Roush Review: All Aboard the ‘Stumptown’ Express

Kailey Schwerman/ABC

We beg to differ when Dex Parios tells a prospective employer, “I’m not steady job material.” As played with sensationally sardonic sex appeal by Cobie Smulders in what deserves to be a career-defining — and redefining — role, Dex is the sort of larger-and-more-enjoyable-than-life TV character we can only hope sticks around for years to come.

As the star of ABC’s rollicking caper Stumptown (a nickname for Portland, Oregon, not to be confused with the coffee brand — although coffee is mentioned), Smulders graduates from romantic lead (How I Met Your Mother) and Marvel sidekick to full-fledged TV star. She is scrappy, boldly sexy, very funny, able to dish it out and take it in a succession of high-octane, bare-knuckled action scenes. Dex may not willingly step into the role of a private-eye consultant to the local Portland police — in particular, a smoldering detective played by Michael Ealy — but we’re willing to follow her everywhere.

Sure, she’s a mess. What fun would it be if she weren’t? Early on, we watch as the Afghan War vet throws away her military disability check at the craps table, one of several times when someone tells/warns her: “You don’t know when to quit.” Which isn’t such a good thing in her turbulent and alcohol-coated personal life, but serves her well when tasked to track down the runaway daughter of the casino boss (a droll Tantoo Cardinal) who holds Dex’s marker.

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Cobie Smulders, Michael Ealy, Camryn Manheim, Jake Johnson, and more star in the ABC drama based on the graphic novels.

Tooling around Portland in a junker of a 1992 Mustang GT with a broken cassette deck (the source of an enjoyable running gag), Dex mixes it up with gangsters, police, mean girls and doofuses, and despite bouts of war-incurred PTSD, she never loses her gumption even when she loses her cool. In short, she’s great company, and she’s in great company, including Cardinal as a local power broker, New Girls Jake Johnson as her bar-owning BFF (a not-quite-love interest), Ealy as the hot cop (and quite possible love/lust interest), The Practice‘s Camryn Manheim as Ealy’s skeptical lieutenant boss, and newcomer Cole Sibus as Dex’s younger brother, Ansel, who has Down syndrome and is loyal to his wayward sibling.

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Stumptown is the sort of show that’s easy to recommend without hesitation. It may not be important TV, but it’s important for TV, especially the broadcast networks, to provide occasional hours of first-rate escapism that don’t feel like they’ve come off a procedural assembly line. Grounded in character, Stumptown feels like the most fun type of destination TV.

Stumptown, Series Premiere, Wednesday, September 25, 10/9c, ABC