Dex Parios (Cobie Smulders) may have bravely served her country, but it seems her best days are behind her. She might like to think of herself as a sharp-witted, sharp-tongued operator, but her card-sharp skills aren’t as good as she thinks and she owes the local Portland casino an increasing amount of money – so much so she’s accepted a financial offer to find the daughter of the man she almost married. She can just about cover the rent for the home she shares with her brother Ansel (Cole Sibus), who has Down’s Syndrome ( and who appears to have his life together better than his sibling) but even that’s being gambled away.
However the rent might be the least of her problems… because at the moment she’s locked in a trunk, the prisoner of two reprobates who don’t have her best interests at heart and she’s wondering how she got into this mess and how she’ll get out. It may depend on whether criminals or the police find her first… but despite a good heart, Dex has a tendency to be her own worst enemy…
Stumptown has all the right ingredients for a cynical, warts-and-all, good-at-bad-decisions romp but at times it feels like it’s all running on nothing but undiluted attitude and snark. It’s as if someone took Jessica Jones‘ anti-hero ‘qualities’ and removed the MCU elements, or saw Banshee and Ozark‘s success on cable and felt networks could dilute it down just a little to fit the regulations of primetime.
Most will know Smulders from her roles as Nick Fury’s right-hand Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and she brings the same amounts of sardonic wit to her role as Dex. While there was once a call for female characters to be shown having just the same amount of deserved success as men and handle everything thrown at them, being able to juggle rather than jiggle, the barometer seems to have swung the other way: Smulder’s Dex continues the recent trend of screen women able to be as wholly dysfunctional as their male counterparts and capable of making the same woefully self-destructive decisions as men. They sleep around, get drunk, get beaten-up and survive rather than thrive. That’s arguably better for dramatic purposes, but whether it’s empowering equality in and of itself is probably a water-cooler discussion. We know that in Dex’s case that she has multiple tours of Afghanistan and the battlefield death of her ex-almost-fiancee that cause bouts of PTSD and depression and it will be interesting to see if those continue to be legitimately explored rather than a nail on which to hang her bad choices thereafter.
There’s kudos for having an actor with Down’s Syndrome in a key supporting role and not making that ‘the’ issue. Cole Sibus is utterly charming as Ansel, more than capable of holding the screen. It’s not entirely clear if Ansel’s job helping clean the bar of Dex’s friend Grey is fully-paid up employment (which Ansel seems entirely capable of doing), but it’s certainly progress when any kind of disability isn’t seen as a generic story-hook. The rest of the supporting cast are familiar faces… Jake Johnson is Dex’s tolerant friend Grey, Michael Ealy is Detective Miles Hoffman who doesn’t know whether to trust Dex or not when they clash during her ‘job’ (and vice versa), Camryn Manheim is Hoffman’s les than amused boss and Tantoo Cardinal is Sue Lynn Blackbird, the shady casino owner who was almost Dex’s mother-in-law.
Based on Greg Rucka’s graphic novel, Stumptown tries hard, perhaps a little too hard, to be down and dirty and edgy. It has a ‘come-and-have-a-go-if-you-think-you’re-hard-enough‘ vibe throughout with a mix-tape soundtrack to match (and if you aren’t singing along to Neil Diamond during the pilot’s vehicular chaos, well… I just don’t know you) but with this amount of effort to be in-your-face, it can only be a matter of time before Dex is belching out the tune of Cherry Bomb and that could quickly get old rather than retro. Smulders has the innate charisma to carry all this off and she’s a good choice for Dex… but the show’s welcome subversive nature will need to find something more specific to rebel against if it’s going to make the most of her talents…