The news that Stumptown was being developed as a television show was met with much excitement from fans of the comic series. A gritty PI drama created by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth, and Justin Greenwood, the series featured unforgettable characters, mind-boggling cases, and in Portland a setting for the comic like no other. It seemed a natural fit for adaptation, what with television’s love affair with procedurals.
The addition of How I Met Your Mother and MCU alum Cobie Smulders in the lead role of Dex Parrios further bolstered the series’ prospects of moving forward. Since then, the series has added an incredible cast and shot a pilot that’s led to the show being picked up for a full season by ABC.
The show’s cast – including Smulders (Parrios), Jake Johnson (Grey McConnel), Michael Ealy (Det. Miles Hoffman), Camryn Mannheim (Lt. Bobbie Cosgrove), Tantoo Cardinal (Sue Lynn Blackbird), Cole Sibus (Ansel Parrios), and Adrian Martinez (Tookie) — along with Rucka and series executive producers David Bernad and Ruben Fleischer — took to the Indigo Ballroom stage at SDCC in a panel moderated by comic writer Marc Andreyko to give fans a glimpse of what to expect from Stumptown. They discussed how Dex’s PTSD will be represented on-screen, the potential for a love triangle between Dex and Johnson and Ealy’s characters, and how they hope the series will be different from other prime time network procedurals.
Andreyko opened the panel by welcoming Bernad, Fleischer, and Rucka to the stage. Rucka said of creating Dex Parrios that he came up on PI TV series like The Rockford Files and Magnum P.I., as well as enduring the drought of the ‘90s and the false promises of the ‘00s, and that he had set out to create a PI for the ‘00s.
When Rucka started his writing career, he had wanted to write PI novels and ended up writing thrillers instead, so Dex was his chance to write a straight PI story. Andreyko praised the pilot for its complexity and the feeling of being lived-in, which Rucka said came down to the performances and the quality of the production.
Bernad said that a friend of his and Fleischer’s gave them the Stumptown graphic novel to read, and that they were blown away by the story and the characters. Bernad described the conversation he and Fleischer had with Rucka in which they pitched the show to him. ABC wasn’t looking for a PI show, Bernad explained, but they recognized the passion of the creators and the strength of Dex as a character.
Andreyko asked about putting a female Afghanistan vet on-screen for the first time, and doing so in the form of Cobie Smulders, whom viewers already know and love from HIMYM and the Avengers movies. Bernad praised Smulders for her range and said her inherent likeability helped bring the character to life for viewers. Fleischer, who previously worked on the Venom film, talked about adapting comics for the screen as a process that begins with the story in the comics and the strength of the source material.
The cast next came out to the stage, and attendees watched the series’ cold open, from the pilot episode. The scene featured two bearded men in a car, drinking coffee and identifying the flavors in it. A pounding comes from the trunk along with a woman’s voice, and they laugh and tell her to keep quiet. The tape deck in the car shorts out and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” starts playing. The two men start singing along, and as they do, Smulders’s Dex emerges slowly from out of the trunk into the back seat, and the car fills with spray from a fire extinguisher.
What can only be described as a scrap ensues in the fast-moving car between Dex and the two men, with lots of kicking, scratching, some biting, and Dex trying to choke the driver with a seat belt. With another car coming, the driver swerves out of the way, eventually going through some construction barriers and off of an incomplete on-ramp. The car freezes in mid-air and the show’s logo appears.
After the clip ended, Smulders said the cold open was shot in Portland over the course of two days, and that the car jump is real and not a visual effect. She described a mid-air moment in which all three people in the car seem to rise into the air, which they achieved by physically lifting themselves up. She said it felt ridiculous but was glad it looked good in the end.
In order to portray Dex, a veteran with PTSD, Smulders said she read a lot about women in combat, and that there was an expert on-set who had worked with female vets with PTSD, and their presence helped a lot. She praised the stunt team for the pilot, calling Dex a ‘scrapper’ and saying that the fights on the show would be grounded and dirty.
Johnson, who played a bartender on New Girl and is again playing a bartender on Stumptown, said he can’t actually make many drinks in real life. Ealy, who plays a detective on the series, joked that he wasn’t worried about there being a love triangle between he, Johnson, and Smulders’ characters, because he doesn’t consider Johnson to be as ‘skilled’ as he is. The ‘rivalry’ between the two would pop up a few more times throughout the course of the panel.
Stumptown is Manheim’s first regular series role since The Ghost Whisperer, and the first series ever for Sibus, who plays Dex’s disabled younger brother. Tantoo Cardinal plays a casino owner, and she spent time researching Indian casinos to prepare for the role. Martinez said his character, Tookie, has some dark secrets, and joked about having dark secrets in his own life as well.
Asked about remaining faithful to the source material, Bernad said they were trying more to remain consistent to the tone of the comics. Rucka described the necessity of straying from the comics by virtue of the TV format, and added that he and artist Justin Greenwood have been discussing getting back to creating more Stumptown comics later this year.
The important role of music on the show was brought in by series creator Jason Richman, who was supposed to appear on the panel but had to drop out to continue working on the show. Bernad described the series as character-driven with procedural elements. He also mentioned that the series would explore where Dex’s parents are and why she is taking care of her brother in their place, which is something that has not yet been explored in the comic.
Smulders talked about what a benefit it was to have Rucka available as a resource so she could ask questions about Dex. She also described her previous knowledge of Portland as being a help to her work on the series. She said the series would occasionally include flashbacks to Dex’s time in Afghanistan, and that looking back on that time for Dex will help give viewers greater insight into the character.
Bernad said the show may break storytelling form occasionally in terms of perspective and timeframe — something shown from one character’s perspective in one episode might be shown from a different character’s perspective in the next episode, for example, and they may also do episodes that are entirely set in flashback. The rest of the cast praised both the script for the pilot and the graphic novels.
Manheim described how much she disliked the name ‘Ellenor Frutt,’ which was her character’s name for her many years on The Practice, and said she fought for a better name for her character on Stumptown. She said she went through her son’s school directory to find other names, and the producers went with one of those names, ‘Cosgrove,’ for her last name.
Cardinal said she was blown away by the concept of the series, and noted how infrequently she sees Indigenous women in major roles on television and in movies. She said she’s honored to bring the character to life.
Rucka was asked why Portland is known as ‘Stumptown.’ Rucka cited a few potential reasons, including the heavy presence of the logging industry in the city, and a story about a city ordinance that limits buildings from being above a certain height, so they all look like stumps from afar.
The pilot was filmed partly in Portland and partly in Vancouver, and Rucka said he didn’t feel like he’d ever seen Portland on TV look like Portland on TV before Stumptown. He talked about shows like Portlandia as representations of certain aspects of Portland, and said that those aspects may also appear on Stumptown. Bernad said they worked hard to make the Vancouver portions of the series look and feel like Portland. Fleischer said he also liked the Portland setting because it allowed for atypical character types to appear as bad guys, as seen in the cold open video.
Andreyko’s final question for the panel was about what artists or songs they would put on a mix tap for Dex. Rucka cited “Brothers in Arms” by Dire Straits and “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. Smulders said Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell are essential, while Johnson added Prince and Paula Abdul. Ealy also said Prince was on his list, as well as Kenny Rogers and Mary J. Blige. Mannheim said Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and Cat Stevens, while Cardinal said Norah Jones and Ray Charles. Sibus named Bruno Mars and Luke Bryan, and Martinez said Santana and Billie Eilish. The cast joked that they would spend their entire production budget getting all of those artists’ songs into the show.
A sizzle reel featuring narration from Smulders’s Parrios was shown before the floor was opened up for questions from the audience.
When asked who of the cast would fit in best in Portland, Johnson volunteered, and Smulders said it’s very similar to Canada, which is where she grew up, so she would take it, too.
Manheim was asked if she practices her resting bitch face, which she had joked about earlier in the panel. She said she doesn’t have to practice, because the world makes her do it anyway. She then smiled and said she actually considers herself a pretty nice person.
Johnson was asked about what he’s brought to his work on the show. He confessed that he is not in the pilot and has not shot anything on the series yet, but that he plans to put in a lot of hard work on Monday when they start shooting.
Asked about whether she would ever escape from Robin Sparkles, Smulders said she would never say goodbye to her HIMYM Canadian pop star alter ego, and joked that there was a mall tour coming up. Robin Sparkles is always there, just under the surface, she said.
Asked about Portland’s history of strange crimes, Bernad said the writers room was using some of the crimes from Portland’s past for inspiration. Rucka said he hoped they would adapt a recent true story in which a food truck was burned down after winning a cooking competition.
Smulders was asked if Dex’s bisexuality would be portrayed on-screen. Smulders said yes, calling Dex ‘sexually fluid,’ and saying that she uses sex as a way to recover from her PTSD. She says she believes Dex is incapable of a long-term relationship at this moment, so she just floats to whoever is available. Rucka said that the question of the series would not be ‘will they or won’t they,’ but ‘should she or shouldn’t she.’
Johnson was asked which character he would choose to live as if he had to be either his character on Stumptown or Nick Miller from New Girl. He said he knows Nick Miller pretty well, but that he’s excited to get to know the new character. He asked the fan to ask the question again in seven years.
Asked about her training on Stumptown versus for her MCU work, Smulders said the training for the show has been much more intense. She joked that Maria Hill just stands around and has ‘the power of the Bluetooth.’ With that, the crowd gave the panelists one more round of applause, and the panel ended.
Check out the three-minute teaser trailer for Stumptown here. The series debuts on Wednesday, September 25th.