“Meghan, would it be safe to say one of the themes of Season 5 is how Abby got her groove back?”
“Well, I do have bangs this year.”
“And they are working for you!”
It’s late June, and Chesapeake Shores star Meghan Ory and her new leading man, Robert Buckley, are chatting with TV Guide Magazine via Zoom from the set of the endearing Hallmark Channel family drama. They’re between scenes, but as that banter proves, the chemistry between their characters—grounded divorcée (and eldest O’Brien daughter) Abby and self-made billionaire Evan Kincaid—comes naturally.
“I’m excited for people to see this new energy we have,” Ory says. “It’s a whole new show. There’s a lot more laughter.”
To explain how Buckley (iZombie) breezes into town, we need to back up to March, when Jesse Metcalfe, who had starred as passionate musician Trace Riley since the show’s 2016 debut, announced he was leaving. The writers were thrown for a loop: Trace and Abby’s on-again, off-again romance had been the heartbeat of the ensemble series (based on Sherryl Woods’ novels). Plus, when last we saw them in 2019’s Season 4 finale, the two shared a kiss after he pledged his desire to reunite!
The solution: Open Season 5 a few months later and flash back to a blowout between the couple that caused Trace’s sudden departure. (Metcalfe returned to film the scenes.) “Even though it’s hard and Abby’s saying goodbye to things that weren’t working in her life, she’s moving forward,” Ory says of the dual timelines in the first two episodes. “Abby is finally taking control of her life for her.”
The savvy businesswoman’s decision to join dad Mick (Treat Williams) at O’Brien Construction leads to her meeting Evan in the August 29 episode. He hires the company to build a boutique hotel in picturesque Chesapeake Shores—and first appears rappelling down a mountain during a video call, then testing out a hoverboard at the site.
“You have to make the character completely different so the audience doesn’t feel like, ‘Well, now we’re replacing Trace with another Trace,’” new showrunner Phoef Sutton says. He’d seen that approach work before as a writer on the classic sitcom Cheers, when Shelley Long left and Kirstie Alley was cast as Ted Danson’s new sparring partner. Whereas Trace had a brooding James Dean swagger, Evan is relentlessly positive and playful. “Spiritually, he’s a golden retriever,” Buckley says with a laugh. “He’s a very curious, excitable guy.”
It won’t be love at first sight. “It’s a classic romantic-comedy, Tracy–Hepburn type of thing where they don’t get along…but they will in the future,” Sutton teases. As Ory explains, “Evan is all over the place and unpredictable. Abby already has two children and doesn’t need a third.” But her brutal honesty piques Evan’s interest in working with her. “She’s not charmed by his quirkiness or the trappings of his lifestyle,” Buckley says, “and that’s a rarity for him.”
Evan also finds himself drawn to Abby’s loving family. Raised by a single mother without knowing his father, “He sees the O’Briens and thinks, ‘This is the one thing I’ve never had, the one thing I can’t buy,’” Buckley notes.
At one point, he becomes a guest at the inn owned by Abby’s youngest sibling, Jess (Laci J. Mailey), and her fiancé, David (Carlo Marks). As that couple plan their midseason wedding—and contend with David’s manipulative parents—O’Brien brother Kevin (Brendan Penny) and his wife, Sarah (Jessica Sipos), both firefighters, struggle to get pregnant.
Playwright sister Bree (Emilie Ullerup) returns from a successful London run and jumps into a creative writing position at the University of Maryland and, perhaps, a love triangle. The department head (Matthew Kevin Anderson) is her former high school nemesis, and a crush from her teen years (Stephen Huszar) gets a job at the Bridge bar.
Lawyer sibling Connor (Andrew Francis), meanwhile, begins work at a Baltimore firm and may get to play hero in his dad’s brewing legal battle with crafty construction vendor Paul Dilpher (Aurelio DiNunzio), who claims Mick knowingly used inferior concrete in projects. Never! Beloved matriarch Nell (Diane Ladd, who appears in just the back half of the 10-episode season due to the pandemic) raised him right.
Although noble Mick is “devastated” by the challenge to his reputation, Williams hasn’t been this happy to go to work since the early seasons of his 2002–06 family drama Everwood. He says he loves how instrumental the kids are in their father’s life. The actor quotes lyrics from the Sinatra standard “The Second Time Around” to describe Mick and ex-wife Megan (Barbara Niven) growing closer.
He raves about the addition of Buckley (his costar in the 2020 Hallmark movie The Christmas House) and the way Evan and his chauffeur, Mandrake (Wesley Salter), seem straight out of a ’30s screwball comedy. And he calls the September 5 episode a favorite of his 45-year career: Mick and his brother, Thomas (Gregory Harrison), bond on an overnight hike. “You can feel the new energy,” Williams says, echoing Ory. Suddenly, he enjoys rehearsing in front of a crew. “You know when the crew laughs you’ve got something good going.”
Chesapeake Shores, Season 5 Premiere Sunday, August 15, 8/7c, Hallmark Channel