When it comes to primetime procedurals it can often feel like if you've seen one, you've seen them all. That's not a bad thing, it's just a thing that is. They all have a similar feel, a similar pacing, and usually center around a lead character who is a little too hard-boiled, a little too tough. Yet, with Stumptown, ABC manages to breathe new life into the genre and deliver what might be not just the best new series they've launched in years, but one of the best damn shows this fall, period.
Starring Cobie Smulders, Stumptown is loosely adapted from the comic book series of the same name by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth. We say loosely not because the show deviates too far from the material -- there are some changes, but they tangibly enhance the story -- but because you never once feel like you're watching a comic book adaptation. Instead, you get a funny, believable adventure hitting just the right emotional notes, even in the opening sequence. Watch the first five minutes of Stumptown and you'll be hooked.
A huge part of that hook is Smulders' Dex Parios. A Marine vet, Parios has serious issues. She drinks too much, has a gambling problem, and is also suffering from a pretty significant case of PTSD due to her time in Afghanistan. In many ways, she's just drifting through life with one of her only emotional anchors being her younger brother, Ansel. She also has solid enough instincts and charm that P.I. work is a natural fit. It comes in handy when the owner of the casino she hangs out at pulls her into finding her missing granddaughter -- a complicated case with a lot of layers that let us see who Dex really is.
To be sure, there is a lot going on in Stumptown that could easily crumble into caricature, but that's where Stumptown shines. Dex's PTSD is presented in a real, raw, human way with the kind of compassion mental illness is rarely given on screen. When Dex starts to struggle with flashbacks, viewers are taken on that disorienting journey with her. When Dex makes questionable choices to self-medicate -- drinking, one-night stands, gambling -- the people in her life don't shame her for it and no one tries to "fix" her. They love her, support her, and let her be herself while being ready to offer a hand if she needs it. The result is a fully-realized, fully-formed character that is as dynamic as any lead character ever has been in this genre. In a very real way, it's almost like they took the best qualities of ALIAS' Sydney Bristow and mixed them together with the faults and challenges of the titular character in Netflix’s Jessica Jones to deliver a heroine of sorts that strikes a balance neither of those characters ever really had, and Smulders absolutely knocks it out of the park in what may be her best-ever performance.
The rest of the show's cast crushes it as well. Michael Ealy and Jake Johnson are both effortlessly brilliant as Detective Hoffman and Dex's best friend Grey McConnell, respectively, while Tantoo Cardinal may well end up being the series standout as Sue Lynn Blackbird, the casino owner who has a significant history with Dex. The show also has a killer soundtrack, so much so that it's almost a character itself. Put it all together, you’ve got a show that just works at the highest level possible.
Overall, Stumptown is an excellent show with a solid chance at being the next big series favorite. With wide-ranging appeal, humanity, heart, the perfect amount of humor, and multiple stand-out performances, it's easily the right show at the right time and it's one you absolutely can't miss.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Stumptown premieres Wednesday, September 25th on ABC.