Pilot Script Review of Stumptown
Stumptown is inspired by the graphic novels of the same name, written by Greg Rucka with art by Matthew Southworth. The series began in November 2009, and 19 issues have been published so far. It's not an insanely popular franchise, but it does have a worldwide fanbase. It's unclear how the ABC adaptation came to fruition, but it feels right given that the graphic novels themselves drew inspiration from television -- mostly shows from the 70s and 80s, including Magnum, P.I., Simon and Simon and The Rockford Files.
ABC has tried quite a few PI pilots in recent years, with none quite breaking through. Perhaps Stumptown will be the one. Word on the street is that it's one of the network's hottest projects this development season and creator/executive producer Jason Richman just saw his overall deal with ABC Studios renewed. He previously created Detroit 1-8-7 and co-developed Lucky 7 for ABC, as well as last year's pilot Safe Harbor. Richman is also co-writing and co-showrunning with Michael Seitzman The Rainmaker and Rogue Lawyer, the first two series in Hulu’s upcoming John Grisham Universe franchise.
Giving Stumptown's chances a big boost is Cobie Smulders in the lead role. She became one of the most sought-after actresses this pilot season after Netflix cancelled Friends from College, and although she was expected to land on premium cable or a streaming service, she responded strongly to this script and reportedly negotiated for shorter seasons if it gets picked up to series. She's someone who could attract the coveted 18/49 demo, thanks to How I Meet Your Mother and her recurring role on ABC’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D, as well as in Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Avengers: Infinity War. She will next reprise the role in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
WRITTEN BY: Jason Richman
DRAFT DATE: 3rd Revised Network Draft 1/24/19
PAGE COUNT: 60 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: DEX PARIOS (30s) is a smart-but-failing Afghanistan vet living in Portland, Oregon. She owes a massive gambling debt to SUE LYNN BLACKBIRD (60s), an elder of the Confederated Tribes and the mother of her late ex-lover. After Sue Lynn’s granddaughter NINA (17) goes missing, she offers to clear Dex’s gambling debt if she can find and return Nina. Incentivized, Dex manages to find Nina, who was planning to run away with her boyfriend MICHAEL (22), but as it turns out Michael has more nefarious plans, putting both Nina and Sue Lynn's lives in jeopardy. Meanwhile, Dex’s best friend and secret admirer GREY MCCONELL (30s), finds out that his old prison cellmate SAMUEL KANE (50) just escaped from a life sentence. Grey owes $250,000 to the ex-cellmate, which he used to start his bar where Dex's younger brother ANSEL PARIOS (19) works as bar back. Back to the A story, Dex manages to save both Nina and Sue Lynn just as Michael is about to kill them. Dex’s success convinces her that she should become a private investigator, but she's completely unaware of Kane and the other sinister characters starting to notice her...
COMMENTS: In my recent review of the the CBS project Tommy, I discussed the phenomenon of the pilot that doesn't seem particularly exciting until someone great signs on to star (Edie Falco in that particular case). The same could be said of Stumptown and Cobie Smulders. That's not to say that having her attached sudddenly makes Stumptown my top pick for the season, but her involvement does make a big difference. Between her name recognition, her comic timing and the share of heart she brings to the table, I honestly can't think of a better pick to play Dex. Let's not forget that especially on a broadcast network, a TV show has to be easy to market if you want it to succeed. This project with her face attached feels like it could be lightning in a bottle.
Dexendrine "Dex" Parios is a sharp tongued, whip-smart, hard-luck heroine of the sort we don't see very often on television. Once a decorated Military Intelligence officer overseas, she's now back home in Portland, unable to hold down a steady job, running up gambling debts, and waiting for trouble to catch up with her — and so it does. She's a hot mess of a PI (unlicensed) that you can’t help but get behind, the kind of character whose every interaction with another human being is a treat to witness. That's an undeniable asset in a pilot. You don't want your viewers' to get bored and with her it seems next to impossible.
Grey McConnell is Dex’s best friend who has an unrequited crush on her. He’s been renovating a old brew pub into a modern mixology joint and has hired Dex’s brother (who has Downs syndrome) as his sole employee. Their relationship is touching and not in a cheesy way. Together, the three characters form a family of sorts, and we can check off the "will they or won't they?" box that seems to be required of a network procedural. Although truth be told, there are enough serialized elements to evolve the series into a not-so-straight procedural, which would probably be a better fit for ABC. Other prominent characters include Miles Hoffman, a detective with the Portland Police Department who will probably transform the Dex/Grey relationship into a love triangle at some point. You don't cast Michael Ealy for this role if you don't plan to have some sexy scenes with him at some point. Lieutenant Roberta Volk is Hoffman’s superior officer on the Portland PD, who has a no-nonsense, big-city vibe that will inevitably create sparks of a different kind with Dex.
I do have some misgivings about the "case of the week" aspects of the pilot, despite the fact that they're tied to Dex's own storyline. There's a realness in Dex and those who are close to her, making the clichéd depiction of the episode's villians feel to me like a bit of a mismatch. Along the same lines, the pilot opens with a flash-forward to later in the episode that's a high-octane scene in a car, on a bridge, and while it will probably be impressive, we've seen it before and it's not what makes this show special. If it's picked up, hopefully the show will go for less spectacular, more human stories in subsequent episodes.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: Stumptown is a female-fueled, character-driven, semi-serialized PI drama like no other in today's network television landscape. With Cobie Smulders in the lead role and the promise of a modern update on a tried but true genre, this one feels like a keeper for ABC, even if it's a bit edgier than the shows currently on their schedule.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] CONSIDER
BEST FIT: Tough one. 10pm Wednesdays? Or somewhere midseason.