‘Hightown’ is thrilling, but in an honest way

Monica Raymund and Rebecca Cutter on the set of 'Hightown.'
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There are many reasons why audiences tune into shows and movies—the visual forms of storytelling can help people escape, provide incredible sources of entertainment and also can supply relatable outlets for people to feel connected. In Starz’s latest gritty crime thriller, ‘Hightown’ audiences will get all of that enjoyment with the extra bonus of a truly honest portrayal of one blinding problem in today’s society—addiction.

‘Hightown’ is set in the coastal town of Cape Cod, but instead of the glitzy East Coast paradise we all have heard of, the show instead highlights the other side of the town—the darker side. Audiences will get to meet a slew of personalities all struggling with their own inner demons and all of whom are connected by a murder. Those watching will get to follow along as the crime and the characters surrounding it begins to unravel.

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‘Hightown’ writer and creator Rebecca Cutter first set out to write a story that truly exemplified her own voice, but the outcome was more candid than she ever could have originally planned for.

“I really wrote it for myself. I started writing it 5 years ago, I was on another show and I really just wanted to write something that was mine and my voice and just to have a sample—I didn’t think it would ever get on TV,” says Cutter. “But I was sort of just chasing an idea that I had. The world and many of the themes are from my life. I grew up going to Provincetown my whole life, I’m married to a man from Mid-Cape whose father is a fishery service agent, sobriety, recovery—a lot of those elements are from my life, but I think the actual spark of this show—I just had a blinding image of Jackie Quiñones. She’s just this woman who is really living her best life in some ways but is also blind to the way that it’s also self-destructive—that was a character I really related too.”

Jackie [Monica Raymund] is at the center of the series, and her struggle with sobriety dovetails with the crime itself. As a fishery service agent, she has a sense of responsibility, but as a hard-partyer, she also has a sense of chaos.

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“I really always am going for realism and just emotional honesty,” explains Cutter. “From the first time I spoke to [Monica] on the phone, she understood the character, she had a lot in common with the character and she was hungry for it. She wanted to prove that she could do something different. I just knew she could do it and when she auditioned for it, she just blew us away. When we were walking off the lot together she said, ‘You can cast whoever you want, but just so you know, I am Jackie Quiñones,’ and I just loved that, because she just really took ownership of the character and ran with it. I never set out to create a female anti-hero, but it’s fun to make her real. Certainly, there are elements of people I’ve known, and sort of what I was maybe like more in my youth—that selfishness and that bravado, fearlessness and kind of the way you use people. I relate to that stuff and I just think we’re all like that to some degree or another, and here’s a character that kind of leans with it and is getting away with it for a long time until she’s not.”

It’s the realness of the characters, the struggles of addiction and the hope of recovery that solidified the show for Executive Producer Jerry Bruckheimer as well.

“I’ve never seen a show that is this brutally honest with these type of characters,” says Bruckheimer. “They really do give you an inside look at what this world is really like, what these people go through and the trouble you have with addiction and recovery and redemption. It’s really a powerful, powerful series.”

“I really wanted to show the possibility of recovery and I’m a strong believer that anything is possible and people can change,” adds Cutter. “So I wanted to show that in an honest way and not like an after-school special and just show that there really is a beautiful possibility for redemption for people. I don’t necessarily call everyone an addict in my mind or label them, but I do think many, many characters are trying to feed something within themselves. They’re trying to get something from the outside world to make them feel okay inside.”

Monica Raymund and James Badge Dale in ‘Hightown.’ Provided

‘Hightown’ does take audiences on an edge-of-your-seat chase through a gritty crime, but it’s the showcase of the human spirit—the good, the bad and the ugly that sets the new show apart from others.

“I want people to be entertained, I don’t believe in feeding people their medicine, so there’s not a lesson or a moral that I’m trying to impart to anyone,” says Cutter. “I hope that they recognize themselves in the characters and I hope that they recognize an honest portrayal of humanity and feel less alone in the world. I hope they see recovery or at least recognize or see honesty in that. There’s obviously sex and violence and a lot of fun drama elements, so I hope they enjoy it for that, but also I hope they’re able to get some of the deeper elements from it as well.”

‘Hightown’ premieres on Starz May 17.

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