In the span of just 10 days, Jeremy Renner will star in not one but two new TV shows. The first, the bleak prison drama Mayor of Kingstown, debuted Nov. 14 on Paramount+. In it, Renner plays Mike McLusky, an ex-con and current power broker in a Michigan town ruled by the unjust penal system thanks to the presence of seven prisons located within a 10-mile radius. Created by Oscar nominee Taylor Sheridan (Yellowstone) and actor Hugh Dillon, who co-stars in the show, it's a suffocating and violent look at a difficult but troubling topic rarely tackled on TV.
The second show, Marvel's Hawkeye, launches Wednesday on Disney+ with two episodes. It finds the actor once again reprising his role of Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, the talented archer and very not-superpowered hero of the Avengers. Set at Christmas, the six-episode series finds Clint begrudgingly working with a young-but-talented protégée, Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), after she unwittingly crosses paths with criminals — the amusingly named Tracksuit Mafia — who have beef with Ronin, Clint's violent vigilante persona from the five-year time period after Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped his family out of existence.
The two shows could not be more different in style and tone, with each showing off a different side of Renner. So, this Novrennber — sorry, November — I am undertaking the difficult talk of attempting to figure out, based on a number of select criteria and scoring them on a scale of 1-10, which series offers the better overall showcase for the Oscar-nominated actor, and, in doing so, determine which is the better show overall.
How, exactly, does one explain or define Rennerness? It's ineffable. Between Renner's acting, strange music career, infamous app debacle, quirky side project buying fire trucks, and an Instagram full of design inspiration, he is impossible to define. Just when you think you've got him nailed down, he reveals a new side of himself, so he's never what you expect him to be. It's what makes him the secret weapon of nearly any project. He can do many things well even though his career over the last decade or so suggests he's been specially crafted to hit people or be hit. His body of work encompasses crime thrillers, multiple action franchises, sci-fi flicks, and a decade-long stint in the MCU. But he's at his best when he's given room to engage with humor or embrace a certain level of wildness in his approach. His Oscar-nominated performance as a Boston bank robber with nothing to lose in Ben Affleck's heist movie The Town is a perfect example of what he can do. It's Peak Renner and easily one of his best and most memorable performances.
In Hawkeye, he doesn't reach this same level of Rennerness, but we do get to see him have a bit of fun as Clint reacts to the world around him in humorous ways. The show echoes Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which viewers were treated to a picture of a family man who understood his place within the Avengers but also recognized the absurdity and futility of fighting an army of robots on a flying city with a bow and arrow. Renner's performance in Hawkeye, whether he's playing the role of tired dad, nailing unexpected punchlines with pin-point accuracy, or making viewers laugh as an exasperated man attending a LARPing event in New York City, elevates the series beyond the basic thesis of a man torn between his family and doing the right thing.
In Mayor of Kingstown, which highlights more of the actor's dramatic chops, there are glimpses of the Renner we've seen in other performances featuring morally gray characters. But the grim material suffocates his Rennerness (and pretty much everyone else). As a former felon struggling within the confines of the complicated family business, Mike is another cog in the systemically broken prison machine despite trying to help people while keeping various factions of the city happy. The show is violent, which again speaks somewhat to Renner's other skills, but there also isn't much for him to grab onto to make a statement.
Mayor of Kingstown: 5
No matter how talented its star might be, a show is only as good as its supporting cast. Luckily for Hawkeye, Hailee Steinfeld was perfectly cast as Kate Bishop, a 22-year-old archer obsessed with Clint (as Hawkeye) who crosses his path after stumbling headfirst into the Tracksuit Mafia. The character's stubbornness and wry sense of humor are right in Steinfeld's wheelhouse — there are shades of her excellent performance in The Edge of Seventeen — and she plays well off Vera Farmiga, who portrays her mother Eleanor, a widowed socialite who owns a security firm (this probably won't come into play later on at all). And maybe it's because we've come to expect a sinister, two-sided performance from him thanks to his role as Lalo Salamanca on AMC's Better Call Saul, but Tony Dalton simply nails his performance as Jack Duquesne, Eleanor's new fiancé whom Kate is convinced has ulterior motives and is hiding something. However, the best supporting work of the series has to go to Lucky the Pizza Dog. No, I will not be expanding further.
Mayor of Kingstown also boasts an impressive supporting cast between Emmy Award winner Kyle Chandler and two-time Oscar winner Dianne Wiest. They play Mike's brother and mother, respectively, but neither have much to do through the three episodes screened for critics. This leaves Renner to do most of the heavy lifting — both emotionally and narratively — with a little help from Taylor Handley, who plays Mike's younger brother, and series co-creator Hugh Dillon, both of whom portray police officers. Hamish Allan-Headley shows promise as the series' wildcard, a S.W.A.T. team member who served overseas, but he's not gotten that much to do yet. This could all change down the line, of course, but Renner is clearly the center around which everything revolves, which doesn't leave a lot of time for the supporting cast to leave a mark.
Mayor of Kingstown: 4
Let's get this out of the way: Hawkeye isn't breaking the wheel here. This is another story about a man who needs to get home to his family for Christmas but a series of wild events makes it increasingly impossible. When you put the superhero spin on it, the series takes on a "one last job" feel as well. We have seen this before. But even though this is familiar territory, the pieces come together nicely, from the reluctant mentor angle to the subtle hints throughout Clint and Kate's quasi-relationship that remind viewers Clint is a father of three. It's the most time we've ever spent with the character, and the series is intent on digging into his ordinary existence as it butts up against the fact he's an Avenger — albeit one without powers or a special suit — who took on Thanos. Of course, through the two episodes screened for critics, we still don't know what Clint-as-Ronin did to piss off the Tracksuit Mafia, nor do we know what Jack's plans are. It's a promising start but not the most compelling or original story ever.
Mayor of Kingstown is in a similar situation but not for the same reasons. The American prison system isn't a topic that has been explored heavily on scripted television, but the "novelty" of the story doesn't make it inherently interesting. For whatever reason, the writers are working from a story-of-the-week format early on, wherein Mike is forced to deal with one client or situation each episode. So far it's not made for a compelling character study or overarching narrative. This could simply be the writers' way of introducing us to this complicated world, but it isn't likely to hold viewers' attention for long.
Mayor of Kingstown: 6
Despite the fact Hawkeye has a decade's worth of established mythology and draws heavily from an esteemed comic book run by Matt Fraction and David Aja, Mayor of Kingstown might be the least accessible of the two shows. Although an exposition-heavy voice-over opens the show, the series doesn't bother to explain itself or the nuts and bolts of the deals that Mike brokers between law enforcement officials, criminals, families of the incarcerated, and prison guards. So while the plot isn't overly complicated, there are several instances in which entire conversations happen and it's not immediately clear what was accomplished by the end of them. This makes it difficult to understand a very basic aspect of the show.
Hawkeye, on the other hand, succeeds as both a continuing story of a hero we've spent a decade watching and a new adventure that anyone can drop into. Between introducing us to Kate and a new enemy tied to Barton's time as Ronin — which occurred off-screen between the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame — the series is fresh and exciting while still playing within the well-defined limits of a traditional superhero story. Even if we didn't know Clint has been attempting to retire and leave superheroing behind to spend more time with his wife (Linda Cardellini) and children, the narrative is familiar enough that it all works. For this reason, and because of its goal in setting up Kate Bishop's future in the MCU, it's probably the most accessible of all of Marvel's new live-action series thus far.
Mayor of Kingstown: 6
Between Clint and Kate, Hawkeye was always going to make great use of a bow and arrow, but Mayor of Kingstown went there too, giving us a much-needed moment of levity in the second episode when Mike attempted to (badly) shoot arrows at a raccoon. You have to respect the gag even if Mike had terrible aim.
Mayor of Kingstown: 8
Mayor of Kingstown: 29
With a final score of 39 to 29, Hawkeye easily defeats Mayor of Kingstown as the better show and the best showcase for Renner's very special skillset. It's fun and engaging while allowing the actor to show off a few different sides of Hawkeye. And I didn't even get into how wonderful "Rogers: The Musical" is. But that's probably best experienced for yourself.
Mayor of Kingstown airs Sundays on Paramount+. Hawkeye premieres Wednesday, Nov. 24 on Disney+. New episodes of both shows will be released weekly.