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Josh Reviews the Premiere of Stumptown!

Stumptown is a magnificent comic book series written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by first Matthew Southworth and then Justin Greenwood.  It centers on Dex Parios, a private investigator in Portland, Oregon.  The series has been published periodically between 2009 and 2016 (though I continue to hope for new installments…).  I was excited when I heard that the series was being turned into a TV show for ABC starring How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders in the lead role!

I watched the first episode, and I was pleased!  It wasn’t flawless, but it was an entertaining hour of television and I think the series has a lot of potential.

This first episode is a loose adaptation of the comic book’s first story-line, “The Case of the Girl Who Took her Shampoo (But Left her Mini)”.  Dex is broke and owes the local casino, run by the Confederated Tribes of the Wind Coast, $11,000.  The head of the casino offers to wipe out Dex’s debt if Dex will help find her granddaughter, who has gone missing.  Dex agrees, and quickly finds herself in a world of trouble she didn’t expect.

The comic’s first issue opens with Dex getting shot, and then the story flashes back to retrace the steps of what happened.  This episode takes a similar approach, though it borrows a scene from a later Stumptown story, in which Dex gets thrown in the truck of a car by two coffee-loving goons.  This opening sequence of the show is terrific — probably the best part of the episode.  It’s very funny (the goons start singing along to the Neil Diamond song playing on Dex’s car’s broken tape-player) and then turns into a terrific action sequence, as Dex breaks out of the trunk and attempts to subdue the two guys, while the car careens out of control through traffic, leading to the car’s taking a huge jump off of a bridge (which is also a callback to a famous moment from the comic).  The show then flashes back, as the comic did, to show us how Dex got locked in that trunk in the first place.

What follows is a decently compelling mystery.  I love that Dex actually finds the missing girl, Nina, fairly quickly — but that turns out to be just part of the larger story.  That’s a clever twist.  This first episode has a lot of ground to cover, introducing the whole cast and Dex’s world, while also telling this mystery/investigation story.  It’s all done fairly well.

Cobie Smulders is well-cast as Dex.  I think she’s a strong choice to carry the show.  She’s beautiful and she can kick ass, and she has the acting chops to show us how broken Dex is inside without getting too melodramatic.  (I’m not sure if it helps or hurts that Ms. Smulders played a similar version of this somewhat dour, indomitable warrior-woman in Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.  I do hope that the show ultimately allows her to show us a greater range of emotions from this character.)

The basic set-up and cast of characters of the show is very similar to the comics.  One major change is that in the comics, when we first meet Dex, she is a Private Eye.  In the show, she isn’t.  (She only gets the idea to pursue that line of work at the end of this first episode.)  I can understand why, on a TV show, they wanted to show us the arc of Dex’s becoming a P.I. over the course of this first season.  On the other hand, some of Dex’s actions in this first story made a little more sense in the comic when she was a P.I. on a case, as opposed to just an ordinary person who couldn’t let the matter go.

The other major change they made was taking the charcater of Hoffman, who in the comics is a female lesbian police detective, and turning her into a heterosexual male.  Michael Ealy is great in the role; he has nice chemistry with Ms. Smulders, and I am happy to see a character of color added to what was the primarily white cast of the comic.  On the other hand, I hate to lose the interesting female character of Hoffman.  Turning her into a sexy man — who Dex gets it on with in this first episode, and with whom I assume we’ll continue to see romantic sparks fly — feels like a less interesting, more standard TV show sort of choice to me.  (Additionally, the bisexual Dex from the comics seems to be squarely heterosexual so far on the show, which also feels like a loss.)

An important supporting character in the comics is Dex’s brother Ansel.  He is played on the show by Cole Sibus, who is very solid.  I love that they cast an actor with Down syndrome to play the role.

Another important supporting character from the comics is Dex’s friend and neighbor Grey, played on the show by Jake Johnson (New Girl, Safety Not Guaranteed, Jurassic World).  Mr. Johnson feels like a big name for this supporting role!  I was surprised but pleased to see him on the show.  They have changed Grey for the show, turning into someone starting up a bar.  But his closeness with Ansel thankfully remains, and so far Mr. Johnson’s depiction of Jake seems like someone more interesting to me than the more wallflowery Grey from the comics.

Camryn Manheim plays Hoffman’s boss, Lieutenant Cosgrove.  Is this stunt casting for the first episode, or will Ms. Manheim be a regular on the show?  Cosgrove was a minor background player in the comics.  (Cosgrove was also a man, so since Hoffman became a man in the transition from comic book to TV, I’m glad Cosgrove became a woman.)  I’m assuming Ms. Manheim will reappear on the show.  I am interesting to see how they develop this character, who was pretty one-dimensional in this first episode.

My biggest complaint with this first episode was the music.  I thought it was very on-the-nose, often overly telegraphing the emotion we’re supposed to feel in the moment.  I felt it often got sappy in any kind of character interaction with any emotion.  It felt very generic-TV to me.

The show seems set up to have a mystery-of-the-week format.  Will this get boring?  I certainly can see that risk.  But having enjoyed this first episode, and loving the comic book source material so much, I’m on board for the next few episodes at least.  It’s been years since I have watched a network hour-long show!  We’ll see how this goes…!

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