On paper, Stumptown might seem like the kind of show that was birthed from an algorithm: A comic book adaptation about a young Army vet, Dex Parios (Colbie Smulders), who returns home from her final tour of duty only to struggle with PTSD, holding down a job, and a gambling addiction — while simultaneously falling back to her military skills to solve cases the police can't crack. Take one part spicy private investigator show, add a dash of family drama, a gentle sprinkling of Shondaland-adjacent romantic entanglements, and set the whole thing in Portland, Oregon — you've got the show.
In fact, you'd be forgiven for tuning into Stumptown solely to see what New Girl‘s favorite bartender was up to now. “What I like about Grey is, honestly, it starts off similar to Nick Miller,” Jake Johnson told TV Guide about his character, Grey McConnell, the gruff yet tender bar owner who is Dex's best friend. “That's an easy transition for people. If you were a fan of New Girl you can say, ‘Oh I know that guy, I feel comfortable watching him at 10 pm on a Wednesday night', but then as the show goes forward there'll be more secrets revealed from Grey and you'll get to know him in a totally different way.”
That's really the key to what makes Stumptown, the season's most surprising comic book adaptation, special: Each character on the show draws you in with a soothingly predictable role and then upends that stereotype in a fresh and revealing way.
Smulders, the gritty and scathingly funny lead of the show, jumped in on her co-star's TCA interview to tell TV Guide that Dex has a similar journey. “At the moment she's not interested in being honest with herself,” said Smulders about Dex's exhaustive list of issues. “We're gonna see her ride that wave of disappointing everyone, which she's excellent at… it will take some time to actually get to a healing place, but we'll see her dealing with her PTSD.”
In the pilot, Dex's main way to cope is through her gambling addiction, which introduces audiences to an entire world that they've probably never seen before on television. Within the bounds of the show, Dex's frequent trips to the casino put her directly in the path of her former (almost) mother-in-law's empire. Played by Tantoo Cardinal, Sue Lynn Blackbird is the matriarch of a powerful Native American tribe that makes an impressive fortune from the casino they own. Outside the bounds of the shows, TV has never before offered an in-depth look at the struggles modern-day indigenous people face in America — not just to make a successful living, but to keep a community together when everything has been stripped from.
Cardinal said she feels an immense sense of pride in finally being able to tell a more holistic story about her community. “Our people are people are represented in a truthful way,” she said. “Sue Lynn is part of the Confederated Tribes, so she's politically active, she's a power-broker. And I'm a political dog myself, I have great care and concern that our people are represented in a truthful way, and that has been such a difficult, difficult road to hold. There is such misunderstanding, misconstruing who we are, and it started from a tactical viewpoint so we could not be seen as human beings, a civilization, a thousand-year-old culture.”
Cardinal went on to say about the season, “I'm really excited at the possibility that some of these things can be brought to the light. That people will see what we really add to society. We'd been stripped out when this country was built, and we have to be brought back in.”
And just like that, a generic villain with a connection the anti-hero's past transforms to reveal a complex portrait of a woman whose ruthless comes from a sense of love and loyalty to the people that follow her. It's these shifts in perspective Stumptown plays with so well.
Michael Ealy and Camryn Manhiem, who play Detective Hoffman and Lieutenant Cosgrove, the detectives Dex finds herself shackled to as they work the same case, both teased that backstories and secrets for their characters will come to light as the season goes on. Hoffman's romantic entanglement with Dex will “compromise his partnership” with Cosgrove. Cosgrove however, isn't really in a place to judge as she's “got her own past.” Two above-the-board cops shift into people who have lived in the gray long enough to know there's a need for people like Dex.
Dex's brother with Down syndrome, Ansel (Cole Sibus), shifts from a character that solely exists to drive the lead's emotional arc to a realized person who has a job and friends and interests of his own. Even Dex's sole friendly acquaintance, Tookie (Adrian Martinez), transforms from a former boss into a sort of “guardian angel” figure who will “definitely is going to have his moment, and it's very much of the moment.”
The stars of Stumptown couldn't say much more about the season (though we did ask), but it's certainly shaping up to be one of the most interesting broadcast shows of the fall. With eye-openings twists on the classics, Stumptown is well worth savoring. And it's certainly way more than that new show with Nick Miller.
Stumptown premieres Sept. 25 at 10/9c on ABC.