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Jeremy Renner thrives in Taylor Sheridan's engrossing new show, 'Mayor of Kingstown'

The "Yellowstone" creator does it again: created a television series with sharp acting and writing, all the while existing in a history of violence.
Credit: Paramount Plus
Pictured: Jeremy Renner as Mike of the Paramount+ series MAYOR OF KINGSTOWN. Photo Cr: Emerson Miller ViacomCBS ©2021 Paramount+, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

ST. LOUIS — Along with his brother Mitch (the always reliable Kyle Chandler), Mike McLusky runs things in Kingstown, Michigan.

Played with authority by Jeremy Renner, he's the kind of guy who can bust a bottle over another man's head in a bar without a badge or gun, and walk out without a call being made. The brothers operate as community servants, aka prison liaison for the nearby penitentiaries. Unofficial (and unpaid) "fixers," the men who receive a request from an inmate's sister that something is wrong at the big house. Respected and revered at the same time in the working-class city for their loyalty and ability, the dirty job can paint targets on their chests for the favors they do.

Welcome to Taylor Sheridan's new show, "Mayor of Kingstown," one that entertains, engrossing the viewer in a riveting storyline that likely earned their trust and attention inside the two-hour premiere on Sunday night. Like "Yellowstone," the drama wastes little time in creating a world that can shock you, with a scene in the opening hour that should cause the jaw to reach floor level. But the signature ingredient here is the writing, which has been a staple for Sheridan throughout his already storied career.

After all, if Paramount Plus was a city, Taylor Sheridan would be its mayor. The writer/director has left signature imprints on the film industry ("Wind River," "Hell or High Water," "Sicario," and the thoroughly enjoyable "Those Who Wish Me Dead") and television (the aforementioned Kevin Costner drama series playing after "Kingstown"). creating taut and intelligent shows that may live in drama but visit the thriller genre often.

Co-created by Sheridan with character actor muse Hugh Dillion (his character often wears a badge, one used for good and evil), "Mayor of Kingstown" gets off to a nice and easy start, laying the sheets of this fictional Michigan town over our minds with unique detail. While Renner and Chandler's brothers are doing the unofficial shotcallers in the city, their work butts heads with their mother Mariam (Dianne Weist), a teacher in the prison system. Taking it more in stride is Kyle (Taylor Handler), Mike and Mitch's cop brother.

When you put all those ingredients together, it makes for solid Sunday evening entertainment. Along with "Yellowstone," Paramount Plus has a one-two punch here that could contend easily with HBO and Showtime. The blueprint isn't that much different, only P+ feels fresher without adhering to one time period. Coming next month is the origin tale to Sheridan's "Sopranos on a Ranch" series, "1883." All three of the shows take place in different environments, rural and city. "Kingstown" feels like a Detroit sibling, depraved yet colorful, and inhabited by top-tier acting.

Renner carries the series like a star should. The role is tailor-made for his abilities with the right amount of mystery left over. While Chandler and Wiest offer fine support, this is the Oscar nominee's ship. Unlike the good-hearted Mitch, Renner's Mike is the more dangerous brother. The one who can walk up nicely requesting information from a neighborhood gang leader (Tobi Bamtefa's Bunny), or run his car through the nearby fence with a gun drawn. The actor conquers both the even-keeled Mike McLusky moments and the far more sinister encounters, like the low-level gangster who received a shard of his glass in his forehead. Like any rancher on John Dutton's crew, there's a Jekyll and Hyde aspect to Mike that I really like.

Chandler makes any movie or show better just by showing up. Dialogue rhythm comes easier to him than most and while he doesn't have the screen time of his co-lead, you feel his presence often. Wiest makes you feel every ounce of Mariam's pain and guilt. What if you raised two boys, different and alike in their own ways, who grew up to bend the law in order to keep the peace among criminals and their families?

She's the voice in her boys' heads, and Wiest plays that incredibly well without overcooking the material. Handler's voice fits Sheridan and Dillon's writing like a glove, while the co-creator/writer carves out another good role of his own as a trustworthy detective in Kingstown.

Keep an eye on Bamtefa's Deverin Washington, known as "Bunny" in the neighborhood. Aka, the guy sitting out front on the lawn with a cooler full of drugs carrying zero fear of authority. That is, one carrying an actual badge. But instead of simply living under the cliched codependency setup of a detached alliance, Mike and Bunny have a working relationship that surprises the viewer, especially when they talk about the secret ingredient in Dutch oven cooking.

Those little quirks and deliberate servings of sophistication pay dividends when the bullets fly, the fists land, and the alliances in "Kingstown" start to stretch. Sheridan is making a habit out of creating highly-enjoyable and smart entertainment. No matter if it's the theater or the living room, the way his stories hit feels all the same. Engrossing is the word.

Last week, all you had to watch on Sunday night was one great Taylor Sheridan show. Now, you have two. The roughneck Sorkin can't miss at the moment.