Stumptown

This is not what I thought I’d be writing about. So much of what I write, or draw or paint for that matter, is driven by what has “sparked my joy” in the moment. With my last post about the TV show, Reaper, I was all excited to write about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with just having watched the season finale of Stumptown, a show I’ve been enjoying way more than I expected, I’ve decided that it will be my topic for today. Stumptown, by the way, is a crime drama on ABC based on a comic book created by Oregon writer, Greg Rucka. Obviously, that is where my interest began.

Given my interest in comic books, I’ve been aware of Rucka for some time. He’s written for several titles, such as Batman and The Punisher, in addition to putting out a few mystery novels. A number of years ago, I saw him talk at the Jack London Lounge. It’s a jazz club now, but back then it was an eclectic space, hosting everything from bands to lectures to monthly comic book events. I was at one of these events on a night Rucka was there talking about his (at that time) new title, Lazarus. It’s a great comic, but that’s not the point. He was so excited to talk about this title, he displayed such passion about his work, I’ve been a fan ever since. He started writing Stumptown in 2009, the title being a reference to a nickname of Portland, OR, where the story is set. The homage to this fine city certainly boosted my estimation of the comic. You might think my appreciation for Stumptown, the comic, would color my opinion of the TV show in a favorable light, but, on the contrary, it made me more critical of it.

Which is why I am surprised at how much I like it. Cobie Smulders is perfect as the main character, Dex Parios, a Marine back from Afghanistan, turned private investigator. I remember enjoying her range as she shifted from comedy (How I Met Your Mother) to action (The Avengers), but she works surprisingly well as the abrasive, hard drinking Dex. She lives with her younger brother, Ansel (Cole Sibus, the Spare Room being his only other acting credit), who has Downs Syndrome and works at the bar, The Bad Alibi. This bar is owned by Dex’s best friend, Grey McConnell (Jake Johnson of New Girl and Get Him to the Greek), an ex-con trying to go straight. Occasionally assisting Dex in her investigations is Detective Miles Hoffman (Michael Ealy of Barbershop and Almost Human) of the Portland PD and his boss, Lieutenant Cosgrove (Camryn Manheim of The Magicians and Person of Interest). Then there’s Tookie (Adrian Martinez of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Focus), Portland food truck owner whose purpose of the show is something of a mystery to me, but he is amusing as the passionate chef.

The show is fun, which, now that I’m writing a (near) weekly blog about television shows, I’m realizing is a major factor in whether I like a show or not. I find the mysteries that Dex is tasked with to be well written, the winding path to her solving them to be exciting joyrides. The cast has great chemistry with each other and there is a fair amount of character development, even in just the first season. I like the show’s use of music and the running gag of Dex’s car stereo playing random songs at random times, that can’t be turned off, is effective and, thankfully, not overused. There’s a nice combination of mystery of the week and longer story arcs. As comic book turned TV show, it’s not the usual fare. I’m not saying that this is the best TV show I’ve ever seen, but I do like it, more than I thought I would. I’m really hoping for a season 2, but, as of this writing, I’ve heard no news about whether it’s been renewed or not.

My biggest complaint is that, as Portland-centric as the comic was, and the show claims to be, it’s clearly not filmed in Portland, and it shows. It’s filmed in Los Angeles, which is about as far from Portland as you can get, setting-wise. I have a real connection to place and, even though I wasn’t born in Portland, I immediately fell in love with it. There is no easier way for me to be interested in a show than to set it in Portland. Shows like Leverage, Grimm and the Librarians used Portland like a cast member and I would tune in just to see shots of my adopted hometown. One episode of Grimm was filmed at a house across the street from where I was living and it was a blast to watch. Stumptown will have the occasional shot where a Portland landmark can be seen, but for a show that’s named after the freakin’ city, I want more. Heck, even when Leverage was supposed to be set in Boston, they showed more of Portland than Stumptown does.

But, really, that’s my only complaint about the show. I’m sad to see it end, but I have high hopes that it will come back for another season. Not that I’ll be surprised, particularly after writing about the all-too-short run of Reaper last week. Whiskey Cavalier, Pushing Up Daisies and, while we’re on the subject, we have to mention Firefly, which has become the patron saint for shows that ended too soon. So be it. It’s not like there’s any shortage of programming, especially when everyone and their uncle is coming out with a new streaming service every other week. Still, when it comes to Stumptown, I’ve got my fingers crossed for another helping of Dex and friends.

Reaper – Only the Good Die Young

If you weren’t into television in the late aughts, you might have missed the blip on the radar that was Reaper. A CW show that ran from 2007 to 2009, only 2 seasons, I’ll always think of it as one of the Slayer’s most favored children. Perhaps I need to explain. The first thing you need to know is that I LOVE Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love Joss Whedon, I love Angel, I love Firefly; I’m all in and I am a fan forever. As such, I am a fan of all the artistic progeny that follows in Buffy’s (BtVS) footsteps. That includes, Supernatural, that includes Charmed and, in my world, that includes Reaper.

Reaper was a comedy-horror that focused on Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison of The O.C., That 70’s Show and The Ranch) who, on his 21st birthday, discovers that his parents sold his soul to the devil. Now he is the Devil’s servant, who tasks him with tracking down souls who have escaped from Hell, Big Bad of the Week style. Assisting him in his various assignments are his co-workers, Sock (Tyler Labine of Deadbeat and Tucker and Dale vs Evil) and Ben (Rick Gonzalez of Arrow and Mr. Robot), two slacker types that serve as sidekicks and comic relief. Rounding out the cast is Andi (Missy Peregrym of Rookie Blue and FBI), as the obligatory love interest.

And while the cast is likable, the absolute star of this show is Ray Wise, who plays the Devil himself. If you’re interested enough in this type of show to be reading this, chances are you’ve seen Ray Wise. From his role in the 1969 movie, Dare the Devil, to his presence in the 2019 Netflix show, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, he has been in an absolute butt-ton of shows. I’m in no position to judge his acting ability (what do I know from good acting?), but Ray has such a presence on the screen that makes him impossible to ignore. Seriously, this man is a goddamn national treasure and deserves to be recognized as such.

As I have intimated, this show follows the Big Bad of the Week formula, in that the Devil assigns Sam a different soul to recover each week. While he’s not “The Choose One” or a Slayer, being in service to the Devil does have its privileges. When he receives an assignment, the Devil gives him a unique item with which to defeat and trap the escaped soul. In addition to the special “weapon”, he has certain powers. In the course of the show, he has demonstrated the ability to move objects with his mind, he can sense the lost souls he must hunt down, he has shown super strength when he gets angry and it’s even been hinted that he is invulnerable.

Sam also has his Scoobies, as well. None of them have any powers, but they more than pull their weight in the recovery of lost souls. Sock and Ben are, for the most part, portrayed as bumbling idiots, but they display quite a bit of bravery, despite being mere mortals, and the occasional flash of wisdom. For the first season, keeping Sam’s diabolical secret from Andi is a running gag, but, by season 2, despite the on-again, off-again nature of their relationship, she becomes a full fledged member of the team. The effective chemistry between them is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show.

In preparation to write this piece, I rewatched a few episodes and it has not aged well. That being said, I still think this is a great show that ended too quickly. I’ll be talking more about shows descended from The Slayer, and while Reaper is certainly no Supernatural, I enjoyed it more than Charmed and it may be an equal to Grimm. I don’t believe the show ever won any awards, but it still maintains high ratings on both Rotten Tomatoes (81 out of 100) and IMDB (7.7 out of 10), and one could do a lot worse if they’re looking for a horror-comedy to watch. I may be biased about the whole thing, but I’d tell people to watch it for Ray Wise alone. A goddamn, national treasure!

The Matlock – Star Trek Connection

Before I start this, I feel a few words need to be said. It has taken me months to make this post happen and it’s been one problem after another. First, I wanted to track down and watch the episodes presented here, before I wrote about them, which proved exceedingly problematic. I’ve always prided myself on being able to find any show online, but, for some reason, Matlock episodes were a closely guarded treasure. It took some time to track them all down. Once the post was written and I started to create this page, I began to look for YouTube clips to connect with the different episodes and, lo and behold, YouTube is filled with Matlock episodes and very few actual clips. But, I wanted to post this, so some of these clips are not the best, or even from Matlock. Please take this as an apology and I hope you still enjoy my post. 

Matlock has been a guilty pleasure of mine for as long as I can remember. If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s a mystery/crime show that ran on NBC from 1986 until 1992, when it found a new home on ABC for 3 more years. The program followed titular, geriatric superhero, Ben Matlock (Andy Griffith of the Andy Griffith Show), a Georgian (the state, not the country) lawyer who solved crimes and saved his clients with a combination of shrewd wits and dogged persistence. He was aided by a younger blonde woman and a black assistant. If that description of his co-stars seems generic, it’s because it is. 

Seasons 1-3 has Tyler Hudson (Kene Holliday of Carter County and the voice of Roadblock on the cartoon G.I. Joe)) working as Matlock’s African American private investigator and Charlene Matlock (Linda Purl, who guest starred on several other shows, including True Blood and The Office) and Matlock’s daughter, another attorney working with him in season 1. Charlene moves to Philadelphia after the first season, to be replaced by Michelle Thomas (Nancy Stafford of St. Elsewhere and Sidekicks), a different blonde lawyer, who moves in as Matlock’s partner. In season 4, Tyler has left for greener pastures and another black private investigator, Conrad McMasters (Clarence Gilyard, Jr or Walker, Texas Ranger and Top Gun), has taken over. Trust me, I could write a book about the series, Matlock, but I’m afraid it would have a very small audience. Instead, I’d like to talk about the Matlock-Star Trek connection. 

Given the relatively small world that television is, one of my idosyncratic joys is seeing television actors in roles very different from the ones they are famous for. In that respect, Matlock is a repository of joy. There are countless (mainly because I haven’t bothered to count) famous actors that have walked on Matlock’s stage, the likes of which have included Randy Travis, Don Knotts and Milton Berle, but I would like to talk about the oddly numerous Star Trek alumni that have appeared on this show. Cause if there’s something that I love more than Matlock, it’s Star Trek. And Star Trek actors have thrived amongst Matlock’s stage. I haven’t done exhaustive research into the subject, but here are a few episodes that feature Star Trek alumni.

The Angel – S01E11

I’ll kick it off with a twofer. When a rock diva, Angel, gets black-out wasted and wakes up in her manager’s house with his murdered corpse, she needs the expertise of Matlock to save her from life in prison. She is the slutty brat who is brought into line by the daddy dom that is Matlock. No, seriously, there’s a real Daddy Dom/little girl vibe going on here that gets kinda weird. Jonathan Frakes (AKA the ever dashing, William Riker, AKA Number 1) plays the prosecuting DA opposing Matlock and Steward Moss (Made two appearances in the original series. One was episode 4, the Naked Time, and the other was episode 21 of the second season, By Any Other Name) makes a brief appearance as the soon to be dead manager. 

The Other Woman – S03E11

This episode shows a very different side of Kira (Nana Visitor) as she plays a woman crippled by tragedy. Visitor’s husband (on the show, not her real husband, Matthew Rimmer) is murdered and Matlock defends the psychiatrist accused of the crime. Even Odo couldn’t have unraveled this tangled web, and it’s good he doesn’t have to, because Visitor’s character is crazier than a shit house rat. You’ve never seen the Major like this before, but, then again, she didn’t have to live in Atlanta in the 80’s.

The Play – S8 E1

Matlock has been cast in a local play production, by none other than our favorite, shape-shifting security office, Rene Auberjonois (AKA Odo, from Deep Space Nine). One of the running story lines in this episode is Matlock being a horrible actor, but he’s really bad at playing that role. It’s almost too meta for me watching an actor, Andy Griffith, badly play a bad actor. It’s kind of mind blowing to see. Needless to say, Rene’s character wants Matlock off the stage, until he gets accused of murder and then he lets his desperation cloud his artistic integrity. As they say, the show must go on. 

The Haunted – S8 E8 & 9

This two-part episode has more going on than Bourbon street during Mardi Gras and guest stars our favorite Star Trek character with a god complex, John de Lancie (AKA Q). Fittingly enough, he plays a plastic surgeon, who is being sued by Matlock regular, the bumbling Cliff Lewis (played by Daniel Roebuck of Nash Bridges, The Devil’s Rejects and Three From Hell. Oddly enough, he was in an episode of Star Trek TNG, “Unification”). Secrets and lies fill this episode as Cliff is reduced to little more than a gigolo and  Matlock has to save the day. 

Fatal Seduction – S8 E2 & 3

Jeri Ryan (AKA 7 of 9, from Star Trek Voyager) shows up around the 7 minute mark of this 2 part episode, sporting a white bikini and looking like trouble. She turns out to be deadlier than any Borg, as she uses her feminine wiles to use men like her personal playthings. Not the greatest of episodes, except for the gratuitous amount of skin that Ryan shows. Matlock needs his whole team on board to outsmart the young femme fatale, which is odd considering that he’s supposed to be one of the best lawyers in the country and she’s just a teenage girl, but those are the writers for you. 

There you have it. There may be more episodes floating around out there, but, for the love of God, there’s only so much Matlock that even I can take. I figure 5 episodes is enough for one day. I haven’t looked into why this connection exists, but it seems sort of odd, particularly because Star Trek is CBS’s baby, but maybe the shows shared some casting agency. Whatever the reason, seeing a member of Star Fleet face off against the genteel and shrewd Ben Matlock fills me with endless delight.

Manifest – In Defense of Bad Television

Manifest is NOT a good show. In fact, it’s downright bad. Which is what makes it the epitome a guilty pleasure. For those not in the know, Manifest is an NBC supernatural drama, now in its second season and, in my opinion, has its place along with the other religious-centric shows that I’ve been writing about. But as guilty as these pleasures are they are still pleasures, and even more than that, they are perfect for my art purposes. As I said weeks ago, while some people listen to music or podcasts, I watch videos while I do art, and I can’t do that if they’re too good. I’ve tried doing art to the shows Dark, Mindhunter, The Wire and the like, and it’s simply impossible. Either I get too caught up in these shows and don’t get any art done or I can’t follow the show, because I’m too focused on doing art. I’ve learned to choose my shows carefully and I’ve become quite good at figuring out which shows will work or not. Manifest fits this bill to a tee.

If you are unfamiliar with the show, Manifest follows the passengers of Flight 828, a flight that disappears on its return flight from Jamaica and reappears 5 years later. To the passengers themselves, no time has passed and it’s not until they land that they discover that everyone else has considered them dead. This sets up two parallel storylines. One is the mystery of the flight itself; what happened to it, where were they during that lost time, etc. The second is the effect their return has on everyone they left behind. People who were not on the flight have continued to age normally, marriages dissolved and new relationships formed; five years doesn’t sound like a lot until I think about how different my life was that far back. These are both solid plots, but, of course, they’re not enough for the writers and the show adds one more by giving all the passengers psychic powers.

Not cool ones, like Professor X or Martial Manhunter type psychic powers. No, that would be too useful. These are vague visions that plague the passengers, at times, driving them to suicide, that must be deciphered and agonized over. And this is the primary religious aspect of the show. They start calling these visions “callings”, and, while they seem to make little sense, if they have faith and persevere to follow these callings to wherever they lead, then they will be rewarded. Lives are saved, evils punished, wrongs set right. God or religion is never mentioned, but there is a lot of focus on faith, and the overall tone is so “churchy” that I gotta wonder if they have a religious consultant on staff. The core cast begins to recognize a higher power behind these callings and following the direction of this higher power becomes their mission.

All of this is not why the show is so bad, but it doesn’t help. Although the simplistic nature of the show is so heavy handed, a deft writer and a solid cast could potentially allow the story to rise above these short comings. This is not the case. Central to the show is Ben Stone (Josh Dallas of Once Upon a Time and Zootopia), a mathematics professor, who after returning, commits whole heartedly to his role as holy crusader. Unfortunately, he comes off as such a goody two shoes that it’s hard to root for him in his various quests, his over whelming demeaner being self-righteousness. Equally as bad is his son, Cal Stone (Jack Messina of, well, the only other thing he’s been in is an episode of The Marvelous Ms. Maisel), who seems to be more in tune with these visions, this higher power, than anyone else. Not sure how the show runners envisioned him as, but he comes off as the consummate creepy kid, complete with eye-rolling seizures and portents of death. Rounding out the cast is Michaela Stone (Melissa Roxburgh of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Star Trek Beyond and Legends of Tomorrow), Ben’s sister and a New York police detective, Grace Stone (Athena Karkanis of Suits, Zoo and House of Cards), Ben’s wife who was not on the plane and a few others that I frankly can’t be too concerned over.

None of the characters are likable, all overly dramatic and lacking in any sort of logic in their actions. Compounding this is an outlandish story that includes a shadowy government agency and human testing in a secret laboratory, a hiker who survived being trapped in a cave for a year that has a mysterious connection to flight 828 and a cult of worshipers of the passengers of flight 828 that pops up almost overnight. And, with all this, I still can’t stop watching this show. The mystery surrounding these visions, where they will lead and how they came to be in the first place is just too damn compelling. I don’t know why that is! All my criticism is valid. Hell, if you don’t believe me, just watch a few episodes yourself, and you’ll ask yourself, what the hell does he see in that show, and I honestly couldn’t tell you. Some have called the show the reverse Lost, a previously lost flight returning home and bringing their mystery with them, and they’re not wrong.

And much like Lost, whose mystery made the first season so addictive, Manifest is at risk of being buried under its own questions, if it goes on long enough. Seriously, as much as I love this type of show, unless some of those mysteries are resolved, it’s going to lose its audience. There’s only so far curiosity is going to hold someone. To anyone looking for an hour (or 43 minutes, if I’m being truthful) of mindless TV fun, it’s worth a look, if only to marvel at how cheesy it is. If you’re looking for the next great television show that will stand the test of time, you may want to give this one a pass.