Review: STUMPTOWN 'Breathes a New, Hip Life into Primetime Procedurals'

Credit: ABC
Credit: ABC

Stumptown, season 1 episode 1 “Pilot”
Starring Cobie Smulders, Cole Sibus, Jake Johnson, Tantoo Cardinal, Blu Hunt, Michael Ealy, and Camryn Manheim
Written by Jason Richman
Based on the Oni Press series by Greg Rucka & Matthew Southworth
Directed by James Griffiths
Premiering on ABC September 25th
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Portland gets its own version of Justified in the premiere of ABC’ Stumptown. Loosely based on the first arc of Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s Oni Press title, Stumptown introduces prime-time audiences to Dex Parios. Played with a hard-bitten, but immensely charming edge by Cobie Smulders, Dex is an amatuer private investigator struggling with her memories of five tours in Afghanistan and a budding gambling problem. But when the owner of the casino she frequents offers her a job, one that will wipe away her gambling debt, she’s pulled into a mystery involving the owner’s missing granddaughter, classic (stolen) cars, and who really has the best espresso in Portland.

Armed with all the off-beat humor, whip sharp emotions, and hard-knuckled action of its source material, the first episode of Stumptown is sure to please long-time Rucka readers and new viewers alike.

Right from the jump, Stumptown establishes its irreverent, yet ultra pulpy tone. We open on two small-time skels, driving a stolen car and sampling a tumbler of coffee. From the trunk, a woman screams to be let out, but they ignore her. But soon the car is filled with smoke and the woman emerges from the back with a vengeance. There is a struggle and the car is then sent careening into a worksite. Welcome to Stumptown.

Credit: ABC

We then cut to three days earlier to see just how Dex got herself in and hopefully out of that situation. But that doesn’t mean that director James Griffiths or the pilot’s writer Jason Richman let up on the fun. After the thrilling cold open, we are drawn deeper into Dex’s world and sphere of influence as she is offered a job that could change everything for her. Anchored by Smulders’ equally assertive and vulnerable performance, the pilot script then charges through its first “case”, offering up plenty of action and dime store gumshoe twists.

Though criminally underused in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I really cannot stress enough how amazing Smulders is as Dex. Fitting into Parios’ wounded, yet cocksure persona like she’s been playing her for years, Smulders is electric throughout this pilot. That spark also extends to her male co-stars as well. Michael Ealy, of Fox’s Almost Human, smolders as the by-the-book Detective Hoffman, a Portland police detective Dex’s butts heads with on this opening case. Peter B. Parker himself Jake Johnson also shines here as Dex’s stalwart best friend Grey McConnell. Though I wish he would have gotten a bit more to do in this pilot episode, Johnson’s presence and easy, wholly platonic chemistry with Smulders is a real boon for the opening episode.

Credit: ABC
Credit: ABC

But Stumptown really is Smulders’ show and she carries the whole thing beautifully. Proving equally adroit at both the action (there is a brutally fun fight sequence in the middle of this episode I think fans will flip for) and emotional heavy lifting the character requires, I can absolutely see this show becoming the real star making turn that she’s been owed for a while now. And it also doesn’t hurt that this is, really and truly, a fantastic adaptation of the original comic books. Though it lacks the singular, pointedly noirish style of Matthew Southworth and Lee Loughridge’s artwork, Griffiths’ snappy direction coupled with the script’s wry, pared down, yet rawly emotional take on the first arc has the potential to hit big with audiences.

There are a glut of procedural crime shows on TV nowadays, but I think Stumptown has a real shot at being a standout. Calling to mind the tone, action, humor, and pathos of shows like Justified and Terriers, Stumptown looks to breathe new, hip life into primetime procedurals. And if the later episodes stay at the level of this pilot, it may just damn well do it.

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