Over the years, the Eppes family on “Numbers” has debated everything from world politics to minor household issues. This season they’ve added a new topic: religion.
“It’s always been a running joke that it’s painfully obvious that they’re a Jewish family,” says showrunner and exec producer Ken Sanzel. “For the first two seasons, I don’t think anyone ever said the word ‘Jewish,’ yet with these three guys (Rob Morrow, David Krumholtz and Judd Hirsch), how could they not be?”
Morrow had long wanted to address the family’s Judaism, or at least what it meant to his character, Don. As the show entered season five, Sanzel felt the network was more open to letting them experiment.
“There’s a higher trust level on the part of Paramount and CBS that we’re not going to do anything at the expense of the elements that are the bread and butter of the show,” Sanzel says. “There’s always going to be plenty of math and mayhem, but it never hurts to offer up something none of the other procedurals on the same network are offering.”
The timing was right. The previous season ended with Charlie losing his FBI clearance and an investigation of both Eppes brothers.
“The punchline is that Don expects to be punished for some of the spiritual stuff he’s done wrong, but the FBI doesn’t do anything,” says Sanzel. “They passively acknowledge that they’re OK with him doing whatever he has to do to get the job done. Instead of making him feel vindicated, it leaves him a little adrift.”
One episode in the current season ended with Don entering a temple, and ensuing episodes expanded the dialogue on faith between the characters.
“It becomes this interesting discussion between Don, Charlie (Krumholtz) and Alan (Hirsch) because Charlie and Alan are both rationalists, and Charlie is a man of science. Don’s initially a little leery of even broaching faith with Charlie but finds he’s more open-minded than he’d thought. It creates an interesting new tension between them.”
Don’s faith was tested in “Arrow of Time,” an episode written by Sanzel. A killer Don had coerced into providing lifesaving information escapes prison, and Don must decide if he’ll follow FBI protocol to capture him or trust in an unconventional and risky plan that takes him and the prisoner to a synagogue.
“The idea wasn’t to say, ‘Look how Jewish Don is,’ but to see that he’s toying with this idea that he’s going to find some of his answers in God,” Sanzel says.
Examining one’s actions through a spiritual lens isn’t new to “Numbers.” Peter MacNicol’s character, Larry, has always had a spiritual side.
“We started season four with him living in a monastery,” Sanzel says. “There’s also his quest for a unifying theory. Looking at the micro of the world as well as the macro has always been his spiritual quest, as well as a cosmological one.”
Though religion adds yet another layer to “Numbers,” Sanzel won’t overuse it.
“It’s something we’ll continue to touch on. In season six, Don’s going to be put through some tests where religion will become part of his support set. But it’s not about him running around preaching the word.”