When a TV series hits its fifth season, it can start to get a little mushy around the middle. David Krumholtz, star of CBS’ mathematics/crime drama Numb3rs, which reaches that milestone on Friday, Oct. 3, at 10 p.m. ET, feels his show is still lean and mean.
"I honestly think we hit our stride last year," he says. "Knowing what we’ve accomplished so far this season, I really do believe, it doesn’t get much better than this.
"If last year we hit our stride, this year we found our voice."
At the end of season four, university mathematician Charlie Eppes (Krumholtz) defied government rules about sharing information overseas and lost his security clearance.
This meant he could no longer work on government research projects, and he could no longer use his mathematical expertise to help his brother, Los Angeles-based FBI Agent Don Eppes (Rob Morrow), to solve crimes.
"He’s, for all intents and purposes, given up," Krumholtz says, "but it’s not so much a surrender as it’s given him a chance to move on.
"The problem is, he really did lose a great opportunity [in working with the FBI], and he lost perspective on that. He starts getting pushed to fight to get his security clearance back, which at first is not the most comfortable position for him. He’s a busy guy with a lot going on."
Standing in Charlie’s way is a new recurring character, FBI Agent Carl McGowan (Keith Carradine).
"He plays this hard-a–ed, old-world FBI agent who’s been put in charge of reviewing Charlie’s case," Krumholtz says. "He’s not happy with Charlie. He thinks Charlie is a potential disaster, that he has the potential for causing even more problems. He doesn’t like rule-breakers, and Charlie broke the rules.
"Charlie doesn’t take to him very kindly, especially when this Agent McGowan character uses Charlie’s case to attack Don. As a result, it sends Don on a journey of self-discovery throughout the season."
Until Charlie gets his clearance restored, he can’t personally help the FBI. But since Don is his brother, he can’t disassociate himself entirely. So he relies on two of his colleagues — mathematician girlfriend Amita Ramaujan (Navi Rawat) and astrophysicist Larry Fleinhardt (Peter MacNicol) — to stand in for him.
"For the first four episodes," Krumholtz says, "it’s very much about Charlie helping where he can, staying behind the scenes, getting information and providing perspective, whereas the characters of Amita and Larry are actually doing the grunt work in the FBI."
Along with Carradine, other guest stars include Lou Diamond Phillips (in the premiere, a story about rock climbing written by married show creators Cheryl Heuton and Nick Falacci, a climbing enthusiast), Henry Winkler and magician and professional skeptic Penn Jillette.
Jillette’s episode, airing Nov. 7, has him in a cameo role as himself, helping in the case of a vanished magician. Apparently magic wasn’t the only lure for Jillette.
"It’s happening right now," Krumholtz says. "Penn is actually one of the die-hardest fans of the show I’ve ever met. He’s seen every single episode. He’s a very opinionated person, so it’s good to be on his good side.
"He feels really strongly towards the show and was really into the idea of doing it. He’s having a lot of fun."
In past seasons, Charlie’s signature curly locks have been the focus of much attention from fans and the show’s producers. This year, though, Krumholtz reveals that it’s not the hair, but the clothes, that make the man.
"My wardrobe’s gotten a little more mature," he says, "with the idea that Charlie’s been put through the ringer. There are ties, a lot more ties, maybe a few vests thrown in, less T-shirts.
"He’s taking himself a little more seriously, is the idea."