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Stumptown - Forget It Dex, It’s Stumptown and Missed Connections Review Roundtable -The World According to Dex

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I’m trying something new this year with some of the weekly reviews of shows I’m covering for SpoilerTV. Each weekly review will be in a Review Roundtable format, with opinions of the episode from myself and various colleagues as we seek to answer questions and review each episode. I feel this way offers a broader view of the shows we cover and at times differing opinions. It is going to be fun to explore too just what it is that appeals to everyone about these shows. The first up of this new weekly Review Roundtable format for me is Stumptown. Thank you Ellys @TVAdora for participating in this new format.

Stumptown is ABC’s newest drama and one of its most buzzed-about new shows. Based on Greg Rucka’s gritty graphic novels about complicated P.I. Dex Parios and starring The Avengers and How I Met Your Mother fan-favorite Cobie Smulders, the show quickly established itself as one of the top shows of the new season. Here are the thoughts from several SpoilerTV writers in this new roundtable format.

1.Before our coffee cools, we have to talk about Cobie Smulders and Dex Parios. How thrilling is it to watch Smulders in this role?
DONNA – Smulders was the main reason I signed up for reviewing this show. I was thrilled to see her get the opportunity to lead her own show and she doesn’t disappoint. It’s a tough part and she nails it, easily moving from Dex’s sass and toughness to her pain and vulnerability, can’t wait to see what she does the rest of this young season.

ELLYS - Time for a confession. The only other TV role I have seen Smulders in was Lisa Turner in Friends from College. In season 2 especially, she was fantastic as that character, alternating between dry humor and heartbreaking pathos. As Dex Parios, Smulders has similar qualities, but I was struck by how incredible her performance is right away in the pilot. The way she rests her arms on the bar as if it’s comforting (a gesture she echoes in the closing scene), that blink-and-you-miss-it shock of disappointment when she loses at the table, and the moment she stops herself from talking more to Ansel about her job situation and switches from sister to big sister mode. Smulders isn’t just in Dex’s shoes; she acts as if she’s lived in those shoes for a long time. A couple of scenes later, Smulders slips into Dex’s merrier side and uses those comedic chops to deliver some perfectly timed retorts. I didn’t finish the pilot thinking “Maybe I want to spend more time with Dex.” I finished the pilot thinking “I definitely want to spend more time with Dex.”

2.Dex Parios seems to be the ultimate underdog, continually being kicked down by life, and yet we can’t help but root for her? Why is that?

DONNA – Dex is without a doubt a deeply flawed character, she may make you angry at some of her choices but then when you think about them and why she struggles so you want to see her do better. I think the main reason I’m rooting for her is that no matter how many times she gets knocked down (and in the first two episodes she gets knocked down and out physically, mentally and emotionally a lot!) she keeps getting up and eventually ends up using unorthodox methods to do the right thing. She’s extremely loyal and protective of those she loves and holds close. I think the person she loves the least is herself. This is a character in a lot of pain, from losing the love of her life to her guilt thinking she caused his death and her PTSD from combat in the military. I think Grey (Jake Johnson) and Detective Hoffman (Michael Ealy) both see through the walls she throws up and shows her something she’s likely had very little of in her life, someone who has faith in her. Ultimately the one person she doesn’t want to let down, but often does is her brother Ansel (Cole Sibus) and she’s often confused that despite how many times she does let him down he still loves her.

- For every moment I want to shake Dex, there is a moment my heart aches for her. She might be staying out late in wrinkled clothes to burn through her income, but she genuinely cares about the people in her life, whether it's her brother or her clients. Dex, thanks to Smulders, is a charming renegade whose mischievous streak is driven as much by her quick thinking as it is her need to bury her own hurt. Her determination to barrel through any moment of weakness with metaphorical guns blazing keeps us on the edge of our seats because we worry for her even as we cheer her on.

3.While the lead of a show is the face of the series, a show’s success also depends on the supporting cast. What do you think about the Stumptown supporting cast and the characters they play?

Stumptown casting directors have assembled a stellar supporting cast, all of whom seem to have a great connection in different ways with Smulders.
As mentioned above there’s Johnson and Ealy both playing characters who believe in and in their own ways are a little bit in love with Dex, but understand that she will have only one great love in her life and that their role may well be to keep her from continually blaming herself for his death. Two powerful women look to be influencing Dex’s life coming from totally different directions. It’s great seeing one of my favorites, Camryn Manheim, back on television as the by-the-book police Lieutenant Cosgrove. While she’s not given a great deal to do in the first couple of episodes there is some connection between her and Dex. I think maybe deep down she begrudgingly respects Dex and maybe even perhaps the sometimes unorthodox methods she can use on a case. The other woman Dex butts heads with is Sue Lynn Blackbird (Tantoo Cardinal), owner of the tribal casino and the mother of Dex’s deceased lover. Like Dex, she is a character in a lot of pain, and it is going to be interesting to see how their paths continue to cross in the course of the show and given Dex’s gambling I’d bet quite a few.

But perhaps the best supporting character, in my opinion, is Dex’s brother Ansel (Cole Sibus), who has Down syndrome and works at Grey’s bar. Sibus and Smulders have a wonderful brother/sister chemistry and affection. Ansel may just be the most mature member of the family, but one thing is clear is he loves his big sister, no matter what.

ELLYS - The standout characters to me besides Dex were Ansel (Cole Sibus) and Grey (Jake Johnson), and the friendship between them as the two most important people in Dex’s life was so cool to see. It’s another way that Stumptown’s characters don’t feel like people just starting out. They come across as people who have had history and lives and challenges. There have been jokes about how Jake Johnson is playing a bar owner again after New Girl. Grey McConnell couldn’t be a more different role for Johnson to take on. I loved the scenes in episode 2 that unveiled how Grey and Dex met and how Grey offered Dex friendship over a relationship. Shows love to get carried away with whether two characters will eventually hook up, but Stumptown takes, in my opinion, the more interesting direction by making them friends. As for Ansel, I was half-way worried the show would just make him a background character to show us that Dex had a gentler side, as often happens in this type of show. All his scenes though were some of my favorites from the episodes. I love how he talks straight to Dex about her shortcomings, and the story choice to have him working at the bar and hence on the front lines of Grey’s story as well as Dex’s so we can get another perspective. The scene where he faces off against Grey’s former associate had me so worried that something bad would happen to Ansel, but instead, he stood his ground and protected Grey’s property to the extent he could.

4.What scenes from the first two episodes were the most memorable?

From Forget It Dex, It’s Stumptown I think the scene that made the most impression on me was the first encounter between Dex and Sue Lynn. It was awkward and painful for both women and Smulders and Cardinal both hit all the emotional buttons. It was clear it was just as hard for Sue Lynn to ask Dex for help as it was for Dex to be there and accept the round-about financial lifeline Sue Lynn reluctantly offered her. It is going to be interesting to see moving forward if these two women can find a way to forgive themselves and each other for the roles they played in losing the man they both loved.

In Missed Connections, the most memorable scene was easily in a flashback to the time when they were first getting to know one another. After taking a drunken Dex home, Grey sees a rare vulnerable side to this intriguing woman as Dex tearfully tells him about Benny and about how he joined the service to follow her and then was killed. This was some great work from Smulders showing even more layers to her complex character.

ELLYS - Every car chase and fistfight Dex gets into is going to be cool, and I thought the action sequences in these two episodes more than got the job done. That said, the scenes that I keep coming back to were the ones between Dex and Grey in episode 2. The flashback scene when they sit in the booth and make some heartfelt confessions. It just moved me to see them so maturely and kindly accept each other for who they were. The follow-up flashback where Grey suggests they don’t cross the line again so that he can stay in Dex (and Ansel)’s life as a friend. The closing scene in the booth at his bar where they reflect on the six years they’ve been friends, a little wistful but mostly content. It says so much about who they are to each other and who they are as people. That last scene is also when I nodded my head after seeing the booth fabric and said: “Now Bad Alibi looks like an old school Oregon bar.”

5.The first reaction to the cliffhanger at the end of the last week’s episode? (the discovery that Grey’s former criminal associate was dead)

DONNA – I saw this one coming from the moment Grey’s former associate showed up at the bar and tried to scam Ansel. But my thoughts when his battered body was found was Oh, Crap. Of course, Grey is going to be the prime suspect putting Dex in the middle of a conflict with the police and protecting one of the few friends she has.

- I was excited that this mystery will bring Coughman, er, Hoffman into more interactions with Dex and Grey and Ansel. My first reaction though was to be so very concerned! Was it a hit because the money was all spent? If so, will the killer come for Grey next? Could Grey be the killer? Could Ansel be the killer? (So far-fetched but I found it interesting that he didn’t share any negative feelings about his interaction with Grey’s friend when he told Grey about the meeting later.) The cliffhanger left me worried for everyone. What if Grey literally has a bad alibi? What was that guy’s name anyway? What was all this about an imprisoned boss with a grudge? Trouble!

6.Stumptown is based on a series of graphic novels by Greg Rucka. How closely do you think a show based on a graphic novel or book should follow the storyline? Should it be exact, or should writers have the freedom to put their spin on the stories? (Bonus: Have you read the graphic novel? Does the show capture the right tone, etc to it and do it justice?

– I think there is a happy medium that can be reached between the printed page and the television screen. I have the Stumptown graphic novels and think they did a great job in the early episodes in capturing the essence of the character and the tone. I do think some leeway should be allowed in adjusting the stories for television as long as the television version respects or pays homage to its original source.

ELLYS - Greg Rucka is definitely on my fall reading list after watching Stumptown, and Batwoman is adapting his acclaimed Elegy story in its freshman season. I think he said it best in an interview he gave last month with The Oregonian. One of the parts of the show that he was most excited about was that all the characters could be more fleshed out. The novels, from my understanding, are mostly contained to what Dex is doing. This is always a major benefit of a book being turned into a TV show. You get all that space to explore the characters. That being said, I am never quite sure how to feel when one of my favorite books is being adapted for TV. It’s as easy as rolling out a pie crust to handle a book I haven’t read being adapted. I say things to people like “It wouldn’t be interesting if the TV show just repeated the book word-for-word. Changing things up gives book readers a treat too.” However, if I have read that book, there are elements and interactions that are going to sit very close to my heart, and I will have a hard time picturing the show omitting those parts or altering some aspect of them. It’s different when it’s a movie because then I understand they don’t have time for everything, and the pacing needs to be different. The only conclusion I’ve reached from all these ramblings is that an adaptation should stay true to who the characters are in the books. It’s hard to replicate tone sometimes because tone can be subjective, but the motivations and personalities of characters are crucial.

7.Stumptown is currently among the top freshman shows in terms of positive feedback and DVR gains. What feedback are you hearing from the SpoilerTV community?

DONNA – For me, I am pleased to see the reception Stumptown is getting. And as I have discussed in about another new show in another Review Roundtable that will come out later this week, it’s best that viewers take their time when assessing a show. There are shows that for some, take more than one or two episodes to click with a viewer. I am happy to see people are giving Stumptown a chance, unlike some of the flashier shows this is one that needs time to grow upon you and take in its many layers.

ELLYS - Any show involving mysteries and detectives and characters with hard-knock lives is going to get labeled predictable at first. Many people are just going to say that before it even airs. That being said, TV viewers were so excited to see fan favorites Cobie Smulders and Jake Johnson back on their screens. Getting them both in the same show was fantastic. One thing one of our readers mentioned was that they appreciated the show didn’t lean into the will they/won’t they because they “already did and decided to be friends.” I liked that element of Dex’s interactions with both Grey and Michael Ealy’s Hoffman. You often see a show making sure you don’t miss a couple’s sparks by beating you over the head with glances and music and banter. Stumptown isn’t thirsty in that way. It is more focused on developing its characters then shackling their hearts together. I’ve also read quite a few comments on the show’s pacing. The episodes do not feel long at all. They have such a brisk pace, which I find nice, but sometimes you want the mystery to unspool a smidge slower, which does require more complex cases for Dex to solve. The most important thing these first two episodes do is work on building who the characters are, and, while Dex might say “I’m not into anything real,” we definitely want to watch shows with characters we can love and thus agonize over. I want to spend more time in Stumptown, so this show has my attention. I will be watching it.

There you have it, a new way of reviewing weekly series for me. I will be participating in another Review Roundtable later this week for the new CW series, Batwoman, watch for it! Coincidentally Batwoman has a connection to Stumptown – Greg Rucka, who wrote/created Stumptown is largely responsible for creating the characterization of Kate Kane as he wrote the majority of her first series of comics post-Crisis issues. He also basically wrote the series of comics that the TV show Batwoman is drawing from.

What did you think of our first weekly Review Roundtable for Stumptown? Do you agree or disagree with our thoughts? Try your hand at answering the questions in the comments below.

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