Two kindred spirits, a generation apart, have merged in the macho-man TV world. There’s:
— Sylvester Stallone, 76. He created John Rambo and Rocky Balboa, 40 and 46 years ago.
— Taylor Sheridan, about 52. Four years ago, he created John Dutton and “Yellowstone.”
Now they’ve combined for “Tulsa King,” which has a two-part arrival: On Sunday (Nov. 13), it debuts on the Paramount+ streamer; a week later, its first two episodes will be on cable – 9 and 10 p.m. Nov. 20, right after “Yellowstone,” on the Paramount Network. “We’re both steeped in the alpha tradition where, you know, life is hard,” Stallone told the Television Critics Associatioon.
So both write strong-and-silent characters. Sheridan dislikes expository dialog; Stallone agrees.
“Taylor and I … look at life in a short-handed way,” he said. “Most people get what life is about, so we don’t have to do a great deal of exposition.”
The difference is that Stallone also plays the best characters he wrote. Sheridan doesn’t, even though he’s also an actor. (A handsome chap, he grew up on a Texas ranch, played David Hale, an honest cop, on “Sons of Anarchy” and is Travis Wheatly, a horse-trader, in some “Yellowstone” episodes.)
Instead, he gives the best roles to others. Kevin Costner plays Dutton … Tim McGraw and Harrison Ford play Dutton’s ancestors in two “Yellowstone” prequels on Paramount +, “1883” and the upcoming “1923” … Jeremy Renner starred in the “Wind River” movie and stars in “Mayor of Kingstown,” on Paramount + … Josh Brolin starred in the “Sicario” movie … and now it’s Stallone’s turn.
He plays Dwight Manfredi, at a turning point. As Terence Winter (who co-wrote the first two episodes with Sheridan and is the show-runner), tells it, Dwight “is just getting out of prison after 25 years, for a murder to protect his boss and his boss’ family.”
Now he expects to be rewarded, Winter said. “Dwight was an incredibly loyal soldier, kept his mouth shut the whole time, sacrificed everything he had – including his relationship with his young daughter.”
Instead of rewarding him, the boss’ son tells him to stir up new business in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which “might as well be on another planet,”
That’s a concept that people can understand, even if they’ve never met a mobster. “I think we can all relate to shifts in our lives,” said Andrea Savage, who plays a federal agent, also re-assigned from New York, “and in going: ‘What do I actually have? And who do I have in my corner?’”
But it becomes more interesting if you’ve met mobsters – which Stallone has. He was a middle-class kid in New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, but he came across lots of tough guys.
“I grew up around a lot of these mugs,” he said, “and they’re very interesting. In Philadelphia, you’re always bumping shoulders with them, whether you want to or not, especially in South Philly.”
He tried to play one, without much success. “I was rejected to be one of the 200 extras who basically stood behind a wedding cake in ‘The Godfather.’”
Four years later, he would be starring in “Rocky,” in a role he wrote. Now he plays another tough guy, but someone who says a lot more than “yo” in his vocabulary. “This is a fella who’s very educated, reads Marcus Aurelius, reads Plato. He’s into Machiavelli.”
He knows lots of words … and uses them sparingly. He’s a Taylor Sheridan kind of guy.