After you finish your Oscars viewing party drinking game, get ready for another shot of whiskey.
Whiskey Cavalier, the new espionage series starring Scott Foley and Lauren Cohan, is getting a prime post-Oscars slot. ABC has confirmed that the high-octane dramedy will air a sneak preview Sunday, Feb. 24, immediately following the 91st Academy Awards.
The series follows the love-hate relationship and thrilling adventures of secret agents Will Chase (Foley), codename: Whiskey Cavalier, and Frankie Trowbridge (Cohan), codename: Fiery Tribune. It makes it official premiere Wednesday, Feb. 27, but eager viewers can catch the pilot three days early as part of the festivities surrounding Hollywood’s biggest night.
Viewers expecting another standard action drama or procedural from Whiskey Cavalier should think again. Creator David Hemingson describes the series as “Mission: Impossible smashes into Cheers,” and he stresses his commitment to balancing the series’ high-stakes, on-location action sequences with its laugh-out-loud romantic-comedy tendencies.
In advance of the series’ winter debut, EW called up Hemingson to get the lowdown on why he wanted a more sensitive leading man, how real-world espionage inspires storylines, and how he hopes to avoid the Moonlighting curse.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: With a show of this nature, of course Mission: Impossible is going to get name-checked. But were there particular pop culture properties or tropes that inspired you to create the show?
DAVID HEMINGSON: It’s funny because I sort of look at this show as Mission: Impossible smashes into Cheers, with basically Scott Foley as Diane Chambers and Lauren Cohan as Sam Malone. So that’s how I frame the show in my mind. I love Moonlighting, but I also love all of the Daniel Craig Bond series. I’m a huge fan of the Bourne series. I’ve always been a fan of the espionage genre, but also a tremendous fan of romantic comedy. I just thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if we had a woke James Bond? A sensitive James Bond as opposed to the dude who is constantly a coldhearted Lothario? What if we flipped it and made him an emotionally intelligent super-spy? And what if he was challenged by a very hard-nosed, tough female opposite — what would happen if we put those two together? Those kind of tropes, that kind of fun, mismatched, odd-couple pairing was a huge impetus for me in creating the show.
It’s refreshing and a little subversive to see a man being the more emotionally sensitive half of your main duo. Why was that something you wanted to explore and make one of Will’s primary traits?
I have a friend who is an FBI agent, but he’s a sensitive FBI agent. He would go off and do these really exciting things and then we’d talk about his relationship with his girlfriend. The people I’ve encountered in the intelligence world are, by necessity, incredibly discreet, so they really seldom date outside the orbit of the intelligence community. It’s almost a little incestuous among these folks. They want what we all want in life, which is love and connection. But their business, which is the business of suspicion, makes it almost impossible. It’s this interesting disconnect: You’ve got these highly intelligent, very brave people who oftentimes are lonely because of the nature of what they do. They’re saving the world on the daily and saving each other as well, and doing it in a very lonely context. That made me go, what would happen if we injected some romance and some emotional intelligence into the lives of these spies?
Can you elaborate at all on your personal connection to the intelligence world?
I can’t go too deeply into it. Suffice it to say that I just love the fact that I was being asked to help out on a breakup playlist [as is seen in the pilot] with people who are doing these highly sensitive missions. It just cracked me up that people can be so brave and engaged in all this harrowing stuff, and by the same token be completely drawn to the deeply romantic components of life that the rest of us take for granted.
The location shooting in the pilot, which takes us all over Europe, is amazing. Is that something we can expect from most episodes?
What’s amazing about this show is we shot the show in Prague through sheer serendipity. The great thing about Prague is it’s the Swiss Army knife of cities. It’s this gorgeous, magical gingerbread city, but it also doubles for eight different cities. Plus we can stage out of Prague all over Europe. What Prague affords us is the capacity to do these insanely great locations.… You can expect to see production value that’s unrivaled by any show on network television. We’re maximizing all of it, from the castles to the cathedrals to the gorgeous restaurants to the vistas. It’s going to be like that every week. We’ve got all these awesome stunts — these huge motorcycle stunts and a lot of stuff you see in espionage films, we’re completely embracing. Our pyrotechnics are fantastic. You have tremendous gunfights and explosions, but also a lot of a romance. It’s really this tightrope: We embrace the espionage thing, but we totally want the romantic-comedy thing in the same breath.
Edgar Standish [played by Tyler James Williams] is reminiscent of Edward Snowden. How often are your cases and criminals going to have a ripped-from-the-headlines feel? Is that something you’re committed to to help raise the stakes and ground it in real-world intrigue?
You picked up on the E.S., did you? [Laughs] It’s a stakes-y show. We are trying to traffic in real-world issues as much as we can. The world’s in a really interesting and challenging place. The game is on again in Europe in a way that it hasn’t been probably since World War II. There’s a lot of intrigue going on among the great powers, and so we’re going to be constantly cognizant of that. Espionage has now entered the headlines for a reason. It’s in the zeitgeist because it’s all around us. I do believe in American heroes, and I think these people are American heroes. They’re doing the right thing for the right reasons. We’re going to be examining some of those issues going forward in the show and keeping it topical and keeping it exciting. It’s a great balancing act that we’re in the midst of, which is intrigue and romance and topicality and fun and adventure and love. That’s what we’re trying to embrace in the show.
Will is our hero, but I’m wondering — should we fully trust Frankie at this juncture?
I don’t know. Can you? The central theme of all these series, if you look at the Bond series or the Bourne series, is trust. What I want to do is basically establish a family. My whole goal with the show is these are people who are saving the world and each other. She comes from a very shadowy past, a very tortured past; she was an assassin. There’s all this stuff we’re going to learn about her over the course of season 1. We’re going to gradually peel back the layers of Frankie and of Will. Frankie’s had a very, very compelling and harrowing past. Will trusting her, that’s the journey of season 1. They’re managing their growing attraction and affection for each other, and how they deal with that is also the journey of season 1. Is she a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in an enigma? Probably. But I think if she has one [weak] spot, we’re going to learn that it’s Will.
You’re setting up a “will they, won’t they?” dichotomy from the get-go. Is that something you’re already feeling the pressure of? What are your thoughts on that dynamic and avoiding the “Moonlighting curse”?
Not really. Things will evolve and mature the way they have to and the way they should organically. The great news is that these actors are so wonderful that writing ambiguity and writing them getting close and examining their feelings is a blast to do. I’m reveling in it. I’m reveling in the complexity and the intrigue of the romantic elements, and I feel like we’ve got a lot to work with and a lot of stuff to play with. I’m not at all worried about it.
The sense of humor is a real highlight of the show. Is that element of comedy something essential to the show’s DNA?
Oh, hugely important. My goal was to create these surprising and relentless episodes so you’re constantly going, “Oh my God, I can’t believe they did that. Oh my God, what happens next?” But also comedy is hugely important. Let me just give a shoutout to Tyler James Williams and Ana Ortiz and Vir Das. These are great dramatic and comedic actors. There is a very keen comedic sense that runs through everything we do. When we’re being serious, we’re being serious, but I’m really looking to build a family. They become this crew of people that I hope everybody wants to hang out with because they want to hang out with each other. Part of that is them razzing each other and hassling each other and pranking each other. Knowing people as I do in the intelligence world, there’s a tremendous amount of comedy, black humor, and camaraderie that erupts around these very tense situations. It’s kind of organic to the genre. Absolutely, comedy is a huge part of the show and will continue to be.
The Whiskey Cavalier sneak preview will air Feb. 24 at 11:35 p.m. ET and 10 p.m. PT on ABC. Its regular time slot will be Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
This interview has been edited and condensed.