I didn’t actually binge this during quarantine… just watched the season finale. And man is it nice to have shows that actually have season finales still, because not all of ’em will. Ugh. The Arrowverse was days from wrapping filming…
Anyhoo. Based on the graphic novel written by Greg Rucka (I lied about being done with comic book shows) and titled after one of Portland, Oregon’s nicknames, Stumptown is about drunk, trauma-ridden, ex-marine-turned-PI Dex Parios (Cobie Smulders), her friends, her brother with Down Syndrome, and their various misadventures somewhere between crime and justice. Dex’s best friend Grey (New Girl and Into the Spider-Verse’s Jake Johnson) has just opened a bar called the Bad Alibi* that Dex makes her defacto office. She has a kind of loose sex-buddy relationship with Detective Hoffman of the Portland PD (Michael Ealy), which does and doesn’t influence the amount of times she hits him up for favours, to the chagrin of his lieutenant (Camryn Manheim). Dex thinks she needs to take care of her brother Ansel (Cole Sibus), but the more independence he gains the clearer it gets that maybe it’s her that needs him. Ansel having Down Syndrome neither makes him a subject of pity nor a magic innocent with wisdom the rest of us lack, he’s allowed to just be a character who happens to have Down Syndrome and yes, that does cause the occasional challenge in his life.
And then there’s enterprising taco truck proprietor Tookie (Adrian Martinez). He doesn’t have a clear role in the group at first, to the point that early in the series I was surprised he was a regular at all, but then they figured out how to use him and he became delightful. One exchange with his assistant at the truck made me willing to watch a spinoff with just him and Ansel…
“Why is that I say something in Spanish, that in context makes perfect sense in English, and then translate it into English anyway? Do you ever do that?”
“Dude, I’m half Hawaiian, half Filipino.”
“…Aloha. How do I keep spacing on that.”
Followed by an explanation of Baked Alaska…
“It’s a white person dessert, cake and ice cream you set on fire.”
“The ‘on fire’ part intrigues me.”
It’s mostly case-of-the-week stuff. There are some two-parters, and longer arc B-stories for Grey, mostly based off of his past as a thief, but in most cases, Dex is gonna put right something that went wrong by the end of the episode. The main arc for the season involves the love of Dex’s life, Benny Blackbird, a member of the local native community. His mother, casino magnate Sue Lynn, is a leader of the tribe (and possibly a crime lord?) and forbade Benny from being with Dex. A marriage and a kid later, he needed Dex back, so joined the military and deployed to Afghanistan to be near her again… only to be killed in action trying to reach her. The scars this left on Dex (Dex also clearly has PTSD from her own battle incidents, but it’s not her defining quality), the fallout on his loved ones, and the real circumstances of his death form the only real season-long story.
Which leaves a still-potential second season to get into why Dex came home from the war to find out her parents had amscrayed and left Ansel in a home. She’s rightfully a little miffed about that.
It’s very good. Cobie Smulders might be doing the best work of her career as hard-edged but caring Dex Parios, who gets through life by balling all of the chaos and trauma she lives with as tight as she can, then forging it into a half-functional existence. She’s haunted, she’s witty, she’s good in a fight… she isn’t dissimilar to Jessica Jones, but hey, if TV can support two modernized Sherlock Holmeses at once, we can handle two abrasive, borderline alcoholic female PIs. Jake Johnson is also killing it as Grey, Tookie is delightful, Tantoo Cardinal makes Sue Lynn Blackbird a nicely menacing presence, and guest stars include great turns from Gotham’s Donal “Harvey Bullock” Logue (Bronze Medalist for Supporting Character, 2015), Lucifer’s Inbar “Eve” Lavi (Silver Medalist, Rookie of the Year, 2019), Fringe/Arrow’s Kirk Acevedo, and others I either don’t recall or think won’t mean anything to you.
Once a week for 18 weeks between October and March, whatever plans I had for the next hour were derailed the second I saw a fresh Stumptown in my PVR. I would drop basically anything I was going to do in the name of fresh Stumptown. If you can find season one, watch it.
*They give us one good joke based on the bar’s name.
“His alibi is that he was at his bar the night of the murder.”
“Oh, what’s the bar.”
“…The Bad Alibi.”
“That is an unfortunate name.”