Cape Cod has starring role in TV drama ‘Hightown’

The creators of the New Starz drama about addiction and redemption say they wanted to show the darker side of the sunny vacation mecca.

Key voices behind “Hightown,” the TV series set on Cape Cod, aren’t tourists. And they hope it shows.

Gary Lennon, co-showrunner and executive producer of the Starz series that just launched an eight-episode run, has spent part of his summers in Provincetown since 1984. He said he sometimes feels “like a townie.” So he was intrigued when creator Rebecca Cutter’s script came to him with the town as the central location for a crime drama that’s also a story of addiction and redemption.

“I immediately loved the sort of sense of place. … I feel like the Cape and Provincetown are definitely a character in the series itself,” said Lennon, who just finished as showrunner and sometime director for Starz’s six-season series “Power.”

While Long Island stands in for Cape Cod in multiple scenes, “Hightown” filmed on the Cape for a few weeks in June.

“I wish we could have gone for longer,” Cutter said recently. “But I think we did maximize the location, and I think it really covered the whole series. Every episode has a little bit from the Cape Cod shoot.”

Lennon said that Cutter, a Massachusetts native, is “someone who has great love and knowledge of the area.” She’s been a regular summer visitor for a decade longer than he has. Then Cutter, previously a writer on TV’s “Gotham,” married a Brewster resident. Coming to the Cape in the offseason, she saw a quieter, often more troubled, nonvacation world.

“Coming there in the winter was a really different thing,” she said. “Especially Provincetown, it’s so packed, people are walking in the streets [in the summer]. Then you go in February and there are no restaurants even open; it feels like a totally different place.”

The show, about an addict who finds a dead body on the beach, was originally called “P’town,” she noted, but as she, Lennon and the other half-dozen writers who came on board developed the story, the title changed.

The original name “wasn’t really fair to the show or to P’town because it is a much bigger story than just takes place in Provincetown, and I don’t think Provincetown specifically is rife with drug dealers or anything like that. That’s why we changed the name — we took it from the slang for Hyannis, but we changed it to H-I-G-H because to me that felt like the bigger theme of the show — to escape, getting high, vacation.”

Cutter’s parents both worked in the field of treating alcoholism, so she had heard about drinking issues in offseason Cape Cod that predated the opioid epidemic. It was that contrast between “the dark and the light,” the freewheeling summer and the sometimes bleak winter, that made her feel like Provincetown/Cape Cod was the place to set “Hightown.”

Cutter’s father-in-law is a marine-fisheries officer, the same job held in “Hightown” by Jackie Quinones, a hard-partying lesbian who finds the dead body during Provincetown’s Carnival weekend. Cutter had advice on the fisheries part from within her family that helped inform the close relationship Jackie has with local fishermen, but Cutter also secured advisers from the Cape Cod Drug Task Force about the opioid problem and its impact on local crime.

James Badge Dale (“13 Hours,” The Departed,” “Iron Man 3”), who plays a drug-force detective, also spent time working with Cape force officers.

“Our cops, they think we’re getting it pretty right,” Cutter said of how the Cape Cod story plays out.

New to Cape Cod was “Hightown” star Monica Raymund, an alum of NBC’s “Chicago Fire” whose introduction to Provincetown was the few weeks she and most of the cast and main crew spent there to film key scenes and locations — plus bike rides through the Cape Cod National Seashore.

“To see how the town embraces the diversity and how inclusive it is … was really refreshing, such a beautiful experience,” she said.

A crime-drama fan, Raymund wanted to play Jackie as a challenge to herself to go deep enough as an actress to create the addict’s journey of “sort of being in the dark and coming as close to the light as she can. Really struggling with her inner demons and trying to find purpose and self-worth.”

Telling a crime story from a female perspective was a departure from the usual crime-drama genre that Cutter felt was important to take. She grew up on the novels of Robert Parker and Dennis Lehane — Lennon said Cutter “has a sort of female Dennis Lehane voice” — and she wanted a fresh spin.

The addiction and recovery focus is also a departure for this type of crime drama, and that exploration was an important factor in getting “Hightown” made.

What sets the show apart, said executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the high-profile producer (“Top Gun,” “Bad Boys,” “Pirates of the Caribbean”) whose company is behind “Hightown,” is the “reality and verisimilitude of it. … It really gives the inside look of what this world is really like and what people go through, and the trouble you have with addiction and recovery and redemption.”

The Cape Cod location, and that “dark and light” contrast important to Cutter, is vital in telling that story, Bruckheimer said. “It just shows you how addiction creeps into every part of society and also areas as beautiful as [Provincetown] … not just places you’d think it would be.”

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