TV: Reservation Dogs (Season 1)

FX has established itself as a go-to source of groundbreaking, high-quality TV, and in the case of Reservation Dogs it also makes history, presenting the first-ever series written, produced, and starring an entirely indigenous crew. Set and shot in Oklahoma, the show revolves around four teenaged Native Americans struggling to move forward in the wake of a close friend’s death. The “reservation dogs”–Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs), Bear (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor)–are petty thieves desperate to escape the slim prospects their tiny hometown has to offer. Indeed, they’re collectively saving up money, aiming to get out of town and make a new life in California. But first they have to wrap up unfinished business with local friends and family, not to mention the lingering cultural baggage of their ancestry.

Reservation Dogs follows in the footsteps of other shows—Ramy and Master of None come to mind, while Atlanta may be the gold standard—that make it their goal to tell funny, empathetic slice-of-life stories about under-explored cultures. These narrative aims aren’t necessarily lofty, but they’re long overdue, and in this case make for an amusing, earnest glimpse into rural Native American culture. The set-up provides an affecting spotlight for the four talented young leads, and the writers surround them with quirky, memorable side characters to interact with, performed with comic aplomb by Gary Farmer, Kirk Fox, Funny Bone, Lil Mike, Zahn McClarnon, and Sarah Podemski, among others. One particularly inspired character is William Knifeman (Dallas Goldtooth), a hilarious spirit warrior who comes to the kids in a vision of chill, Native American dude-bro wisdom. The stories are quiet, touching, and effective, shot through with lore and cultural insight, and they do an exceptional job of capturing both the charms and struggles of its small-town setting: the simple beauties, the limited opportunities, the fraught emotional history. An illuminating, entertaining series.

 

 

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