- By Native News Online Staff
Since its premiere last week, Reservation Dogs has received a wave of critical praise from a laundry list of major media outlets, including the New York Times, which wrote “the series forgoes the usual reductive clichés about reservation life — the show is neither pitying, nor mysticizing — in favor of a nuanced and comic realism.”
The acclaim doesn’t stop there, and Reservation Dogs has the 100-percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes to prove it. The half-hour comedy show, streaming now via FX on Hulu, was developed by co-creators and executive producers Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, and follows four Indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma. The group pulls all sorts of hijinks, including clumsily (yet hilariously) stealing a hot-chip truck in order to save money to move to the faraway land of California.
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But it’s not all laughs. The gritty coming-of-age show, which is groundbreakingly stacked with an Indigenous cast and crew, seamlessly pivots between being a dark comedy and thought-provoking drama. The humor is smart and fresh, the drama is edgy and real — real enough that Rolling Stone TV critic Alan Sepinwal called it “awfully good” and “long overdue.”
Not bad for a young cast of talent, including first time actor Lane Factor, 16, who masterfully portrays “Cheese,” the low-key member of the squad.
“Harjo, Waititi, and company are aiming for more of a rambling, indie-film hangout comedy vibe, which leans heavily on the appeal of the performers,” Rolling Stone critic Sepinwal wrote in his Aug. 5 review. “Fortunately, they found four extremely charming young ones to play their leads.”
Of course, the historic value of the production was also recognized by Rolling Stone.
“Indigenous characters have been part of television forever, in part because Westerns were so prominent in the medium’s early days,” Sepinwal wrote. “Mostly, though, Native characters have been sidekicks (like Jay Silverheels as Tonto on The Lone Ranger) without inner lives of their own, and/or been played by white actors, and written by white writers. This is embarrassing, but also a huge opportunity for a show like this, whose directors, writers, and cast regulars are all indigenous. It means this territory has rarely been covered in any kind of real depth on TV, and there are all kinds of stories and sources of humor that feel brand new.”
Meanwhile, the Washington Post’s Inkoo Kang expounded on the raw nature of the writing, and its value to the overall vibe of the show.
“This delicate balance between innocence and precarity is the key to Dogs’ wistful winsomeness,” Kang wrote. “There’s a subtle but resolute refusal to sugarcoat the lives of young people in dusty, empty Okern.”
Kang, who also shouted-out the other recently debuted Native-focused show, Peacock’s Rutherford Falls, said, “From the pilot on, Reservation Dogs arrives fully formed, with a cinematic eye for its sun-baked environs (shot on location in Oklahoma) and sourced from what feels like a close-knit network of talent.” Another takeaway from Kang was the revelation that sleepy, rural towns are not always a complete bore to live in. “Sometimes it’s the places where nothing ever seems to happen where anything can happen.”
Variety’s Daniel D’Addario, who dubbed the show “a triumph,” agrees with that notion, noting that, “It’s rare to see a series that conjures up a sense of place quite as well as FX’s new Reservation Dogs ... the show treats the reservation and its residents on their own terms, as worthy of being explored for just what it is, and just who they are.”
Meanwhile, Daniel Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter, name dropped the casting director, Angelique Midthunder, who he credits for assembling an “astonishing cast of young newcomers” who quickly adapted to their characters.
“None of this would work without the ensemble, recruited from Canada and the United States and proving, just as Rutherford Falls did, that there’s an Indigenous acting pool that TV and movies have been ignoring for far too long,” Feinberg wrote.
Journalist Shea Vassar, a Cherokee Nation citizen and member of the Native American Journalists Association, perhaps said it best in her review for RogerEbert.com when she highlighted the importance of Indigenous youth having mainstream representation on a major streaming platform.
“Reservation Dogs is the definition of authentic storytelling,” Vassar wrote. “The first four episodes capture the intangible feeling and nuanced truth that is specific to the Oklahoma Native experience unlike anything that has aired prior. Here’s to all the Indigenous kids who will watch this show and feel the joy of representation. Skoden!”
Watch new episodes of Reservation Dogs each Monday via FX on Hulu.
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