“I remember when I was 17, my father asked me what I wanted to be. Would I like to be a barber like him? I laughed in his face. I wanted to be a successful gangster. In retrospect I asked myself if what I chose was worth 25 years of my life. The answer is no, not 25 seconds. I married this life, and after keeping my mouth shut for all these years, I’m gonna see if it married me back.”
Sylvester Stallone plays mob guy Dwight “The General” Manfredi. It’s his first television role, and he couldn’t have chosen better than to appear in a Taylor Sheridan show on Paramount +. Sheridan pretty much owns the streaming service, all of it except maybe the Star Trek shows. He knows how to create characters and to then put the right actor in that role. I’ve seen it happen a thousand times now, from Yellowstone to Mayor of Kingstown and a couple of Yellowstone spin-offs. The part appears made just for Sly, and he makes it worth everything he has, all the while making it look effortless. That’s Sheridan’s magic, of course. Create and cast well, and no one has to really work at all. Yeah, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but it sure looks that way, doesn’t it?
Dwight is finally getting out of prison. He’s been loyal to the mob, and now he’s looking to see that loyalty rewarded. He’s in for a bit of a surprise. When he’s summoned to the boss’s house, he’s a little nervous. Years in prison makes him weary of people behind his back, and with these guys … well … you never know, do you? There he finds the boss Pete Invernizzi (Peterson) is very sick and on oxygen. His son Chickie is played by The Wire veteran Domenick Lomardozzi, and he’s really calling some of the shots. Dwight and Chickie were kind of close, and Chickie refers to Dwight as Uncle Dwight. But now he’s a bit envious of the fact that his dad considered Dwight more of a son and the plan now to exile Dwight. He’s told to go to Tulsa, Oklahoma and kind of set up a mob franchise in the city. He’s told there’s nothing for him in New York anymore. Dwight doesn’t take the news very well, and you know when Sly is not happy, somebody’s going to end up with a broken nose and laid out on the floor. I never said the show wasn’t predictable.
Dwight arrives in Tulsa and immediately plants his flag. He’s picked up by cab driver Tyson, played by Jay Will. Tyson is actually a gangster wannabe, and before long he’s Dwight’s regular driver at a couple of grand a week. On the way to his hotel they pass a pot dispensary, and Dwight sees all of the possibilities at once. They stop, he goes in, and with sheer force of will he intimidates himself into being a 20% partner in the business, and the owner, Bodhi (Starr) doesn’t even know how it happened. Dwight promises to protect his money against gangs, crooks, and the feds. A stop at a bar teams him with bar owner and fellow ex-con Mitch, played by Garrett Hedlund, who also fills the Taylor Sheridan requisite that there be one guitar-playing member of the cast. He also hooks up with a former member of his New York mob in Armand, played by Max Casella. Armand sees Dwight and thinks he’s there to kill him. So he tries to kill Dwight, which then has Dwight actually going to kill him. It’s one of those crazy coincidences, and before a couple of episodes are done, Dwight has himself a crew.
It’s all going well until he decides to get them in the nitrous business, which happens to be owned by local kingpin/biker gang leader Coalan Waltrip, played Ritchie Coster, who is a perfectly cast character to go up against Dwight. He’s kind of the nemesis of the season, but more story lines get put down by his relationship with Stacy Beale, played by Andrea Savage. It’s a quick bar pick-up, but she’s a fed, and when she realizes who she hooked up with, she realizes it’s going to get her fired or worse, so she starts to work behind the scenes to protect Dwight. It doesn’t hurt that she really wants Waltrip, and it’s that old enemy-of-my-enemy thing. It plays in the background here, but the season cliffhanger of a finale opens that up to be the big story going into Season Two.
The New York story continues to play out alongside the Tulsa material. Chickie is getting more and more angry at Dwight, and he starts to mess with his estranged daughter and her family. It ends up backfiring and pushes a daughter who wants nothing to do with her father right back into his arms to protect her own family. I love that both of these worlds continue to play out here, and it keeps you on your toes, because you know they can’t stay separate forever.
Stallone carries the weight of the show. He ends up having to hurt some folks, naturally, but those moments where he gets his way just by staring a guy down are the real magic. He also quickly develops a great chemistry with actor Jay Will. There’s a lot of stuff with just them in the car, and it’s often some of the most compelling moments in the series. I love this relationship, and honestly can’t wait to see more of it. Tyson is one of those characters in need of a mentor, and Dwight’s not quite the mentor he needs, but very much the mentor he wants. That’s also contrary to the wishes of his father played by Third Watch’s Michael Beach. The only issue I have with this character is we don’t get enough of him. Beach has always been a great actor, and it’s always a treat when he pops up somewhere, but this character has far more potential than they’re giving him so far. He’s fighting against Dwight’s influence, but he’s also there to help when the crew is ready to give some payback to Waltrip’s guys after they rough them up a bit. This is a seriously underused character and plot point that I hope we see rectified in the future.
You can’t say enough about the actual Tulsa locations. It gives a wonderful “fish out of water who is still a shark” persona of Sly’s character here. There’s also a nice balance as we still follow the New York mob story and its inevitable collision with the Dwight Tulsa scene. A lot of compelling characters, played by compelling actors doing a lot of compelling things. You get all nine episodes on three discs. The typical extras can be found here from Sheridan’s other shows. Each episode has a Behind the Story feature, and there’s a collection of features on the last disc. Unfortunately, he’s known for repeating material several times throughout, and I find that a bit annoying. Sheridan manages to turn everything into a western, and there have to be horses. Here it’s a budding relationship with a stables owner played by Dana Delany. I suspect they’re building for something more … but there just have to be horses. “That’s not a complaint. Just a fact.”