As Shonda Rhimes is to ABC, as Ryan Murphy is to FX, and as Greg Berlanti is to The CW, Taylor Sheridan is to Paramount Television. His Yellowstone, now in its third season, is the biggest show on cable since The Walking Dead of five years ago. There are two (2) Yellowstone spin-offs in the works (a Yellowstone universe), and another Sheridan series, Lioness (about a marine recruited by the CIA to befriend a terrorist), that is in development.
Sheridan — as is also apparent in his movies, Wind River, Hell or High Water — loves to dabble in shades of grey, although his latest, Mayor of Kingstown, is almost too murky to make it out the shading. It’s bleak, and mumbly, and it looks like the camera filter was turned to “perpetually overcast.” Sheridan’s lead, Jeremy Renner’s Mike, feels like Jax Teller in Sons of Anarchy (where Taylor Sheridan spent two seasons as an actor) if Jax Teller had resigned himself from the outset to the fate that would eventually catch up to him. Jax wanted to escape the life he was born into; Mike wearily gives in to the life to which he was born with a sort of apathetic indifference. It is what it is. *Sigh*.
Oh, and Spoilers. But really, really Spoilers.
Kyle Chandler is killed off in the opening episode. It’s not as though his death is telegraphed, exactly, but it feels like a show that doesn’t have enough room for both Chandler and Renner so it doesn’t come as a huge shock, especially since so many shows these days like to kick off their series with the high-profile deaths of those who would seem to have thick plot armor, substituting shock value for better storytelling.
Mitch (Kyle Chandler) is the “Mayor of Kingstown” at the outset. It’s an unofficial title. He’s a sort of corrupt middleman that plays both sides of the prison system in the fictional Michigan town where the series is set — a place with seven prisons and 20,000 inmates within a 10-mile radius. The position is not particularly well defined: He acts as a go-between for the cops and the prisoners, for the prisoners and their criminal enterprises outside of prison, and the cops and their extracurriculars outside the job. He’s a fixer. He keeps the peace, even if doing so requires violence.
When Mitch is shot in the back of the head by a bad guy, Mike (Renner) reluctantly takes on the position to “tie up some loose ends,” which is code for, “I will remain in this position until it kills me.” He has to find out who was behind his brother’s killing, but he also has to navigate different cop/criminal alliances, none of which make much sense yet. There’s a prisoner trying to blackmail a guard, who gets the prisoner nearly beat to death; there are cops happy to look the other way in service of vigilante justice (or even engage in their own); and there’s a drug kingpin who operates out of a lawn chair in front of an apartment complex. Mike’s younger brother, Kyle (Taylor Handley) is a cop, but not one that gets in the way of what Mike is doing. He’s part of the same system. His mother Miriam (Dianne Wiest), meanwhile, is one of those hard-ass matriarchal ladies grown in the Animal Kingdom lab, who seems to want more for Mike than this life, but seems equally resigned to his fate, especially after the death of Mitch.
There’s the beginning of a number of storylines, but after two episodes, they have not yet come into focus. They follow familiar crime show outlines, though, so we can make educated guesses. The storylines are byzantine, but they are not complicated. There is also no shortage of weary, heavy-handed platitudes, like fortune cookies that exclusively quote Bob Segar songs. It feels something akin to a CBS procedural with a prestige sheen, and by “prestige sheen,” I mostly mean having a real-life Avenger grimace for an hour. Not that Renner is bad. He’s well suited to these Taylor Sheridan roles: Tough emotionally-walled off Costner-esque men who talk softly and carry big sticks (or guns, or concussion grenades).
It’s a shame, then, that he’s not yet given much else to do aside from look tired and worn out, a man motivated by obligation and, occasionally, the sad eyes of a desperate woman. The show itself, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to have a particular destination in mind yet, either, although that’s been no hindrance to Yellowstone, which meanders from one complication to the next content enough to allow its themes to do most of the work. That’s a bigger problem in Mayor of Kingstown, however, because it’s almost impossible to see the themes through its grimness. If killing off Kyle Chandler is the best trick this series has up its sleeve, however, it’s going to be a long, bleak first season.
Header Image Source: Paramount+