Growing up in Kingston, Ontario, Mayor of Kingston co-creator Hugh Dillon was surrounded by incarceration. Sometimes called “the prison capital of Canada”, Kingston was home to as many as 10 penitentiaries at its peak, including the imposing Millhaven Institution maximum security facility.
“When you pass the guard towers when you’re five and six, you think it’s Disneyland,” Dillon told Den of Geek and other outlets. “And your folks have to tell you ‘That’s not Disneyland.’”
A maximum security prison is very much not Disneyland. Dillon’s experiences beneath those towers, however, inspired a TV concept that is set to stream on one of Disney’s direct streaming competitors, Paramount+. Mayor of Kingstown was created by Dillon and frequent collaborator Taylor Sheridan (Yellowstone). The show stars Jeremy Renner as Mike McLusky, who along with his older brother Mitch (Kyle Chandler), serves as the de facto “mayor” of Kingstown, making sure that the prison town runs smoothly and the guards, inmates, and citizens all maintain a fragile peace.
Sheridan and Dillon have been developing Mayor of Kingstown for over a decade. The duo’s friendship began with Sheridan serving as Dillon’s acting coach. After Sheridan’s career took off with nouveau Western concepts like Sicario, Hell or High Water, and the absolutely enormous TV hit Yellowstone, ViacomCBS signed the writer to an overall deal. Following the success of Yellowstone (which just began its fourth season with Dillon reprising his role as Sheriff Donnie Haskell), Sheridan and Dillon finally decided to pull the ripcord on their long-gestating prison project.
“Prisons are the most brutal, unfair places in our society,” Dillon says. “(Growing up,) my friends’ parents were prison guards and inmates. It was just where I was from. I’ve always been fascinated with this unseen prison complex. It’s a world unto itself – how we treat those inmates and people and how that bleeds into a town that’s housing them. As a writer and as an actor I would keep coming back to this story.”
It’s no coincidence that both of Sheridan’s two most recent TV efforts feature the show’s setting in their respective titles. Mayor of Kingstown is about world-building first and foremost. The fictional Kingstown, Michigan is a tough, unsentimental place. It’s a company town where the business is human misery. In speaking to journalists prior to the show’s premiere, star Jeremy Renner said that the show is all about how environments affect the people inhabiting them.
“These people are all just products of their environment. Everybody is very human and very real. There’s limitations of a world like that. It can be bleak but it’s also super interesting to watch.”
Renner faces a unique challenge as the lead of Mayor of Kingstown. Every Marvel actor carries with them the specter of their iconic character into each new role, but the shade of Clint Barton looms particularly large for Renner. Mayor of Kingstown premieres on November 14 on Paramount+ while his Marvel character’s series, Hawkeye, premieres November 24 on Disney+. Mayor of Kingstown even cheekily pays homage to Renner’s comic book cypher by having Mike buy a crossbow to deal with a bear in the show’s second episode (yes, really). According to Renner, however, the two characters aren’t as different as they originally seem.
“The ferocity and the morality – the code of it all, I suppose. One is done in tights and a bow and arrow. And the other is done in an ill-fitting suit. I think the intentions are always good in both characters. Trying to do what’s right and trying to keep peace.”
The other challenge facing Renner and the show at large is that it can be difficult to explain what a “mayor of Kingstown” really is. Given that the title kind of phonetically sounds like the HBO smash hit Mare of Easttown, one could be forgiven for thinking that Sheridan and Dillon are trying to cash in on that pop cultural resonance. But the pair have been thinking deeply about Kingstown and its mayor for a long time.
So what exactly even is a mayor of Kingstown? For starters, it’s not an official role. The town of Kingstown has an actual elected mayor but he’s very aware that he wields no power in the prison town. Neither Mike nor Mitch fill out a W2 form for the position of “Kingstown mayor.” Instead, the mayor of Kingstown is an unofficial position created by Mike, Mitch, and their brother Kyle’s (Taylor Handley) father. The McLuskys are unofficial power brokers with their hands in just about every facet of Kingstown society.
Just as Tony Soprano and the DiMeo crime family had financial interests across Northern New Jersey, so too do the McLuskys in Michigan. Though in the latter’s case those interests are about keeping the peace…while also making a profit.
“That’s the job,” Renner says. “It’s understanding the needs and wants of everyone and the environment that they’re in – the unspoken rules inside of the prison let alone what the actual rules are. He wants to keep the peace and he’s the only guy who can. He’s the lubricant to keep the engine running in that town.”
Though older brother Mitch has the reins for now, Mike is uniquely suited for the mayor’s role, according to Renner.
“The outreach center that Mike runs is an advocacy center for inmates. Also what might not be known is that my character was in jail for 10 years. It’s why he has connections with the prison. Leaders inside. His father was a cop. His brother is a cop. But he’s able to bend the rules and the laws without breaking them.”
How long the McLuskys are able to keep the peace remains to be seen. Hopefully Renner’s character will be able to maintain his Hawkeye temperament and not go full Ronin.
Mayor of Kingstown premieres Sunday, November 14 on Paramount+.