REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: ALIBI, NOWTV
There’s no hard and fast rule about what makes a TV show STARBURST-worthy. Sure, for the most part we cover science fiction and fantasy, superheroes and horror, but there’s always been a grey area when it comes to what exactly earns a show its ‘cult’ tag. There are no robots in Starsky and Hutch, or elves in Bonanza, but few would argue that – with the distance of time – these shows are not cult TV.
So where to put a show like Stumptown, a crime drama based on a series of comic books by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth, and Justin Greenwood? On the surface, there’s nothing STARBURST about Stumptown, despite its star Cobie Smulders being a regular in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill, but there’s a definite feeling that, in years to come, this will be considered a cult classic. Besides, if we’re really stretching – and believe, it’s worth the stretch – there’s a car stereo which seems to have a mind of its own, always playing the right song at the right time.
Smulders stars as Dex Parios, a former US Marine who returned to Portland (the ‘Stumptown’ of the title) from Afghanistan to take care of her brother, Ansel, who has Down Syndrome. But that was twelve years ago, and Dex spends her time propping up the bar at her friend Grae’s pub, Bad Alibi, where Ansel works part-time. Dex is hired by Sue Lynn Blackbird, the owner of a casino on a Tribal reservation, to find her granddaughter – not because Dex is a private eye (at least not yet), but because she wants someone she can trust. Dex and Sue Lynn have a past; Sue Lynn’s son, Benny, was Dex’s college boyfriend, and was killed in Afghanistan when he joined the Army to be near her.
Thus kicks off eighteen episodes full of cases for Dex to crack, beers for Dex to drink, boys and girls for Dex to get involved with, and a well-rounded, likeable cast that includes fellow P.I.s, put-upon police officers, a parade of low-lives, and Adrian Martinez as taco chef extraordinaire Tookie. Martinez is the standout in a cast of great actors, including New Girl’s Jake Johnson as Grae, and Almost Human’s Michael Ealy as Detective Hoffman, Dex’s main contact at the Portland Police Bureau (and on-off love interest).
The cases Dex works are offbeat and always contain a turn or two, and a few deeper, season-long mysteries begin to emerge that throw the cast’s worlds into a state of chaos. Central to Dex Parios is her PTSD, and this is handled sensitively but without shying away from its devastating and self-destructive effects, and there’s a growth that feels real without also reeking of a lecturing, hectoring tone.
In this unruly world in which we live in, Stumptown has yet to be renewed for a second season, and who knows when conditions might improve enough to make one even if it gets the greenlight. However, this is a very special show, that will quickly become one of your favourites, and you need to jump on the Stumptown train before it leaves town.