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Tulsa King's Terence Winter Digs Into How The Show Avoids Typical Mafia Stereotypes

While the Paramount+ series "Tulsa King" is billed as the latest semi-comic crime thriller from Taylor Sheridan, the busy writer actually passed off his writing duties to "Boardwalk Empire" creator Terence Winter after scripting the pilot. The show was left in experienced hands as Winter was also a writer on one of the most successful gangster series of all time, HBO's "The Sopranos," a show praised for its naturalistic approach to the world of the Mafia. "Boardwalk Empire" was rooted even more in reality because it was based on real-life gangsters and events. Much like both "Boardwalk Empire" and "The Sopranos" before it, "Tulsa King" has been praised for its believably realistic depiction of mob life. Winter thinks that its success comes from the show's ability to avoid stereotypes, something the writer was able to also imprint on his latest endeavor.

Although Winter was only the showrunner for "Tulsa King" during its debut season, he spoke in detail to Deadline about how "Tulsa King" avoided the pitfalls of depicting Italian Americans as mobsters on TV. "If you depicted every single Italian American as a mobster, that would be stereotyping. This is a guy who happens to legitimately be a mobster," Winter said. He went on to say that since the Italian American mob has been around since the 1890s, he is looking to depict honest portrayals of characters in the mob. They just also happen to be Italian American.

The General shares some qualities with another legendary TV mobster

Terence Winter continued describing the way "Tulsa King" avoids stereotypes in his interview with Deadline saying that Sylvester Stallone's character Dwight Manfredi, known as The General, is a modern-day mobster with roots in the Italian American mob. Winter said, "It's really just a function of the character. He's a very different person. He's a very different man than Tony Soprano, for example, but in some ways similar." 

Winter also wrote for HBO's critically acclaimed Mafia-based series "The Sopranos" over two decades ago. One of the reasons fans got hooked on that show was because Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) was so likable despite all the horrific things we also saw him do. When given glimpses into his home life, he was relatable and something of an everyman. He had a sense of humor that made him more three-dimensional than if he was just some monster with a penchant for killing. 

Winter further compared The General to Tony Soprano, saying that both funny and smart men have strong ties to family and can be very vocal about their opinions. He noted that Manfredi is "more thinking man's gangster, and he's older and he knows he's not home." Differentiating the Soprano patriarch even more from the Tulsa King, Manfredi has been relocated to Oklahoma after his 25-year prison stint. It's not the New York base that he would be used to, causing him to act differently than if he were home. "He knows he is in a foreign place, which might as well be another planet," Winter said. 

Telling a fish-out-of-water tale is an age-old trope, but it makes the audience believe in a lead character. When a lead, even a hardened, scary gangster, feels uncomfortable in their own skin, fans can connect on that level.