‘Reservation Dogs’ Brings Humor and Realness from Indigenous Perspectives

Just in time for International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, FX on Hulu’s new comedy series, Reservation Dogs, officially premiered yesterday. Created by Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo, the show is centered on four teenagers living on a reservation in Oklahoma. They spend their days finding the easiest avenues to make money — even if it means committing theft — in order to leave for California. However, when a new gang arrives in town and one of the teens starts to have a change of heart about their motivations, things start to get a little interesting.

It’s refreshing to see a show both made by and starring Indigenous people; a large demographic that has been noticeably overlooked compared to the recent strives that have been made in bettering media representation for other marginalized communities. Seeing representation is one thing, but knowing that the creative decisions made behind the scenes are coming from an authentic place makes it all the more satisfying to watch. The crew was made up almost entirely of Indigenous creatives, and it definitely shows.

It’s evident that Waititi had a hand in making this. His trademark dry humor and willingness to get really real were evident throughout the first two episodes alone. Zahn McClarnon’s Big, a Lighthorseman, is so oblivious to the perpetrators behind all these thefts, it’s hilarious. When the reason is revealed as to why the group want to escape to California, it’s easy to sympathize with them. In the instances where both trademark qualities intersect is when the show is at its strongest; particularly in the second episode where the IHS clinic’s sole doctor, played by Bobby Lee, is feeling frizzled over having to serve a whole community alone for the past decade.

For many of the young actors who play this group of rough yet golden-hearted teens, being a regular on Reservation Dogs is either their first big role or their first credit period. Each of their characters are so distinct that when you bring them altogether, they somehow make sense. While there’s a total of four of them (played by D’Pharaoh Woo-A-Tai, Every Jacobs, Paulina Alexis, and Lane Factor respectively), it’s Woo-A-Tai’s Bear and Jacobs’ Elora that have the most focus as teens wrestling with finding direction in their lives. While their performances are sure to continue captivating audiences as the series continues forward, it’s this reviewer’s hope that Alexis’ Willie Jack and Factor’s Cheese are also given more substance in their character development as well.

Seeing Reservation Dogs come out now echoes a sentiment expressed by Elaine Miles, the first Native actress to be a series regular on a TV show, last year in a profile feature for The Nerds of Color. While she’s proud of what she brought to the table as Marilyn Whirlwind on Northern Exposure, she also mentioned how she wants more Indigenous creatives working in the industry at all times. Perhaps this dry-witted yet compelling new series can be a step in that direction.

Reservation Dogs is a show that will lure you in for the humor and willingness to see where the journey of these four friends are headed. At the same time, this series will keep you hooked as one of hopefully many stories to come about a community that is finally getting its time to show who they are and what they’re all about.