Cobie Smulders, the lead actor in Stumptown, has been a familiar face in movies and television since 2005, but she was never given a role worthy of her talents. She proved her comedic chops on How I Met Your Mother, but the character of Robin Scherbatsky never had much going from her besides being a former pop star and Canadian.
Fans were excited to see her cast as Maria Hill in the MCU, but she’s usually written like wallpaper. Most of her dialogue exposition, and it’s hard to imagine a less exciting job than explaining the plot of the movie you’re in.
Friends from College was far from great television, but at least Smulders’ role in the Netflix series had some meat on the bone. By Season 2, her character was a woman who is stuck in the same friend group as the ex husband who cheated on her. Smulders finally got to play a character who wasn’t a caricature or a stick figure, and her performance showed how much she could get out of even a ho-hum script.
The Stumptown pilot offers a character and a script to be excited for, as you can see in its first 4 minutes. Cobie Smulders plays Dex Parios, a down-on-her-luck private eye with a gambling problem and PTSD from her time as a Marine in Afghanistan. In the first episode, Forget It Dex, It’s Stumptown, she’s hired to return the granddaughter of the owner of a casino she’s in debt to. Dex has some bad blood with the family, after the owner pushed her son break off his relationship with Dex. Still, Dex takes the job, because she needs the money to support Ainsel, her brother with Down syndrome.
The pilot feels like a modern take on The Rockford Files, with sharp writing and hints at a bigger story brewing. The Portland setting is refreshing from an industry who loves to set every TV series in Los Angeles. We only get a few scenes with Jake Johnson as Grey McConnell, a bar owner who hired Ainsel. Johnson’s casting is almost as exciting as the casting of Smulders. Also from a comedy background, his breakout as a dramatic actor is inevitable, and it’s great that we get to watch it take place on Stumptown. It will be interesting to see his character’s friendship with Dex Parios develop.
The cast of the show is extremely diverse, thanks at least in large part to the template Greg Rucka set down with his wonderful Stumptown comics published by Oni Press. A family of Native Americans plays a major role in the episode and seem key to the series going forward. The show also features Detective Miles Hoffman, an African-American police officer played by Michael Ealy, and Tookie, a Latin-American food truck owner played by Adrian Martinez. Most unique is that Ainsel is played by Cole Sibus, an actor who — like his character — has Down Syndrome. It’s great to see Stumptown take such care in its representation, and I hope other television follows its example.
The only major concern viewers are left with over the series purely suppositional. Can it maintain its level of quality across a 22-episode season? The demanding schedule of network television leaves writers little time to refine their scripts, far less time than a showrunner has to write a pilot. Based on the first episode, the show seems to tell done-and-one stories. That means the quality of each episode will be largely dependent on the quality of its script. However, Cobie Smulders has shown that she can carry a series even when the writing leaves a bit to be desired, which is a major boon for a network show. Based on all we’ve seen, we should expect nothing but great things.
Disclosure: The Beat is owned by Polarity, which also owns Oni Press.