The new drama Stumptown starts with an action sequence set to “Sweet Caroline,” because of course it does, it’s an ABC pilot. By the time Cobie Smulders crawls out from the trunk of a speeding car into the back seat and starts punching the goons driving the car, you know what you’re in for: a fun, fast-paced drama about a smart-aleck, rogue detective with romantic problems and an emotional anchor that she’s doing it all for! Phew! But then again, that is ABC’s blueprint.
Even so, Stumptown — based on the Oni comic series of the same name — is one of the better new fall network pilots, and not just because most of them are BAD, but because it delivers Smulders to our TV screens on a weekly basis again. Smulders plays Dex Parios (OK, sure), a military vet with more baggage than will fit into a duffle bag. She loves the booze, has racked up a multi-grand debt with the local casino (where she plays craps to pay her cable bill), cares for a younger brother who has Down syndrome, and is haunted by some really bad things that happened in a previous relationship, not to mention a hint of PTSD from her military tours. Smulders manages to imbue Dex with likable energy and surprising vulnerability, making for a character who can actually carry the otherwise routine series about — you guessed it — a troubled woman who helps the local cops solve crimes in Stumptown, one of many nicknames for Portland, Oregon.
The floundering Dex is asked by the owner of the casino to help find her missing granddaughter, making use of the particular set of skills Dex acquired during her time in Afghanistan. The case in the pilot is fairly rote, and there’s no reason to believe future cases will get much more interesting, so it’s best to latch onto the character arcs that are being developed. Dex makes her way through town, interacting with the city’s offbeat characters with a sardonic sense of humor. We meet a cop (played by Michael Ealy) who plays a cop who becomes a romantic interest for Dex, but we’ll see how long it lasts, given that Dex’s bisexuality is a pretty important part of her character in the comic and will be a part of the show. Her friend is a bartender played by Jake Johnson, and there could be something cooking there, too.
If it sounds like everything and everyone is a bit of a possibility for Dex, it’s because that’s who she is: a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-jeans, rough-and-tumble woman who doesn’t always make the right decisions when it comes to her personal life. She’ll leave destruction in her wake because she doesn’t know how to do anything but barrel forward, and no doubt Smulders will pull it off like a champ. And that’s good for Stumptown and anyone who watches Stumptown, because she’s in pretty much every scene.
Is it great? No. Is it an easy and enjoyable way to pass an hour? You bet.