For many years, ABC Network has focused on bringing high-level drama series with strong female leads such as How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, its spin-off Station 19, and most recently, Emergence.
Their latest entry is Stumptown, a crime drama show based on a graphic novel series by small independent publisher Oni Press, written by comic scribe, Greg Rucka and artists Matthew Southworth, and Lee Roughridge. Creator Jason Richman and executive producer Matt Olmstead showrun Stumptown, alongside Ruben Fleischer and David Bernad, Rucka, Southworth and Greenwood.
**** Warning! – Contains Minor Spoilers! ****
The series follows our protagonist, Dexadrine ‘Dex’ Parios, portrayed by Cobie Smulders, a hard-drinking, self-loathing, former Marine who moonlights as a ‘wannabe’ private investigator in Portland, Oregon. Dex is also bisexual and suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) from her time in service.
The series picks up a couple of months after Dex has been discharged. She is broke, barely keeping by with the mortgage of her home, which belonged to her grandmother. Furthermore, she’s also struggling to take care and provide stability for her little brother, Ansel, who has Down Syndrome.
Joining Smulders, the cast includes: Jake Johnson as Grey McConnell, Dex’s close friend/reformed ex-con/former one-night-stand hook-up/current bar owner, Michael Ealy as Homicide Detective Miles Hoffman, Dex’s potential love interest who’s been smitten by her since he handcuffed her, Cathyn Manheim as Lieutenant Cosgrove, who leads the Portland Police Bureau, Adrian Martizez as ‘Tookie’, a taco truck owner who dreams of being a celebrity chef and serves as Dex’s informant, Tantoo Cardinal as Sue Lynn Blackbird, casino owner and powerful figure in the Native American Tribes community as well as mother to Dex’s ex-boyfriend killed and Coby Silas as Ansel Perios, Dex’s kind-hearted little brother.
What makes Dex likable is that she is relatable. The struggle is real for her, so to speak. Even with the tough exterior, Dex is vulnerable, and lonely. But she’s one tough tough cookie with military training. A hot mess, but endearing. A smart ass with street smarts. Viewers will gravitate towards Smulders and see how she’ll make it through as a inexperienced private eye as the takes cases involving kidnapping, con artists, corrupt real estate tycoons, blackmail and stalkers. And that’s just the first six episodes!
In Episode 1, “Forget It Dex, It’s Stumptown”, a broke and desperate Dex takes a job from Sue Lynn Blackbird, owner of a tribal casino (and mother to her deceased boyfriend), to find her missing teenage granddaughter in exchange to clear off a huge gambling debt. Soon, we see how Dex is way in over her head and how her inexperience shows. She begins to clash with Portland Police Department, who see her as a nuisance who keeps interfering with their job and arrest her way too many times. However, despite her meddling, she inadvertently helps the department when her cases are either connected or help in multiple arrests. Which catches the eye of Lt. Cosgrove, who despite their rough start, sees that she has good instincts and gives her the most profound words that hit Dex at her core: “If you wanna do this for real, get an apprenticeship, log in the hours and get licensed!”
In Episode 2, “Missed Connections”, at the behest of Grey, a rookie Dex takes a job requiring her to find a woman for a lovestruck client. Soon, the job takes a turn when it involves kidnapping, false identities and a con job gone awry. Dex and Grey’s past is explored to give the audience a better understanding of their relationship.
In Episode 3, “Rip City Dicks”, Dex soon finds her purpose and inquires about apprenticeship so she can log in said hours and become a fully-licensed private eye in Portland. She gets her apprenticeship with Artie Banks (portrayed by Donal Logue), a grizzled, former Portland PD detective, who schools her in the trade with tough love, as she also reminds him of his daughter. As an added bonus, berates her every chance he gets, forcing them to clash while they work a case involving a messy divorce and even nastier custody battle with their client and a powerful real estate mogul.
In Episode 4, “Family Ties”, the unofficial two-parter, picks up after the events of the previous episode as Dex and Banks’ business relationship is strained after conflicting idealogies cost their client to lose a custody battle. At the same time, a criminal from Grey’s past comes to haunt him with ties to a personal case of Hoffman’s.
In Episode 5, “Bad Alibis” (and one of the series’ best so far), we find Dex hired by Detective Hoffman to investigate a case of a missing person: Grey. At the same time Dex is stressing over her upcoming certification interview, the case hits close to home as Grey’s past puts Ansel in danger. This is the episode that shows just how far Dex will go to protect her brother as well as show that Ansel is both her strength and weakness. It also tests Dex and Grey’s friendship.
In Episode 6, “Dex, Drugs and Rock & Roll”, Dex takes a bodyguard gig that takes an even more personal turn when she has to protect an old musician flame from a stalker. When old feelings resurface with her ex, Dex is put in a situation where her judgment is clouded and questioning whether she can do the job objectively.
Smulders has shown she can hold her own with an ensemble cast, especially after sharing plenty of screen time with the Avengers in their movies. You cannot help but root for Dex as she goes toe-to-toe taking down criminals, low-life thugs and even henchmen bigger and stronger than her – all while standing victorious, while busted open and bleeding from the mouth. Oh, did I mention that Dex can take a hell of a beating, while also dishing it back? However, the beatings tends to take its toll on Dex, as getting her head rung triggers her PTSD, leaving her almost incapacitated, disoriented and with severe anxiety attacks. While not specifically mentioned, viewers will see how the hard-drinking affects Dex. When she is sober, she’s alert, laser-focused and instincts fully kicked in. When hungover, she’s worse: irritating and reckless.
Underneath all the action and drama, is of course the love triangle between Dex, Grey and Hoffman. Dex’s sexual past with Grey is touched upon as they are ‘just friends’, but viewers can still feel the sexual tension. With Hoffman, there’s mutual attraction, flirtation and more. Grey serves as Dex’s confidant and voice of reason, while Hoffman keeps Dex on retainer for cases as a way to keep her close by.
Stumptown has received a full season order, which by standards, ranges from 13-22 episodes. Within the first six episodes, the show has wrapped up its major story arc, fills in the blanks of a few minor subplots while also setting up breadcrumbs for future episodes.
Stumptown airs Wednesdays, 9PM on the ABC Network. Check your local listings ▪
images: ABC Studios