by Vicki Vass
After watching the first three episodes of Stumptown, I am hooked. Lead character Dex, a former Marine interrogator suffering from PTSD, is living on the edge. The edge of poverty, the edge of reason, and the edge of denial. Played by Cobie Smulders, Dex is rough and snarky, an older tougher Veronica Mars.
Based on a graphic novels of the same name as the TV series, a nickname for the city of Portland, the show follows Dex in her return to her hometown. She struggles with the loss of her fiancée who was killed in an explosion in Afghanistan. When she gambles her disability check at the local tribal casino, her ex-fiancee’s mother commands her to find her missing granddaughter and her debt will be forgiven. This begins her career evolution from jobless to private investigator. Subsequent episodes show her interning with a known private investigator and taking the licensing exam.
Her tender side comes through when she is caring for Ansel, her younger brother who has Down Syndrome and with her best friend Grey McConnell. Much of the action takes place at the Bad Alibi, the bar owned by Grey. Portland appears to be a gritty, grimy place, and Dex is ferocious enough to hold her own.
In the first episode, an interaction with Detective Miles Hoffman sends sparks flying. The series shines most when Dex is tossing smart quips or defending herself in a kick-ass manner. The investigations seem a little obvious and follow the weekly detective show format. It will be interesting to watch how the show develops over its first season. Smulders does a brilliant job of showcasing Dex’s vulnerable interior masking it with quips, one-liners, and throat clearing. It is a very nuanced performance that kept me riveted.
Equally compelling is Jake Johnson, formerly in New Girl, who plays Grey. He and Dex demonstrate a tension that blurs the line of friendship.
Originally only slated for six episodes, Stumptown has been optioned for a full season. Hopefully, it will round out the remaining characters and create compelling cases for Dex that transcend formula detective shows.
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