While New York City is reeling from the one-two punch from the loss of Ugly Betty and then Law and Order, New York theater actors grieving over all those small roles that were the staple of their diets, it is a comfort that there are still some television series filmed here. Royal Pains, the USA Network's comedy-drama about a concierge doctor to the Hamptons elite, is shot not only on location in and around the end of Long Island, but also films its set work in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It's a long way west down the L.I. Expressway to industrial Greenpoint and the sleight of hand guest house of an oceanfront mansion, but isn't that the charm of television?
Off to a strong start last year, Royal Pains, described by USA Network as having "the best performing freshman year of a cable series ever," returns tonight for a 16-episode season two. When little changes in the story from week to week in its location (the Hamptons), its action (curing the disease of the week), and in time (just about now and always summer), the success of Royal Pains will rely on more nuanced character this season.
Last year, the series set up the unlikely story of Hank Lawson (the charismatic Mark Feuerstein), a disgraced physician who is sent into a luxurious exile to the Hamptons after making the heroic decision to save the life of a young hood rather than the millionaire benefactor of his employer hospital. Hank becomes a "concierge doctor to the rich, an on call doctor to the rest of us – a Robin Hood of medicine" in the words of sometime love interest and hospital administrator (Jill Flint as Jill Casey) because there always has to be a doctor to hospital administrator love line. Right, House?
Based on the real-life medical practices of independent doctors in a not-so-real life (at least to most of us) location, Royal Pains at times in the first season depended on the cliched comic foil of the hapless younger brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo) to the saintly older brother. Producer-writer Michael Rauch acknowledges the one-dimensional aspect of the Royal Pains lead – "he's perfection really." Perfection can be downright boring. With the introduction of Henry Winkler as the brothers' cad of a father, some messy imperfections will liven up this medical procedural. According to Raunch, Hank will be a more subtle character in light of the demands made by his father to confront both the Lawson family past and present.
Winkler as Eddie R., the "R" so far goes unexplained, brings a consummate professionalism and a texture to the series that has the cast in elation. In a recent set visit interview with the Royal Pains principals, there wasn't a positive adjective unused to describe the actor best known for the classic Happy Days role as The Fonz, complete with a wardrobe in the Smithsonian Museum. Reshma Shetty who plays efficient physician assistant Divya, charged with keeping the HankMed company on its rails, described Winkler as the "loveliest man I've met in ages" piling on to the perception that he is just about the nicest guy in show business.
The first episode of the summer season is "Spasticity," a storyline loosely based on a Billy Mays-type character, the star of hugely successful infomercials who experiences a string of dangerous accidents. Evan, on the brink of HankMed's financial catastrophe brought about by pilfering Papa Lawson, contemplates making a HankMed infomercial of his own to bring in some much needed capital. Hank and Evan's host Boris (Campbell Scott) continues his mysterious ways, both of what entails him and what ails him. Oscar-award winning Marcia Gay Harden, who began as Jill Casey's mentor, now persists in her villainess plans as the surgeon who must take Ms. Casey down simply because she is there. And finally we meet Eddie R.
Royal Pains' ratings should do well, led in by the popular Burn Notice and Bruce Campbell's chin, but it is casting that will keep the viewer tuned in: Campbell Scott, Marcia Gay Harden, Henry Winkler, Andrew McCarthy and Christine Ebersole (whose role in the musical Gray Gardens makes her a sort of expert on Hamptons eccentricity). It is this kind of royal casting (with solid writing that ensures that Royal Pains doesn't become a Love Boat of the South Fork,) that will establish Royal Pains above the standard medical procedural. The great casting should continue – after all, what New York acting star could resist shooting on location at the great beaches of Greenpoint, Brooklyn.