Why Tulsa King Is a Departure From Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone Universe

The Sylvester Stallone-starring Tulsa King promises to be something fresh, fun, and perhaps only slightly familiar.

Jay Will as Tyson, Sylvester Stallone as Dwight Manfredi, and Martin Starr as Bodhi of the Paramount+ original series TULSA KING.
Photo: Brian Douglas | Paramount+

It’s not difficult to see how the Taylor Sheridan television empire, featuring shows like Yellowstone, 1883, and Mayor of Kingstown are linked, or why they might be so popular with the rabid Sheridan core fanbase. They all feature a look at multi-generational strong-willed families, who struggle to establish or maintain their own personal dynasties. These families are typically led by a patriarch of sorts – perhaps stubborn in his own way, but with a moral code that, despite his antiheroic methodology, is easy to cheer for. The family will argue, some of them will most likely die, but throughout it all, they remain eternally bonded, and the audience will continue to root for their success. 

Now the latest entry into the Sheridan-verse is Tulsa King, which follows the story of Dwight “The General” Manfredi, a New York mafia captain who, after serving a 25-year prison sentence, is released. During that time, Manfredi shows the strength of his moral code by not saying a word about the operation, and so looks to be compensated when finally on the outside. Instead, he finds himself shipped to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where his mafia family wants him to establish new operations. There, Manfredi must seek a crew to help establish his new empire.

On the surface, it’s easy to see how Tulsa King is yet another property that features the Sheridan stamp plastered all over it. It features a strong, morally and criminally ambiguous patriarch who is trying to build something for himself and those who are important to him, and in the process, carve out his own little kingdom. Yet when the cast and creative team spoke to the press during the Television Critics Associatoin press tour, they made clear that we can expect a slightly different approach and flavor to Tulsa King, which will seemingly appease hardcore Sheridan fans, and possibly bring in a crowd unfamiliar with his work. 

One need look no further than the eclectic cast. The legendary Sylvester Stallone, in his first major television role plays “The General,” which is certainly on brand for a Sheridan show. All of his popular properties have drawn in major talent when it comes to those patriarchal roles, with Yellowstone, 1883 and Mayor of Kingstown bringing in massive talents such as Kevin Costner, Sam Elliott, and Jeremy Renner. 

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Yet the supporting cast for those shows have brought in some major talent as well. Names like Hauser, Reilly, Bentley, McGraw, and Wiest have brought their impressive filmographies to the Sheridan family. With Tulsa King, Sly is certainly the big draw. There are established actors within the cast, but not necessarily of the same pedigree, and what that does is gives audiences the opportunity to see the character more than the actor.

This may also give those more veteran actors within the cast to truly develop a character more than ever before. Many within the cast have spoken about how television is a departure for them, or, like Stallone, the first time they’ve come to work in the medium. Stallone describes it as having to be “mercurial.” He goes on to say “In the amount of time that we did 10 episodes, it’s the equivalent of doing five ‘Rockys’ in a row with no break in between. So I had great respect for the crew, and their diligence and endurance”.

Based on the trailers and other clips, it would appear the major departure with this show, compared to the other Sheridan dramas, is that it is taking a more comedic route. Undoubtedly, it will not be a straight comedy with Sheridan at the helm, but the “fish out of water” premise is already a departure from James Dutton, or John Dutton, or Kingstown’s Mitch McLusky, as these are all men who are in their pure element, and often are four steps ahead of the situation. 

Manfredi, while comfortable with the skill set needed to build a criminal empire, is not accustomed to Oklahoma culture, and in most of the clips already shown, looks as if he will be making quite a few faux-pas. What will it mean having a Sheridan alpha male who doesn’t know exactly what’s going on? Who must rely on those around him not to simply carry out his orders, but to fit into this new world, and help him get his footing?

The addition of comedian Martin Starr (who just worked with Stallone on Samaritan) also hints that Tulsa King is trying something new. Sheridan and his showrunners have often hired musicians in these previous shows (like Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Hugh Dillon, and Ryan Bingham) but never someone known for their comedy. With that casting alone, it stands to reason that Starr is primed to add more of a comedic tone with his character. “This was a fun departure for me,” Starr said. “Getting to journey down a road of becoming a weird part of a mafia family.”

Co-star Andrea Savage, who will play Stacy Beale in Tulsa King describes the pilot as having a “fun life to it”. That doesn’t mean we can’t expect the visceral violence we’ve come to know in Sheridan projects. “In juxtaposition, you have the violent stuff, and I think that’s going to be really surprising for people to see, especially some of this humor from Sly”. 

Executive Producer Terrence Winter sums it up best. “The appeal of the mix of these two tried and true genres reminds me of those Peanut Butter Cup commercials where the peanut butter truck crashed into the chocolate truck. Now you’ve got something better than the two separate things. It was just so much fun.” 

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The use of words like “weird” and “fun” really says a lot about the eclectic nature of this story, the cast and their characters, and perhaps this means the audience for the first time with a Sheridan premise, should expect the unexpected.

Tulsa King premieres Sunday, Nov. 13 on Paramount+.