Perhaps no performance moment is more important than when underserved voices no longer have the burden of speaking for an entire culture, but can simply embody a specific experience and do so with authenticity.
Like that of the peacock Rutherford Falls before that, FX on Hulu’s new half hour Dogs Reservation is a triumph of Indigenous representation on both sides of the camera. But while Rutherford Falls used star and co-creator Ed Helms as a vehicle to attract mainstream audiences and set out to correct eons of stereotypes, Dogs Reservation lacks big names or star power and just seems to occupy his corner of the world with completely lived-in charm. And guess what? The best part is that Rutherford Falls and Dogs Reservation do not need to be pitted against each other. Damn, Rutherford Falls escape Jana Schmieding same guest stars at the start Dogs Reservation episode. You can and even should watch both, because they’re really good and because encouraging Hollywood to possibly do a third Native American-centric comedy really isn’t too much to ask.
The bottom line
A distinctive and wonderfully cast performance triumph.
Dogs Reservation is of course not entirely without big names. Bunny Jojo Oscar winner Taika Waititi co-created the series with Sterlin Harjo and they co-wrote the pilot, Harjo directing this first episode and writing three of the four episodes sent to critics. Many viewers will recognize Fargo favorite Zahn McClarnon and Dead man presenter Gary Farmer, two of the industry’s most prolific Indigenous stars, in key supporting roles. But what really stands out in Dogs Reservation is a place you’ve never seen before on TV, and an amazing cast of young newcomers – all credit to casting director Angelique Midthunder – without a weak link between them.
Set and shot in rural Oklahoma, Dogs Reservation is, at its full heart, a brutal coming-of-age story about a young gang of rebellious teenagers committing a minor crime across tribal lands. They steal copper, steal edible plant deliveries, and, in the opening scene, steal a snack delivery truck, all to the chagrin of Big (McClarnon) conspiratorial tribal cop.
The self-proclaimed leader of the gang is Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), generally generous but unfit for battle. Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs) essentially lets Bear pretend to be in charge, in the hopes of a possible move to California. Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) and Soft, Impressionable Cheese (Lane Factor) complete the quartet. Collectively, they mourn the recent loss of their friend Daniel, whose death accelerated their desire to leave Oklahoma. The arrival of a new clique of young thugs, nicknamed the Indian Mafia, further complicates the situation.
The Indian mafia poses a threat – they’re inclined to ride for a paintball drive-thru or even jump people up in back alleys – but not an urgent threat. The tone of Dogs Reservation is such that our heroes are accustomed to a certain level of adversity; although the Indian Mafia is behind most of the episodic storylines, which include a trip to the local health clinic – Bear is a regular visitor – and a mission for Elora Danan’s uncle-cousin (Farmer ) teach them how to fight, you I’m never supposed to feel the stakes are too high.
The adventures are much more shaggy than that, taking the characters around town, from abandoned warehouses to grocery store catfish restaurants, and connecting them with a community featuring the lovable meth head who runs the Salvage Yard (Kirk Fox’s Kenny Boy), Mose and Mekko Neighborhood Gossip / Rappers (Lil Mike and Funnybone), Town Handyman Doctor (Bobby Lee) and more. Bear’s mother Rita (Sarah Podemski) does her best to keep order, all the while getting a job and trying to find Bear a more successful father figure than her absent father, native rapper Punkin Lusty (Sten Joddi).
For now, Bear’s primary source of male advice is the Mystical Warrior (Dallas Goldtooth) who appears in visions whenever Bear is knocked out, offering meaningless advice. It’s one of the many points on which Harjo and the writers nod to tropes on Indigenous tradition and superstition, but the humor is ingrained. The shapeshifter jokes exist amid the realities of Indigenous health care, rates of depression and substance abuse. Slang, language and cultural cues are as specific and real as the lived-in aesthetic of the independent film, while at the same time there is room for a barrage of demographic references ranging from willow – everyone has opinions on the name Elora Danan – for Section at Godzilla to, as the title suggests, Tank dogs. You’ll see similarities with many teen shows – the ones from Netflix On my block This is the comparison I have made most often – in a series whose tone and point of reference are entirely his.
None of this would work without the set, recruited from Canada and the US and proving, just like Rutherford Falls has done so, that there is a pool of Indigenous actors that television and movies have ignored for too long. Woon-A-Tai, admirably at ease being an idiot, and Jacobs, tough and touching, look like stars; These are just stars who would never have opportunities like this without a creator like Harjo forcing the issue. Alexis has her own comic book, as does Lil Mike and Funnybone, who steal whatever scenes they’re in. With Podemski and McClarnon in the lead, the veteran side of the cast is full of familiar and unfamiliar faces that all revel in. to be part of a world so far removed from harmful indigenous clichÃ©s.
Although I guess viewers are supposed to invest in the conflict between our heroes and the Indian mafia – or maybe the dream move to California – Dogs Reservation didn’t tighten his narrative enough for this to be the case for me. And maybe it never will be. Atlanta, another practical and very complementary comparison, only sometimes resembles a spectacle in which “tightness” is an attribute. Either way, there’s more than enough fun to be found in this easygoing, but quietly revolutionary snapshot of the southwest.