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Taylor Sheridan's Mayor of Kingstown features his trademark macho melodrama, but it "yearns for 2005 like a convict for a conjugal visit"

  • "As an actor, Taylor Sheridan tended to alternate between square-jawed authority figures and square-jawed thugs, but his prospects were perhaps limited by coming up at a moment when TV was accentuating vulnerability over rugged cheekbones," says Daniel Fienberg. "He appeared in various initials-driven shows, your CSIs and NCISs, plus a memorable run on Sons of Anarchy, before transitioning into a writing and directing career that can be interpreted as focusing on revitalizing the kind of manly melodramas that, in a different era, might have kept him employed in front of the camera. Sheridan makes bombastic, macho throwbacks, and while the features Sicario and Wind River should have offered proof that he’s more than capable of writing female characters, albeit women struggling in male-driven professions, they feel like exceptions rather than the result of a focused intention. Or perhaps he hasn’t found a muse of the sort his Sons of Anarchy boss Kurt Sutter has in Katey Sagal. Particularly since his transition to TV, where he created the cable juggernaut that is Yellowstone, Sheridan has chosen to take big ideas and drown them in a sea of testosterone. It’s possible to behave heroically in Taylor Sheridan’s worlds, but there are too many corrupt and antiquated systems in place for a character to emerge as a true hero. It’s a relief that the Coen brothers already adapted Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, because it would have been the most on-the-nose of Sheridan projects. And Sheridan projects, even the best of them, are already plenty on-the-nose. Created with actor Hugh Dillon, Sheridan’s new Paramount+ drama, Mayor of Kingstown, is very much a Taylor Sheridan production, a discourse on flawed masculinity told, with much mumbling and grunting, through a critique of the American prison system. It’s not a milieu made for subtlety, and none is offered. But through three episodes, the bluster and the questionable choices of where to focus too often overwhelm a unique context and well-intentioned discourse."


    • Mayor of Kingstown comes across as a paint by numbers attempt at Prestige TV: "Every piece of the story follows a checklist dating back to the early aughts," says Ben Travers. "This is no Mare even if it’s meant to make you think so. While genuinely novel and thrilling paths could eventually emerge over the 10-episode first season (and, in all likelihood, beyond), Mayor of Kingstown’s overarching lack of motivation — as seen in (Jeremy) Renner’s character as well as the show’s adherence to a prestige TV playbook — doesn’t bode well. Let’s start with Renner, who’s reuniting with Sheridan after their 2017 feature Wind River, which was made during the writer-director’s ascent to above-the-line talent. Renner was already there. As an O.G. Avenger and a one-time Oscar nominee, Renner is what qualifies as a movie star these days, thus making him the ideal (read: mandatory) lead for a prestige TV drama. (First box: check!) He plays Mike McLusky, a felon living and 'working' in his hometown of Kingstown, MI, alongside his brother, Mitch (Emmy winner Kyle Chandler). Mike and Mitch serve as local power brokers, fancying themselves peacekeepers between the 20,000 inmates spread across four local prisons and the 40,000 men and women paid to keep them there. If an aunt needs to get a phone to her incarcerated nephew, they go see Mitch, Mitch makes a deal with his army of guards on their behalf, and bingo, bango, a separated family can text again."
    • Mayor of Kingstown makes Mare of Easttown look hilarious: "The first thing you need to know about the new Paramount+ drama Mayor of Kingstown is that it is not a spinoff, reboot, or in any other way tied to Mare of Easttown, despite the two shows having sound-alike names," says Alan Sepinwall. "It’s the most confusing bit of series nomenclature since NCIS launched while CSI was still on the air, or perhaps going back to when ABC and CBS debuted dramas called Once and Again and Now And Again in the same season. Then again, maybe the echoing title is helpful. Mayor, like Mare, takes place in a dying Rust Belt community, and has a brooding title character who’s connected to law enforcement and knows everyone in town yet would probably be better off leaving. Mostly, though, what you need to know about Mayor of Kingstown is that it was created by Taylor Sheridan, the mastermind behind Paramount Network’s Yellowstone. Mayor is a bit less soapy than Yellowstone (a.k.a. cable’s most popular series), and its setting is urban and cramped rather than the wide-open spaces of Montana where the Dutton family does battle. But both look at the modern state of America through a relentlessly grim lens, making the dour Mare of Easttown seem like a laugh riot by comparison."
    • Mayor of Kingstown is kind of like a flawed version of Mare of Easttown: "The obvious joke about Mayor of Kingstown is that its title sounds a great deal like Mare of Easttown, just somehow less memorable," says Daniel D'Addario. "There’s an accidental truth there: Everything Mare of Easttown did, earlier this year, might possibly have been clichéd if told in a less fluid and effective way. Mare, too, gives a speech about disappointment — the difference is that it’s written in a way that undercuts her rather than mythologizing her discontent, and is well-acted, too. Renner, as the lead of the show, too easily snaps into a prestige-TV grimace without much underneath. And the show around him treats unhappiness as the subject rather than a condition of an environment with much more to explore. It’s hard to imagine the viewer who will want to spend much more than the pilot’s first hour in Kingstown."
    • Jeremy Renner’s ferociously powerful performance is the best thing about Mayor of Kingstown: "To this day my favorite Jeremy Renner performance might have been his nomination-worthy supporting turn as the hardscrabble, hardcore criminal James 'Jem' Coughlin in The Town — an ex-con who was plenty smart enough to make a living in the straight world but didn’t want to hear that noise because he was going to do things his way, even if it meant he was essentially on a lifelong suicide mission," says Richard Roeper. "Renner’s Mike McClusky is like a slightly more sophisticated, more political, spiritual cousin to Jem Coughlin. Like Jem, he’s an ex-con who spends virtually every waking moment in the free world skirting or crossing lines that will get him thrown back in prison. And like Jem, he’s never leaving his hometown. Mike talks about it all the time, but he’s not headed anywhere. Where’s he gonna go? Renner’s ferociously powerful performance is the best thing about The Mayor of Kingstown, a gritty, highly pedigreed, impressively photographed and well-acted series premiering Sunday on Paramount+. Reteaming with his Wind River writer-director Taylor Sheridan, Renner leads an outstanding ensemble cast that includes Kyle Chandler, Dianne Wiest, Taylor Handley, Emma Laird, Hugh Dillon (who co-created the series with Sheridan) and Aiden Gillen — the latter proving he can be just as chillingly manipulative and nefarious in the present-day Rust Belt as he was as Littlefinger on Game of Thrones.”
    • Taylor Sheridan and his writers deal so much in shades of gray and blurred lines that it becomes impossible to make out any of the larger themes: "The show doesn’t really try to defend or delve into any particular position; several storylines acknowledge corruption and systemic inequities, but that’s the extent to which those topics are addressed," says Danette Chavez. "The only real takeaway is that life is terrible in Kingstown, no matter who you are—though, of course, it’s considerably worse for those who are incarcerated. But that reality is established early on, and rarely examined further. Mayor Of Kingstown veers as frequently into the high-octane, morally murky terrain of shows like Sons Of Anarchy (in which Sheridan once co-starred), as it does the sprawling exploration of The Wire, which followed the money—and the crime—from the streets to the most august of places. It never settles comfortably into either approach, just as Mike wavers between the 'legitimate' world and Kingston’s underbelly."
    • Overall, Mayor of Kingstown is good, but it is not Yellowstone good: "I found myself struggling to care about these characters for almost the entire premiere episode and it took until the end of the second before I was willing to invest," says Alex Maidy. "By episode three, I began to buy into this convoluted web of loyalties and allegiances, but it still feels far too cumbersome for its own good. Mayor of Kingstown benefits from a talented creator and a top-notch cast even if it cannot replicate the same pulpy goodness that turned Yellowstone into a pop culture hit. Watching rich cowboys battle each other is one thing but seeing working-class people screw each other over is another. Mayor of Kingstown feels like Sons of Anarchy but without the motorcycles or Yellowstone without the horses. This series needs something to give it a distinct appeal and I have yet to really find that in these early episodes. Because of Sheridan’s track record and Renner in the lead, I will stick with Mayor of Kingstown but maybe only for a single term."

    TOPICS: Mayor of Kingstown, Paramount+, Hugh Dillon, Jeremy Renner, Taylor Sheridan