In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, ABC
In the UK: Acquired by Alibi
Guys, I think private detective shows are coming back into fashion. They’d been left in the land of re-runs for a long time, with the occasional attempt to revive the format such as Terriers struggling to find an audience.
But then CBS resurrected Magnum PI, which was like a breath of fresh air in a market stuffed full of police procedurals. And now, a year on, we have Stumptown, ABC’s effort.
I wonder how long it’ll be before the other networks have a go, too, because like Magnum PI, Stumptown ain’t half bad.
Stumptown is an example of another reasonably rare phenomenon – an adaptation of a graphic novel that isn’t about superheroes or the supernatural. Instead, it takes Greg Rucka (Wonder Woman, Queen & Country)’s Stumptown characters and fleshes them out into a woke combination of comedy and drama.
Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother, Avengers Assemble, Captain America: Winter Soldier) plays Dex Parios, a former marine with PTSD who now spends most of her time drinking her invalidity benefit and gambling in the local Portland reservation’s casino. She also has a younger brother with Down Syndrome whom she cares for.
When she loses big time again at the casino, its owner – and Dex’s almost mother-in-law – Sue Lynn Blackbird (Tantoo Cardinal) offers to clear her debt in exchange for Dex using her Marine hunting powers to locate her missing granddaughter.
Naturally, it’s not quite as simple as all that, leading Dex to come into conflict – and something a bit more pleasant – with the local police (Almost Human’s Michael Ealy).
There’s always something interesting in gender-swapping the tropes of a given genre, whether that’s a rom-com or an action show. Stumptown isn’t the first such swap for the PI genre – remember VI Warshawski, anyone?
But gender-swapping does mean that while the show has a lot of the genre’s down-at-heel clichés, from money troubles and clapped out old cars through to difficult relationships with alcohol and networks of helpers, Stumptown is as refreshing as Magnum PI, rather than a simple also-ran.
Equally refreshing is the fact this is an origin story – most PIs come to us fully formed – with Smulders an initially reticent PI who discovers she still has a talent for investigation in civilian life. The writing’s sharp, too, as might be expected from Rucka, with Smulders exhibiting top PI observation skills.
She makes for a good PI lead, exhibiting the right combination of humour (thanks, How I Met Your Mother) and kick-assness (thanks, Winter Soldier) to be both appealing and believable. Similarly, Ealy makes for a decent bit of male interest.
Less explicable is Jake Johnson’s character, who makes Magnum PI’s Rick look absolutely integral to the plots. He’s not best served by the script, but there’s no real cause for his existence. There’s also no female best friend for Dex – if you’re going to do a gender-swap, you can’t just swap the main character’s gender: you have to think it through, as the show is currently a very male-dominated affair.
This is odd, as the show otherwise seems to be queuing up for woke points, with a disabled main character, a black love interest, and a female veteran protagonist with mental health issues who was going to marry a native American and is promised to have the same bisexuality as her comic-book inspiration.
To its credit, the show manages to carry that burden on its shoulders very well and it all comes across very fluid and natural – it’s not quite Banshee, on that score, but we’re not talking a Supergirl level of forcedness for sure. The plot manages to weave domestic concerns and crime story together and its lack of slickness is a definite asset.
Stumptown feels like a Rockford Files for our time. I’m not 100% sure the foundations the show has in its main characters is quite sufficient for the series proper, but it’s a good start at least and the show can evolve its format over time, particularly since Johnson was replacement casting. Roll on episode two.
Here’s the first four minutes, in case you want to give it a try.