There’s nothing on TV like booking dogs

Although FX on Hulu has launched the first season of its comedy-drama Reservation dogs soon after eligibility for the last Emmy Awards ended, many hoped he would break through and earn nominations this year. But while the explosion of original series across countless networks and platforms means we may never run out of new things to watch, it also means there are now more titles to snub by the Emmys. than at any other time in human history – and, sadly, Reservation dogs has been neglected. I would never be rude enough to react by calling Emmy voters “assholes,” but every character on Reservation dogs would do it without hesitation.

Viewers spent the first season getting to know the titular dogs — native teenage Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs), Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), Willie Jack (Pauline Alexis), and cheese (Lane factor) – and the titular reservation, on the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma. Until fairly recently, their gang had a fifth member: Daniel (Dalton Cramer), who died by suicide before the events of the series, but still appears in flashbacks, dreams, and visions. The kids hatch schemes and scams to raise money so they can all move to California, but a season-ending dispute ends in the division: Bear and Elora Danan argue over which of them is doing worse work to honor Daniel’s memory; Both Willie Jack and Cheese declare their intention to stay in Oklahoma; and Elora Danan ends up blowing up the town with Jackie (Elva Guerra), a member of a rival gang. It’s lucky for Bear to still have the support of Spirit (Dallas Goldtooth), a deceased warrior of dubious accomplishments; Spirit’s advice can be suspect at times, but it’s better than nothing.

The first season showed us the gang in an introductory period – dealing with the death of a friend, something that shouldn’t happen until adulthood, while doing the stupid shit that’s the privilege of youth. In the second, it’s clearer not only that the gang is starting to grow, but that they’re figuring out what kind of adults they want to be.

Spirit gives Bear some love to determine his place in the community and find meaning in his life, so Bear gets a job on a roofing crew that includes Daniel’s father, Danny (Michael Spears). Initially, Bear walks away from him; then, he lashes out with an impulsively cruel reference to Danny’s flaws as a father. But Bear ends his day with more empathy for Danny and a deeper understanding of what it takes to support a family. The symbolism is not particularly subtle: on the roof, Bear is in a potentially perilous position, and if the gangster in him does not want to betray any vulnerability, Danny instructs him both on the technical aspects of the trade, and demonstrates by the example that admitting error and trying to change are signs of strength.

Meanwhile, Elora Danan and Jackie took off in Elora Danan’s grandmother’s “rezzy-ass car” (by Jackie), which is not suitable for travel. While disastrous road trips are reliable sources of comedy, this one eschews the expected tropes and encompasses a guest role by Oklahoma’s own Megan Mullally like Anna, a stranger who opens her empty nest to girls. Shortly after circumstances force them to return home, Elora Danan must deal with a family crisis so urgent that even her long-lost Aunt Teenie (Tamara Podemsky) returns to town for the vigil.

Elora Danan views Teenie with as much suspicion as Bear does Danny: Teenie moved out after the death of Elora Danan’s mother, Cookie, and apparently never returned. Now Elora Danan also sees that while Teenie’s old friends are happy to see her, Teenie’s long absence has opened up a space between them that can never truly be filled. Going to California is an exciting idea, but which side of this divide does Elora Danan want to end up on?

Sterlin Harjowho co-created the series with Taika WaititiTold VFit is Joanna Robinson last year, “I think Native comedy is sophisticated comedy…. It’s not a punchline, it’s about the silences and then it’s about the teasing.” In the first four episodes of the second season, this philosophy shines through. One shows how centuries-old traditions are still practiced when a member of the community is on his deathbed; in another, Uncle Brownie (Gary Farmer) improvises a spiritually questionable ceremony by the river to break the curse. The majority of Reservation dogs viewers don’t have Harjo’s intimate knowledge of its setting and characters, but we do know he done, or he couldn’t send it convincingly.

And, of course, some of the truthful moments the show portrays are universal, like when Willie Jack complains to Elora Danan that Jackie isn’t helping out in the kitchen. When Elora Danan calls her, Jackie gladly joins them, but it’s still not enough for Willie Jack: she mutters that Jackie shouldn’t have been asked to intervene. If you’ve never said or heard those kind of little bitches at a family reunion, it’s because someone was saying it about you.

In and around these shattering emotional rhythms, Reservation dogs is hilarious. Spirit’s advice to Bear on supporting Elora Danan through her family emergency involves the story of an unlikely medical issue he encountered on the battlefield and ends with such a comically shocking anatomical analogy that who found it in the writers room should have been given the week off as a reward.

Considering the timing of its season two premiere, Reservation dogs may again miss the awareness window for Next Emmys of the Year, which would be a shame. Yet many extraordinary shows never win awards; it doesn’t matter as long as they find the right audience. It is one which amply deserves your attention, and which you should not snub.

About Michael B. Billingsley

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