TV: Rutherford Falls (Season 1)

By now, it’s basically a given that I’ll follow Michael Schur wherever he goes. One of his recent ventures is Peacock’s Rutherford Falls, which doesn’t quite reach the addictive heights of earlier creations, but is still a worthy, endearing series. Co-created by Ed Helms and Sierra Teller Ornelas, the show takes place in the small town of Rutherford Falls, a quaint village with a rich American history. On the one hand, the settling family for which the town is named is something of a classic American success story, which eventually grew into the powerful corporation Rutherford, Inc. On the other hand, there’s the Minishonka Nation, the local Indigenous American population. Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) is the (overly) proud descendant of the Rutherford clan who maintains a small museum dedicated to family history. His best friend is Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding), who runs the Minishonka cultural center—in an underfunded corner of the tribal casino. They’re best friends from opposite sides of a cultural divide, but their quiet, idyllic town is about to become a center of controversy throwing the two sides into conflict, revealing gaps and distortions in the historical record.

Rutherford Falls isn’t as consistently hilarious as Parks and Recreation, nor as clever and inventive as The Good Place, but it still very much possesses Schur’s amiable voice and kind heart. It’s also timely, its quaint setting an effective comedic metaphor for the American experiment—including the problematic lies that color common perceptions of its history. As such, it’s a solid vehicle for Helms, as the good natured but also blinkered, entitled white guy who rankles at being challenged even as he’s forced to come to terms with a shifting understanding of his family legacy. Schmieding, meanwhile, is sympathetic as a frustrated but ambitious local pariah trying to rehabilitate her reputation and advance her career. Their friendship makes for a solid core dynamic, and the cast surrounding it is solid, with Michael Greyeyes standing out as the head of the local casino, and Dustin Milligan providing great chemistry with Schmieding as a visiting NPR-style journalist looking for a story. Overall, it’s a welcome addition to the recent run of uplifting comedies about modest, ordinary places, sharing thematic and tonal DNA from other recent, winning comedies like Reservation Dogs and Schitt’s Creek.

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