While USA’s Royal Pains occasionally will delve on the darker side of things (the explosion supposedly killing Boris last season, for example), the long-running series also possesses a strong funny bone with banter and outlandish situations involving its cast of characters.
This past weekend I saw firsthand where those elements come from by sitting down with stars Mark Feuerstein and Reshma Shetty, along with Executive Producers Michael Rauch and Andrew Lenchewski, at last weekend’s ATX Television Festival.
As is seen weekly in the show, the group clearly likes to have fun with each other - but they also take their jobs seriously in talking about what’s to come in tonight’s Royal Pains Season 5 premiere. Read on for an exclusive preview...
TV Fanatic: Does it change the creative process at all knowing that you have a lot more story ahead of you with the two-season renewal?
Michael Rauch: We do have two seasons and it does change the creative process, but one of the things that’s been different with season five is that it’s the first season that we’re only airing in the summertime. So, we were able to kind of build our entire season around a straight run, which changed the structure of our storytelling. And, in a way, simplified it because we didn’t have to worry about a season in the summer and then a shorter season in the winter.
TVF: Talk about Hank because it looks like he’s going to have quite a journey this season.
Mark Feuerstein: It’s a tribute to the writers how they introduce a situation, which is that I was part of that explosion and that there are physical ramifications for me and they plumbed the depths of whatever story might be there. That’s all I’ll say, but it will be great fodder as everything is with our brilliant writing group for story and character in season five.
TVF: They always say doctors are the worst patients and we’ll see Hank not being forthcoming with a lot of things, which is kind of an interesting thing to see him do.
MF: And against the advice he would give his patients. I worked with a director, James Burrows, who, when he would talk about Sam Malone from Cheers or a character I was playing on Good Morning Miami, he would say we need a little more dirt under the fingernails. That’s what great writers do is find the vulnerability, the Achilles heal, and that’s what they’re doing this year.
Andrew Lenchewski: That’s great. Why don't you go work for Jimmy Burrows? [Feuerstein looks at me]
MR: [mocking] When I worked with Alfred Hitchcock, Hitch always said...
MF: [not taking the bait] I just let it lie. I take the high road.
TVF: Hank usually is the solid rock helping other people, but was that one of your big goals for the whole season? To muddy him up?
AL: It really was. In terms of the evolution of the characters, it’s been easier with some of the other characters than it has been with Hank because he is the hero of the show, and he is almost infallible. One of the things that we’ve decided to do this year is kind of have to own it in a way and to have the infallibility be an issue unto itself.
So, exactly what you’re alluding to is something that we are playing this year and the notion of Hank at some point realizing that maybe it’s not good to always have to be the hero and the cost that it can. We’re going to see that cost throughout the season.
TVF: Is Hank going to have a chance to have some romance this season?
AL: Yeah. One of the few areas of backlash we felt from last season was the alleged bed- hopping on Hank’s part, which we disagree with and we know Mark and Hank disagree with. But we wanted to be very measured this season with how we introduce potential romantic interests.
Shelby [Laura Benanti] is somebody who’s being introduced really for story and character and medical reasons primarily. Our attitude is wait to see it and how that dynamic evolves and if we want to write to it one way versus another.
TVF: I personally liked Hank the slut.
AL: Mark was a fantastic slut. [laughs]
MF: Shut up.
TVF: What’s Evan’s journey this season?
AL: The way we look at the first four seasons is that they were very much about these characters becoming a family. We felt like at the end of last season that was solidified, and one of our goals for this season was to sort of see the family now start to fracture and come apart for a variety of reasons.
Evan and Page are now married…we’re going to see people moving in an out of the guest house and so these characters have always lived through all these experiences together are now having to find themselves diverge in their journeys.
[Reshma Shetty joins]
TVF: I’m not sure how much we can talk about Divya without giving things away…
MR: I want you to give her the challenge of talking about this storyline elliptically without being able to reveal it.
Reshma Shetty: Elliptically, gosh.
TVF: How would you describe your character’s journey this season?
MR: By the way, just so you know, we nailed our answers.
RS: The journey, this is the most unique I think that I’ve ever encountered. Even as an actress I’ve never…this is a surprise. When they told me about this storyline I really didn’t believe them. The first time he told me I was like no, come on, come on, and going through it…
TVF: In the season premiere, we see Hank’s still very invested in the Boris mystery. Where is that going?
MR: We have very carefully played out the mystery and power of the Boris character from the way Andrew set it up so beautifully in the pilot. We felt like he’s better in small doses, both as a character to maintain the mystery and also in terms of the type of stories that we tell with him except for his medical issue, the rest is totally a little outside the sweet spot of the show. But at the same time, at this point in season five, we’d accumulated so many different pieces that we felt there was time to pay them all off.
TVF: Who is returning this season?
AL: Henry Winkler’s coming back.
TVF: I love that Frances Conroy is the big bad of the season.
AL: She’s fantastic. She integrated seamlessly into the show creatively and the actors love working with her and she’s a delight to be around. Callum Blue, who we meet in the third episode as part of the answering of all these Boris methodology questions that Michael was alluding to, and he’s fantastic. [Kyle Howard will also be back, too]
We have Brad Beyer and Alexandra Socha who were introduced as a local police officer and his daughter and they figure really prominently into Hank’s storyline for the season, especially towards the end of the season.
TVF: Talk about Jeremiah because he was such a great addition last season and I love that he’s sticking around.
MR: When we came up with Dr. Jeremiah Sacani we had an idea of what the character could be but also knew how close it was walking the line of a cliché or just something that could be offensive. When we cast Ben [Shenkman] and he came on the set, it just became this beautiful, complexed detail character. The more we saw him, the more we liked him, and the more we felt we could do with him and the same with the audience. And he incorporated so seamlessly into HankMed both as a human being on our set because we’re a very close family that makes the show, but also as an actor.
TVF: And maybe Hank the slut will come back in season six.
MF: I’m hoping he gets a little something somewhere before the end of season five.
TVF: How about a little webisode series, “Hank the Slut?” [laughs]
Royal Pains returns tonight at 9/8 on USA. Visit TV Fanatic immediately afterward for a detailed review of the premiere.
Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of JimHalterman.com. Follow him on Twitter.