Wednesday, September 25, 2019

REVIEW: 'Stumptown' - Dex Stumbles Her Way Into a New Career as a Private Investigator in 'Forget It Dex, It's Stumptown'

ABC's Stumptown - Episode 1.01 "Forget It Dex, It's Stumptown"

Dex Parios - a strong, assertive and sharp-witted army veteran with a complicated love life, gambling debt and a brother to take care of - works as a PI in Portland, Oregon. With only herself to rely on, she solves other people's messes with a blind eye toward her own, finding herself at odds with the police and in the firing line of criminals.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of ABC's Stumptown.

"Forget It Dex, It's Stumptown" was written by Jason Richman and directed by James Griffiths

Cobie Smulders is very winning as the lead character in this new drama. At its core, it feels like another story about a complicated protagonist refusing to deal with her issues while trying to be just functional enough to earn a living. At the start of the proceedings though, Dex doesn't even have that kind of direction. Instead, she is just gambling and drinking. Sure, there is the tease that she'll eventually be fighting her way out of the trunk of a car. That's an action sequence that immediately says that things are going to an over-the-top place eventually with the car seeming destined to crash. But it's more so a character study about this flawed woman who doesn't wish to cope with any of her traumas in a way that is actually healthy and beneficial. The only way she can pay off her gambling debt is to track down the missing granddaughter of the casino owner, Sue Lynn. Now, that is a relationship filled with drama as well because Dex once dated her son, Benny, who died serving overseas. Dex is a veteran as well who blames herself for Benny's death. This hour probably hits the nail on the head a little too much in that regard. It wants to paint a bleak portrait of a woman struggling to move forward while living with this immense sense of guilt and remorse. She never fit into this world but it's the only one she has. She has a loving relationship with her brother, Ansel, and best friend, Grey - who just so happens to be opening his own bar. That means she may have a place to go to drink for free. Sure, that may not be a smart financial decision on Grey's part. That may just showcase how much he loves her and will always look out for her family. That's a very fascinating relationship because he actively calls her out on her bad behavior. He doesn't allow her to simply get away with it like it's nothing. It's a problem that she is constantly looking for one-night stands. She refuses to let anyone in on what she's going through. But she is suffering from PTSD while on the job. She makes mistakes as a result of that. This all has the perception of being a depressing show. At times, it does verge on that. Dex gets beat up shortly after tracking down the missing girl. It's not as easy as she would like it to be though. She wants this young woman to learn from the mistakes she made in the past. She doesn't want her falling down the same path. Of course, this girl's quest for love is much more complicated because the boyfriend she wants to run away with is the one actively trying to kidnap her and hold her for ransom. Dex eventually comes to that conclusion. There are just a lot of obstacles thrown in her way - like a car that doesn't work, false leads that land her in troubling situations, and the local police that look to her as a suspect for a moment as well. That latter aspect also introduces a new source of intrigue for Dex in the form of Detective Hoffman. It's not long before they are in the same bed together. The show addresses that right off the bat. It may not do all of the necessary buildup to ensure that it's something meaningful. Right now, it mostly just presents Dex as an incredibly reckless woman who doesn't make smart choices. But again, it all concludes with the girl being reunited with her family through a complicated series of events that includes Dex fighting her way out of her car trunk, regaining control over the vehicle and leading a bunch of cop cars to the precise spot where this trade off is happening. It's all very effective. It also presents as a rather long way of saying that Dex could make a living as a private investigator. Hoffman has a friend who could use her help. That too is a little stiff and forced. But it still highlights a world that is fascinating with characters that have so much potential. It would just be smart of the show not to linger too much and too reliably on the various vices that plague Dex all the time. Smulders can make so much work though that it may be worth giving the show a couple of episodes to develop into something special.