom.

From the doom angle, Dwight wasted no time finding his first “in” to the seedy underbelly of Tulsa — a legal weed dispensary run by a stoner geek named Bodhi (the perfectly cast Martin Starr).

Bodhi is incredulous that anyone would march into his unprotected business and make demands and even more shocked when Dwight starts suggesting ways to hide money from the feds. As Bodhi put it, there was no trouble in his line of work until Dwight walked in.

The feds do take a ridiculous chunk of change out of your business, though, and if you’ve got a mind for danger, going the criminal route is a lot easier than increasing profits another way.

Dwight: This is why people break the law because they make everything legitimate so frigging complicated.
Tyson: It ain’t all that complicated. We’ll just get you a new license.
Dwight: You’re such a good citizen.

Hey, it’s not wise, but it makes good television.

Dwight surprised everyone by knowing his way around the weed business, but he failed to foresee that the dip he was snarfing down was laden with THC. To that, I say Thank God.

You know, I feel like Rip Van Winkle. You wake up after 25 years, and GM has gone electric, Dylan has gone public, a phone is a camera, coffee? Five bucks a cup. And the Stones, bless their heart, they’re still on tour.

Dwight

It offered yet another comical take on life on the outside and allowed Dwight to get inside of himself for a walk down memory lane. Dwight’s hero was Mickey Mantle, who was everything his father was not. His dad let a baseball bounce off his chest rather than catch it and talked with a thick accent his friends mimicked.

Now an old man himself, Dwight sees the error of his ways and is even a little disappointed that Tyson and Bodhi don’t cite their fathers as their heroes. But really, Dwight was thinking about the love he squandered as a father more than the love he didn’t shower on his.

Dwight was in prison for 25 years and hadn’t seen his family in 18. The first inclination is to think they abandoned him, but it was he who did the abandoning.

I’m sure it was difficult for them to watch Dwight behind bars, refusing to roll over on his mafia family. But his disappointment in himself overpowered his love for his family, and he pushed them away.

Dwight didn’t need to be Tina’s hero, but he did need to be her dad, and by pushing her away, he stole that from her. From the sound of the phone call, Tina, now married, has children of her own.

Reconnecting with a man she likely never discusses will be doubly difficult now. Moms will do anything to ensure their children don’t suffer the same fate, so Dwight has a massive hill to climb to prove to Tina he’s worthy of her love and trust.

From laughing out loud to a soul-crushing scene of Dwight acknowledging his deepest fears, Tulsa King came out with a bang.

So many characters were barely utilized in this two-hour premiere, including the mafia fellows and Armand, who seemed scared to death that Dwight might have been there to end him, but still hunted Dwight down. What’s going on there?

At this point, who knows? There’s so much to explore and many levels of exploration on the table. As long as Tulsa King keeps it interesting, we’ll be coming back for more.

What about you? Did you enjoy the two-hour premiere?

Lay it on me — did you find it as funny as I did?

Share your thoughts in the comments below, and join me again tonight for a review of another two-hour premiere, Sheridan’s golden goose, Yellowstone.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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