As TNT's Leverage kicks off its new season on Sunday, viewers can expect the same crime-fighting, Robin Hood-esque stories that have won fans over for the past four seasons, but with one notable change: the scenery.
As the cast and crew have grown close to the city of Portland, Oregon, where they've filmed seasons two, three and four, season five will mark the first time that the city of roses will take center stage. While Portland previously served as a stand-in for Boston, Massachusetts, executive producer Dean Devlin is now writing the city into the storyline itself.
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"Frankly we just wanted to honor the city we've been shooting in," Devlin tells The Hollywood Reporter. "But we also wanted to re-energize the show. We wanted this season to start with a lot of energy and by being in a new place, it's almost like a season one show."
That's not to say there weren't practical reasons behind the shift, as well.
"By making it Portland, I can shoot more of it," Devlin says. "I didn't have to hide so many wonderful locations and digitally change the way streets look."
Viewers can expect the team's move to be addressed right off the bat in the season five premiere, debuting Sunday, July 15. Actor Timothy Hutton, who stars as former insurance investigator Nathan Ford, admits that he had a hand in the creative direction of the show.
"For some reason, I had it in my head that the fifth season would be great if it started with Nate getting off a boat and suggesting he'd been out on the water for a couple of months on a sailboat trip," Hutton tells THR. "And to my surprise, there's the script for the first show of the fifth season and it has Nate back from a trip on a solo sail."
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Says Devlin: "The actors are really our partners in making the show. No one knows the characters better than the actors who have to live in them day in and day out." (Hutton also says that Howard Hughes' legendary Spruce Goose aircraft, kept in Portland's aviation museum, will be featured in an upcoming episode.)
Rounding out the cast are Gina Bellman, Christian Kane, Beth Riesgraf and Aldis Hodge, who work as a team to right the injustices of the world and serve those who have been wronged by society. The show's formula, which lends itself to countless guest stars and story lines, has undoubtedly been successful for the network (the season four finale scored a 0.8 rating among adults 18-49). Each episode begins with one client, suffering from an injustice, seeking help from the crew. By the end of the hour, all has usually been resolved with good prevailing over evil.
"I think that what happens in the writers' room is that every day, they talk about things going on in the world. They get filled with rage and angry at their hopelessness and inability to do anything about it, and so they’re able to create stories where, 'well, if we can’t do anything about it in real life, we can send our fictional team to right the wrongs of the world,'" says Devlin. "I think for the audience that’s been one of the things that lets this thing work week after week. I think we all get frustrated when we read about things like Enron and feel powerless to do anything about it, and this idea of a mythical Robin Hood-like team is really a wonderful kind of fantasy fulfillment, especially in the tough economic times that we’re living in today."
Of course, the main characters' relationships are the glue holding the series together season after season.
"There’s a lot of interesting things going on with the Parker (Riesgraf)-Hardison (Hodge) relationship, with the Sophie (Bellman)-Nate (Hutton) relationship," teases Hutton. "There’s kind of something going on with Nate, in particular, thinking that maybe their company Leverage Enterprises is something that could go more global and bring other people in, giving more responsibility to members of the team and have more tools in their toolbox."
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Hutton also says his character may learn to let go of his "control freak" nature. "I think that there’s a big theme of trust," he adds. "They’ve all come to trust each other completely, which is nice because it allows for betrayal of that trust to potentially happen."
On a network that also includes original programs The Closer, Rizzoli & Isles, Dallas and Southland, with former shows including Saving Grace, Hawthorne and Raising the Bar, Devlin believes that his series, debuting in December 2008, helped expand and build the TNT brand as a whole.
"I think there was this perception with the logo, 'We know drama', it meant only dark and serious," recalls Devlin. "But drama can also be fun and adventurous. That's why Leverage fit in, because I think by making a larger tent at TNT, Leverage was really able to fill a whole section of that tent and say, 'you know what? This is also part of drama and also part of what happens here at TNT.' And i think since then, some of those shows have incorporated a little bit more fun in them than the had in the past."
Where the series' future is concerned, Hutton is definitely "up for doing more seasons," while Devlin says, "as long as it can stay relevant."
"As long as the story can keep being exciting and when I don’t see the endings coming, then I think it’s worth continuing," explains Devlin. "The good news for us is, we never seem to run out of villains. Every day we open the newspaper and are like, 'Wow! There’s another guy we’d love to take down!' So I think as long as the world keeps providing us with privileged people who take advantage of those who are powerless, I think we won’t run out of stories."
"We're having the best time we've ever had," Hutton says of filming. "And we've had a great time since day one."
Email: Sophie.Schillaci@gmail.com; Twitter: @SophieSchillaci