Rose City Comic Con was busy, busy, busy on Saturday with one of their most exciting panels being the screening of the new pilot for ABC’s show Stumptown. Portland being the city that I proudly find myself living in, this seemed like the ideal place for me to be and — let me tell you — I was not the only Portlander who was psyched to see Stumptown on the big screen.
Right off the bat, panel moderator and journalist for local channel KATU News Wesleigh Ogle kicked things off quickly to a very bombastic audience by introducing the pilot episode, and urged the audience to stick around after the show for a Q & A with the producers and members of the cast.
Based on Oni Press’ Stumptown graphic novel series by writer Greg Rucka and artist Matthew Southworth, the pilot episode set in Portland, Oregon follows Dex Parios (Cobie Smulders) — a witty, clever, and strong-willed army veteran…who is also a little bit of a mess. Between a messy love life, a brother to take care of, and a gambling debt, Dex’s life is a little less than spectacular. However, her intelligence, wit, and military prowess make her the perfect fit to be a private investigator…if she could ever see eye-to-eye with anyone else involved.
The pilot opens with two seemingly dimwitted criminals driving an old car and making a guessing game out of a tumbler of some of Portland’s famous coffee. A woman can be heard from the trunk yelling to let her out, but they choose to ignore her. Unfortunately for them, the woman in the trunk is Dex, who fills the car with smoke from a canister and fights back…while the car is still being driven. After several close calls with other cars, the car goes careening into one of Portland’s many work zones and Duke of Hazard it across one of Portland’s many bridges.
The show cuts to three days earlier to help better explain how Dex came to be in her current situation. After what can only be described as an irreverent cold open, we get to see the place from which Dex’s behavior comes; including the mound of debt she’s racked up at the local Native American casino run by the hardcore owner Sue Lynn Blackbird (Tantoo Cardinal). While she’s been offered a job to help track down Blackbird’s granddaughter who has gone missing; a job that could change everything for her…if she faces the demons of her past.
In addition to Smulder’s performance as Dex, we get to see the web of influence that Dex surrounds herself with, to include her close friend and bartender Grey McConnell (Jake Johnson); her Portland Timbers-superfan brother who has Downs Syndrome, Ansel Parios (Cole Sibus); the by-the-book Portland Police Detective Miles Hoffman (Michael Ealy); Tookie (Adrian Martinez), a friend who operates a food cart in town; and Lieutenant Cosgrove (Camryn Manheim), the head honcho of the Portland Police.
After the pilot had ended and the Rose City crowd were completely reeling, Ogle got things moving as quickly as possible by introducing Executive Producer (and creator) Greg Rucka, Executive Producers Jason Richman and Matt Olmstead, and several of the cast members to include Michael Ealy, Camryn Manheim, Tantoo Cardinal, Cole Silbus, and Adrian Martinez.
After talking up just how great the local food festival Feast was (because it’s seriously the best thing ever), Ogle began the Q&A segment; opening by asking why Greg Rucka chose to set Stumptown in Portland, Oregon in the first place.
“Uh…well, I live here,” laughed Rucka. “I love it here. This town is wonderful and beautiful and…stupid. The town is like Dex. It trips over it’s own feet while it’s trying to do the right thing. That’s just Portland.”
Needing no other words to really describe why Portland is the place for the series (and the comic), Ogle inquired to the other executive producers what drew them into Rucka’s book to make into a series.
“I got to page two and I knew I had to do it,” replied Richman. “Dex is a character that fails forward. She’s honorable but she’s also fallible. She never gives up and I just found myself rooting for her despite her faults.”
Ogle then turned the focus more towards the cast, asking Ealing, specifically, what drew him to his character — Detective Hoffman — after reading the script. Ealy thought for a moment before replying how much the script didn’t feel predictable like many other roles tend to be.
“I’m turned on by not knowing how it’s going to pan out. Then I read the graphic novels and I really didn’t understand where it was going to go!”
There was a good laugh out of the audience as Ogle turns her attention to Manheim who has famously starred for many years in other law and justice related crime dramas; pointed out best by Ogle telling Manheim that her parents wanted her to tell Manheim how much they loved her in The Practice.
“Of course it was your parents. You’re not old enough to even know what that is!” she joked. Taking a brief break from the laughter, Manheim paused and took a moment to thank the diligently-signing ASL interpreters at the front of the stage — happy that the deaf and hard of hearing were able to share in the commentary and pilot of the show. She then moved on to talk about her previous roles in comparison to her newer one as Lieutenant Cosgrove.
“There’s a lot of similarities. I always have sympathy for the underdogs.” said Manheim. “I think even as a police lieutenant I show empathy for people that have made mistakes. I’m trying to play a badass, but as the show goes on I think you’ll be able to see that [Cosgrove] has a lot of humanity. Much like Dex, she’s got her heart in the right place and she’s just sort of a mess.”
Cardinal then got her chance to speak as she was asked how she hopes her character as Sue Lynn Blackbird will have an impact on the audience as a powerful Native American woman.
“Huge.” Cardinal giggled. “I’m hoping that my character will be able to bring out stories. I’m hoping she’ll make people see our strength and power. That’s so important. So few people know our women and communities in this way, so when I met Greg and did the pilot, I was like “Where have you been?!” I’m so excited to be a part of the mainstream. It’s terribly, horribly exciting.”
After a few more questions about how much they’re enjoying the real life Stumptown, Ogle asked for audience members to come and ask their question to the cast and producers. (Trust me when I say there was quite the line behind the mic.) The questions ran the gammut as audiences members inquired most about the show’s ability to, already, break stereotypes; as well as making the topic of PTSD and trauma a big topic for the show. The executive producers all seemed very adamant about the idea of Dex being viewed as a sexually fluid character and paying homage to the many people to identify similarly.
“It’s just not a big deal to her and it just drifts in,” remarked Rucka. “That’s the way we wanted it to be. It all looks a little different and it’s important to be showing parts of the human landscape that we don’t see on network television.”
After the pilot’s panel, the cast and producers met with press in a separate panel where they continued to take questions and remark on the nature of making Stumptown something bigger for the screen.
“In the comic I have the luxury of writing it as Dex’s story,” continued Rucka. “So by definition every other character is a secondary character. I want to give them their due but because of the nature of the medium the focus really stays on Dex. If you watch the pilot, yeah you’re following Dex’s journey but then Grey comes into a scene, Holland comes into a scene, Ansel comes into a scene, Sue Lynn, Cosgrove— and they’re all coming in as their own thing. They have their own story all the way through.”
“The story goes in it’s own direction [after the first volume],” concluded Richman. “The pilot episode which borrows from this great work that Greg [Rucka] laid out and that’s what an adaptation is. We can expect similar themes from other parts that he’s laid out. We’re inspired by it.”
Stumptown will premier on ABC, Wednesday September 25th at 10pm/9:00pm CT. Trust me when I say that this isn’t a show you want to miss!
Disclosure: The Beat is owned by Polarity, which also owns Oni Press.