'Major Crimes' Showrunner James Duff Talks Season 5, Rusty/Gus Relationship, New Multi-Episode Arc & More – TVWise

Major Crimes – the successful spin-off/sequel series of TNT’s brand defining The Closer and one of Universal Channels’ most successful acquisitions – returns to UK screens for its fifth season tonight.
After a combined eleven seasons between both The Closer and Major Crimes, what could this new run of episode have in store for the detectives at the Major Crimes Division at the LAPD? Especially after run ins with the like of such foes as Philip Stroh and, most recently, having closed a long-lingering cold case with the help of disgraced LAPD Detective Hickman.
Given the recent eight episode back order for season five, is there another multi-episode arc, like last season’s Hindsight, in the works? Will Sharon and Andy finally move in together? What can fans expect to see in this year’s comedic Flynn/Provenza/Buzz episode? And what’s happening with the blooming relationship between Rusty and Gus Wallace (recurring guest star Rene Rosado)?
To get an answer to these (and other) questions, TVWise recently caught up with Major Crimes creator and showrunner James Duff to ask him about what he has planned for the fifth season, his inspiration for last season’s five episode arc, what’s, what’s in store for the characters and if, given the reception that the arc received, he will be producing another multi-part story this season.
TVWise: What kind of cases come across the Major Crimes Division’s desk(s) this season?
James Duff: Our stories this season include a missing girl from a well to do family; we have a porn star whose speciality is having sex with girls on the days they turn 18 and two of the girls end up dead, ultimately. Then we have an ISIS inspired killing, a beheading of an American veteran. Then there’s Flynn going house-hunting, looking for a place for him and Sharon and Rusty to all move in together – that’s a Flynn/Provenza/Buzz episode. We also have a Downton Abbey alumni, Julian Ovenden, in an episode playing a British journalist who is dogging the LAPD, which is quite fun.
TVWise: You always have at least one theme for the season, so what is the theme for season five?
James Duff: Our first thirteen episodes are built around a theme of balance. Each episode is about how we balance different things. Like how we balance our professional life with our personal life, or how we balance our private life with our public life, or how we balance our past and our present and how we balance our rational self with our more primitive self. It’s proving to be a really really good theme for us, especially because justice is about balancing the scales. We’re going to be using the theme of balance to also look at Rusty and Gus’ relationship, at Sharon and Andy’s relationship, at Sykes and Cooper’s relationship and Provenza and his new wife Patrice’s relationship.
TVWise: Last season, you did this five-part story arc, are you planning another one this season?
James Duff: We are going to do another multi-part story inside the first thirteen, because we liked doing last season’s five-part story so much. There will be an LAPD power vacuum that is created that throws everyone off balance. All I would say about that is that it would not be a story about balance if I did not try to push people off their paths and see how they managed.
TVWise: If we can talk about last year’s multi-episode Hindsight arc… Major Crimes is a procedural show and with the exception of a couple of two-parters on The Closer you hadn’t really done this before, what made you want to go down that road?
James Duff: I’d like to tell you that it was a trend in television or that it was an experiment that we’d always wanted to explore, but the truth is that the order for the five additional episodes came on the very day that we finished breaking what we thought was our finale. Everybody was getting ready to leave and the thought of coming up with five more stories… it was just not happening; it was too much.
But I’d had this idea in my head for a new TV series about a black female homicide detective and a disgraced former LAPD detective who was now working for defense attorneys. I’d mapped that out as a ten-episode story and I just collapsed it into five episodes and we used that to fill out our order of five. It played so terrifically well and people caught up with it as we went along. You know, I think people now are conditioned to watching serialised stories, certainly more so than they had been before. The idea of one season telling one story has come back into vogue in a big way, so I feel like we were at a happy confluence of events actually and that’s how we got to do [the Hindsight arc]
TVWise: You even got to bring back the Peter Goldman character from the final season of The Closer…
James Duff: Peter Goldman might return again, and Mark Pellegrino, who played Brenda’s attorney Gavin Baker, he could end up returning too. I love Curtis Armstrong [who plays Goldman], he’s such a wonderful actor. All those actors were very good, especially Arjay Smith and Julie Ann Emery. And Jason Gedrick, who played disgraced former detective Mark Hickman, he might come back as well.
TVWise: Earlier you mentioned several romantic relationships in the squad from Sharon and Andy, to Sykes and Cooper, and Provenza’s marriage. What can you tease about them?
James Duff: You see all of them progress, but they don’t all progress at the same rate. Three of the first six episodes feature Provenza on the diet that Patrice has put him on and his lack of interest in the food his bringing in in Tupperware containers. In episode six, Cooper and Sykes have a discussion about children. Sanchez has an interesting reaction to a case and ends up wanting to maybe foster a child. His dating life isn’t going anywhere and he would like very much to be a father and as he’s not going to have a chance any other way, he decides he wants to be a foster father. So there’s one whole episode where all his co-workers are being interviewed by DCFS to gauge whether or not Sanchez is parental material and Provenza is openly hostile to the whole idea. Not because he doesn’t think Julio would be a good father, but because it would split his attention and make his life more complicated. There’s a lot of surprises this year in terms of how the characters keep moving.
TVWise: What about the newest of those relationships…
James Duff: Rusty and Gus. Yes, that relationship grows and it goes through some of the ordinary bumps that a young gay relationship goes through, like how public are your displays of affection? I’m not sure straight people even give this a second thought but with gay people it’s ‘do we hold hands ever?’ or ‘when is it okay to hold hands?’, ‘do we ever kiss?’
TVWise: What else is ahead for Rusty?
James Duff: The thread that unites, story-wise, all of our first thirteen episodes is Buzz’s search to find the people responsible for the murder of his father and uncle. That’s why he joined the LAPD in the first place and now that he’s a reserve officer all of those files relating to the investigation are open to him. So he starts investigating that and Rusty’s story for the Identity vlogs is Buzz’s story, just like his story last season was about Alice and Slider.
I would just add that in many ways Rusty’s disconnect with his own emotions let him get through the crisis of his teens but now he needs those feeling and he also needs to know what underlies his actions to bring balance to his own life. That’s what this season is about for him in some ways.
TVWise: Can you talk a little about the genesis of Identity (the series of vlogs starring Graham as Rusty which accompany episodes of Major Crimes)? A lot of shows would have been happy to show Rusty filming these on the show and not actually go and produce these shorts and then put them on the TNT website, the Major Crimes Facebook page and Youtube.
James Duff: The reason we did it is because I feel like people want a more immersive experience with their television shows now and that added content gives the audience more to do with the show. If they really love the show then they’ll really like going in and seeing the added content, which adds depth to the main stories. You don’t need to watch Identity to be interested in the show, but if you like Major Crimes and you really are interested in the story that Rusty is telling or you’re interested in the characters involved, Identity gives you extra depth and that’s a very big place to help curate the audience’s interest. The concept of Identity was created so that we could do this off-television, off-broadcast, web-only content with no ads, and no subscription necessary, that is completely shareable.
TVWise: We last saw Ever Carradine as Rusty’s birth mother in the five-episode arc, is she back this season?
James Duff: Yes, she turns up with a big surprise. She’s only in three episodes, but she does turn her life around. You can turn your life around, but you can’t always improve your judgement. Ever Carradine is a fantastic actor and she’s just so amazing in that role and [Sharon Beck and Rusty’s] relationship is just so interesting to me – the son of an addict and how that all plays out. Rusty starts out agitated by her choices and winds up fascinated and hopeful. It’s interesting what changes his point of view. I really can’t say any more without spoiling the surprise, because it is a surprise.
TVWise: Can you tells us any more about this year’s Flynn/Provenza/Buzz episode?
James Duff: House hunting in Los Angeles can be very complicated [laughs] and open houses can lead to lots of arguments. In this episode, Flynn wants to buy this house; it’s a good price for a place in the Hollywood hills and there’s multiple offers on it. Sharon can’t come see it immediately so he wants Provenza to come and give him a second opinion and Buzz to come in and film everything. Buzz is filming and notices the agent who listed the house, as opposed to Flynn’s agent, is a really attractive woman. So they’re going through the house and they go in the back yard – a perfect entertainment back yard that has a pool that would not be out of place in Bel Air – and Buzz notices something floating in the pool and realises it’s a dead body.
Major Crimes season five premieres in the UK on Universal Channel on Monday September 12th at 9pm.