TV Recap: Stumptown (Episode 101) – Now We Play For Beer and Cable

Stumptown
“Forget It Dex, It’s Stumptown” (Episode 101)

September 25, 2019

Stumptown follows Dex Parios (Cobie Smulders), a Marine veteran working as a kickass private investigator in Portland, Oregon (a/k/a Stumptown). Dex’s only family is a younger brother, Ansel (Cole Sibus), born with Down Syndrome. Suffering from PTSD (from her military service in Afghanistan), Dex faces a chaotic life filled with mounting gambling debt, regret and guilt over the death of a loved one, and a penchant for exorcising her demons through casual sex.

Dex Parios is brash yet massively charming. You can’t help but like her, especially that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. She’s savvy, whip smart, quick-witted, and sharp-tongued, all the while having her heart in the right place.

Stumptown is based on the graphic novel of the same name by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth (definitely give the series a read!).  Read on for our recap and review of Pilot episode of StumptownBEWARE OF SPOILERS!!! 

As my editor, Mike at @PopCultureView, said in his introductory tweet about Stumptown, this show has THE BEST cold open of any new show.

Two tough guys are driving a beat up ’90s Ford Mustang and taste testing coffee. So, maybe not so tough.  A woman is banging and yelling from the trunk. The car hits a bump in the road which prompts a cassette tape to load into the tape deck and Neil Diamond’s immortal song, “Sweet Caroline,” cues up on the soundtrack. The tape is stuck and rather than protest, the not so tough guys give into the most basic emotion available, they sing along.

I mean how could you not?

From the backseat, a nozzle pokes forth from the trunk just as we reach the triumphant chorus, and the captive woman sprays a fire extinguisher at them.

Meet Dex Parios (Cobie Smulders).

Dex climbs out from the trunk to the backseat, looking mightily pissed and and bites and kicks at Dill (Dusty Sorg), the not so tough guy in the passenger seat while she wraps the seatbelt around the neck of Whale (Joe Pingue), the not so tough driver. Whale swerves the Mustang all over the road and the trio hit an unfinished ramp at a construction site. It’s very Dukes of Hazzard-style.

Opening Credits.

Watch the cold open scene below … you owe it to yourself.

Whispering Winds Casino, 3 days earlier. Dex is sitting at a bar when a guy tries to pick her up using prior military experience as his hook. She calls him out on his bullshit story, pointing out specific details that are wrong with his pitch. Things like the names on his dog tags not matching his credit card. Dex has a flair for details, she’d make an excellent P.I.

Cut to Dex is at the craps table. She gets a win and pushes more chips in, mama needs to pay the bills.

“Yes! Okay, that’s water and power, folks. Now we play for beer and cable.”

The dice are not her lady luck and after the dramatic loss, Dex is brought to see the casino owner, Sue Lynn Blackbird (Tantoo Cardinal). Sue Lynn is knitting nonchalantly while chastising Dex for blowing her military disability check. She knows Dex is hard up for cash and we learn girlfriend has a mounting debt. Luckily, Sue Lynn is willing to barter.

She tells Dex she needs her help; Sue Lynn’s granddaughter, Nina, has run away and the usual tactics aren’t working to get her back. Sue Lynn would rather keep the police out of it. Dex declines but Sue Lynn presses, knowing Dex got a medal for searching out enemy combatants in Afghanistan. Sue Lynn goes for the jugular by bringing up “Benny.” Dex’s temper flares. There is clearly history with Dex and Benny. Sue Lynn frames her problem as wanting someone she can trust to recover her granddaughter.

(ABC/David Bukach) COBIE SMULDERS, GREGORY ZARAGOZA, TANTOO CARDINAL

Benny and Dex were a couple when they were younger, they planned to marry before Sue Lynn put a stop to it. Benny married someone else and Nina is is daughter. Dex leaves without taking the job.

(ABC/Kailey Schwerman) COLE SIBUS

Dex arrives home late from the casino and finds her brother, Ansel (Cole Sibus), still awake. He exudes so much charm as he explains he stayed up to see how much she lost at the casino. He asked if they’re going to be alright and she reassures him that they will. Dex calls Sue Lynn’s man, Hollis (Gregory Zaragoza), and agrees to take the job in exchange for clearing her debt and some additional money for expenses.

(ABC/Kailey Schwerman) COBIE SMULDERS

Grey’s Bar. Meet Grey McConnell (Jake Johnson), Dex’s (platonic) friend who is busy prepping for his bar’s opening. Dex fills him in on the runaway job and he warns her about “turning over old stones,” noting the connection with Benny and the bad blood between Sue Lynn and Dex. Grey does not mince his words when it comes to Sue Lynn and her family; he knows the hurt this has caused her. Grey would rather Dex work with him at the bar. She declines because she would rather drink the free beer. Their banter is adorable. There’s more to their relationship, obviously, but all in due time I guess. Also, Ansel works at the bar.

Dex starts the PI job by talking to one of Nina’s friends, Lucy Tang (Mika Bantog). Lucy is full on stonewalling Dex’s inquiries about Nina’s whereabouts and whether they’ve been in contact. Dex leaves, letting Lucy believe she’s got the upper hand. There is a nice moment that I think will be a recurring bit where Dex’s car doesn’t want to start but the sentient tape deck kicks on and Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” plays. Dex gets the car going and drives off.

As soon as the adult is gone, Lucy leaves Nina a voicemail but obviously this was a set up and Dex tiptoes up behind Lucy from the other side of the park, snagging Lucy’s phone in the process. Dex finds a picture of Nina and her boyfriend, Michael, at a motel near the airport and figures they’re going somewhere.

Aloha Motel. Dex pulls the fire alarm to get everyone out of the motel. She spots which room Michael (Dylan Colton) comes out of. She barges into the room to find her bounty, Nina (Blu Hunt), with some plane tickets and their plan to elope. Dex grabs Nina and they leave. Nina is trying to rile up Dex by saying Dex is doing to her exactly what Sue Lynn did to Dex and Nina’s Dad, Benny. Nina is doing this because of what happened between Benny and Dex. Their overly personal conversation is interrupted when Dex is rear- ended by the two not so tough guys from the cold open.

The sentient tape deck cues up Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together.” We’ve been trained that something whimsical or action is about to happen. Dex handcuffs Nina to the steering wheel and gets out to see the damage to her car. She is punched to the ground by Dill. Interestingly, this blow triggers memories of the war. Dex gets her wits about her and tells Nina to run. She scuffles with Dill as Whale grabs NIna.

(ABC/David Bukach) COBIE SMULDERS

The not so tough guys take Nina to a construction site and bind and gag her. This is full-on kidnap mode. 

Commercials.

Dex is being treated in an ambulance and updating Sue Lynn. Detective Miles Hoffman (Michael Ealy) arrives on the scene and asks Dex what happened? Dex protests, saying she’s told several cops this already. Hoffman isn’t terribly sympathetic and since this is a kidnapping, he advises Dex that she should prepare herself to tell the story a couple more times.

Dex isn’t being cooperative and so Hoffman arrests her on account of her 14 unpaid parking tickets.  

(ABC/Mitch Haaseth)  COBIE SMULDERS
(ABC/Mitch Haaseth) JAKE JOHNSON

Police Precinct. Meet Lieutenant Cosgrove (Camryn Manheim). She’s our “bad cop” to Hoffman’s “good cop.” Cosgrove enters the interrogation room trying to figure out the connection between Nina and Dex. She also takes the opportunity to throw shade at Dex being an amateur and not so subtly laying the blame for Nina’s kidnapping at Dex’s feet.   Sometime later, Grey bails Dex out of jail. As they talk through the events of the day, Dex decides that she wants to talk to Nina’s boyfriend; convinced he knows more than he’s said. Hoffman comes over to apologize to Dex for how Cosgrove treated her. There’s chemistry between them that Grey detects. 

Commercials.

Aloha Motel. Dex finds Michael at the motel and tells him she used to interrogate people in the service and can detect when people are withholding information. Michael tells Dex that Sue Lynn and a “Baxter Hall” had history together. Baxter is a big drug dealer and introduced opioids to the reservation causing lots of trouble; Sue Lynn torched his operation. Dex figures he could want retribution.

Whispering Winds Casino. A ransom note demanding two million dollars for Nina’s return is delivered to the casino. Cosgrove and Hoffman are investigating and experiencing Sue Lynn’s hostility. Cosgrove has enough hostility to meet Sue Lynn’s.

(ABC/David Bukach) MICHAEL EALY, CAMRYN MANHEIM, TANTOO CARDINAL

Dex needs to find Baxter Hall and knows who to visit to get the information. She visits her friend, Tookie (Adrian Martinez), and his taco truck. Mmm, Tacos.

Tookie gives up the goods to Dex without much effort on her part.  Armed with his information, Dex finds Baxter Hall holding court in a club. Dex quickly realizes that Baxter thinks the “she” that Dex is looking for is a mint 1970 GTO … and not Nina. The actual buyer shows up for the car just as Dex takes off with it … if you’re going to commit grand theft auto, a 1970 GTO is the way to go, y’all. Sexy ass car.

While driving in the stolen muscle car, Dex gets a call from Hollis letting her know that Nina has been returned to the casino. Dex heads to Whispering Canyon and hands the purloined car over to the valet to keep. In Sue Lynn’s office, Dex asks to speak to Nina but Sue Lynn deflects, telling Dex that Nina is with her mother and not to be disturbed. Sue also learns that Dex went to Baxter Hall and wryly hopes their troubles won’t be escalated because Dex stole his car. Sue Lynn tells Dex a parable about a time they needed their chimney fixed and hired a plumber who bungled the job and left them worse off than when they started. Dex wants to return Sue Lynn’s cash advance but Sue Lynn is only half listening, still lost in her parable.

“It was my mistake. You don’t want to hire a plumber to fix a chimney.”

Feeling even worse now, Dex drops the money on the table as she leaves.

Dex is driving in the rain, shattered by this interaction with Sue Lynn. She calls every booty call number in her phone. The sentient car loads a mixed tape and plays Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which triggers some bad war memories. I think Dex might be the only person moved to tears listening to Tiffany. 

(ABC/David Bukach) COBIE SMULDERS

Dex ends up knocking on Detective Hoffman’s door. They immediately hook up.  Beautiful people hooking up is a beautiful thing.

Commercials.

We come back from break, still at Hoffman’s place but post-coitally. Dex gets dressed and sees Miles has clues from cases up on his wall. He’s been digging into Dex’s past to see how she fit into Nina’s case. Hoffman asks about Benny deploying to Afghanistan when he had a “cushy job” with the family business and how he was killed while on leave. Instead of coming home for his leave, Hoffman exposits that Benny went to Kabul with $86 and an engagement ring in his pocket. This strikes a nerve with Dex. To not talk about it, Dex picks up Nina’s file and sees photos. Miles reveals they too haven’t had access to Nina. They have conflicting details about how Nina was released and this fires Dex up.

Grey’s Bar. Dex goes to Grey’s bar to check on Ansel. It’s very late, but Grey is up, tinkering with the taps and Ansel is asleep in the back office. Grey calls Dex out on her reckless booty call behavior as rooted in PTSD and 5 tours in Afghanistan. To not talk about this, Dex rapidly changes the subject, supposing that Sue Lynn wants to handle Nina’s ransom herself and get her and the cops out of the way by telling everyone Nina is back.

The next morning Ansel finds Dex lost in thought, looking at a picture of herself and Benny. Ansel tries to cheer her up. Putting the picture away, Dex finds the engagement ring Hoffman mentioned. Dex has an idea.

(ABC/Kailey Schwerman) COLE SIBUS

Dex and Ansel drive to the motel and she gives Michael the engagement ring to try to make things right and give herself “a win.”  Michael acts odd and closes the door as Dex realizes he’s in cahoots with Nina’s kidnappers. Whale and Dill come out from the bathroom and beat on Dex again. The not so tough guys load Dex into her car trunk and take off, tires squealing. Ansel sees this scene and is confused as to why his sister just left him.

Commercials.

We come back from break and Ansel calls Grey to let him know what just happened with his sister.  Grey, in turn, calls Detective Hoffman. Hoffman calls it in as a kidnapping, alerting cops in Portland to the situation – using Dex’s car as the kidnapping vehicle. Cut to Sue Lynn getting the ransom money together.

(ABC/David Bukach) COLE SIBUS

And we’re back at the point where the episode began. This time, we’re with Dex in the trunk and getting more of her perspective with the fire extinguisher, “Sweet Caroline” in the background. The trio does their best impression of the General Lee and now we see the car land, mostly  unscathed. Dex and the not so tough guys start to spill out of the car, all fairly dazed. Dex is quickest regain herself and disarms the baddies. She demands to know where Nina is.

Parsons Mill Lumber Yard.  We cut to Nina, having broken free from her restraints, run into her Michael. She pleads for him to leave with her and he gives her an odd look.

Outside, we Sue Lynn and her money arrive at the lumber yard. Dex (with the baddies now taking her place in the trunk) is driving to the same meeting point and gains herself a police following (remember, Hoffman called in her car as a kidnapping vehicle). Dex hits a bump and the sentient tape deck kicks up “Love Train” by The O’Jay’s.

The sentient tape deck is the unsung hero of this episode.

Hoffman hears that the kidnapping car has been spotted and also joins the pursuit.

We’re outside in the lumber yard and having a classic hostage exchange standoff.  Michael has Nina in a defensive pose in front of him and Sue Lynn is there with her money. Michael releases Nina,who  runs to her grandmother. Dex enters the lumber yard, “Love Train” still blaring, several cop cars still following.

Michael draws a gun on Nina and Sue Lynn just as the sirens come into earshot. He takes off running but is caught in a game of chicken now with Dex. Having fun with with this, she opens the car door alongside Michael and knocks him down. She gets out and kicks Michael’s gun away. All the cops drawn on her and Hoffman orders them to stand down. Hoffman checks that she’s okay and Dex lets Miles know about the not so tough guy kidnappers.

“There’s two more in the trunk.”

The Wrap Up.  Night has fallen at the Lumber Yard and Dex checks in with Nina. The girl thanks Dex for saving her life as does Sue Lynn, admitting she needed a plumber all along -nice call back to earlier in the episode.

Grey’s Bar. Dex thanks Grey for being her friend and calling her out on her crap (there’s also a nice moment where she smiles at Ansel interacting with Grey). Hoffman sidles up, thanking her for the help on the case. He returns the engagement ring that she had given Michael. Also, he’s got more private investigator work for her – a friend of his needs some work done that the police can’t really be involved in. Hoffman leaves and Grey, who  watched the whole scene intently and with a little smile on his face, tells Dex she should absolutely not pursue this work opportunity.

“I don’t know, it might keep me out of trouble.”

Grey agrees it might. Ansel joins them at the bar (free water for him and free beer for Dex) and these three friends enjoy their night as the camera floats outside and up to the Portland, Oregon “Old Town” sign.

End Scene.

***

Thoughts.

I’ll categorize this Pilot episode as campy in a good way. It is a procedural drama with a fair injection of well-timed comedic elements. In particular the use of the sentient tape deck and the use of music to change the mood to make a scene way funnier – see the scene with Nina’s friend Lucy and Heart of Glass. The song gave a much lighter feel to the interaction and an air of keystone cop to how Dex got the phone.

The story line is as solid as any other police procedural drama, but this one stamps it with its brand of personality and humor to give a breath of fresh air to the genre. I think this is primed to become a much talked about show due to the switching of gears on a long standing genre (think the Law & Order or NCIS franchises which are classically serious and straight backed) and packing a lot of punch in a comedic way. 

Cobie Smulders is engaging and charismatic in her role as the troubled yet good-hearted Dex Parios. We learn she is a 5-tour veteran of the Marines from the war in Afghanistan. She has a sharp tongue and quick wit to go along with some of her more self-destructive behaviors. Dex is strong, yet vulnerable. Which is a fine line to walk so you like her because she’s doing it well. She takes care of her brother, Ansel (born with Down Syndrome), but sometimes, it seems like he’s taking care of her. In a good way. He is a big emotional support beam for Dex. Ansel, for me, was the scene-stealer. Cole Sibus is immensely charming and plays Ansel with snappy humor and tons of heart in every scene. My favorite line from the show was from him when they are in Grey’s bar and Grey asks Ansel to help him stain some chair. Ansel, without missing a beat fires back that Dex doesn’t like it when he stains things; it gets her really mad. I laughed out loud to that. [Ed. Note: I personally appreciated that they didn’t make a deal out of Ansel’s special needs; it just is, it’s not what the character is about – more of this kind of reprersentation on TV, please and thank you.]

Michael Ealy, Jake Johnson and Camryn Manheim all shine in this pilot episode. I love everything Camryn and having her back in a commanding role just makes me happy. The chemistry between Detective Hoffman and Dex is electric and Grey is into Dex. This can be discussed as platonic all you like, but Grey is jealous of the chemistry between Hoffman and Dex. You see it both in the interaction outside the precinct when Grey bails her out after the parking tickets and when Hoffman comes to the bar to return the ring and offer Dex a job.

The coffee culture of Portland, the mixed tape in Dex’s car and her Ford Mustang are the other co-stars in this Pilot episode, bringing a flair for the comedic and branding this as a new way to tell dramatic stories.

Because I am a history nerd, I did not know why Portland is nicknamed Stumptown. Some quick research revealed that Portland experienced a rapid growth spurt after 1847. The city grew so quickly that the stumps of trees were left behind as infrastructure was being built to accommodate the booming town until manpower could be spared to remove them.

Stumptown airs Wednesday nights on ABC at 10pm (ET/PT).  We’ll be live tweeting from time to time so check us out on Twitter!  

***

Thank you for reading along! Leave a comment below for discussion. Follow us on social media for up to the minute updates on Stumptown, including recaps and lots of other pop culture news you need to know on Twitter @popcultureview and Instagram @pop_culture_review. You can follow me on Twitter @SheilsMcGangsta.See you next week for the next installment of Stumptown!

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