The moment you turn on FX’s new comedy, “Reservation Dogs,” you realize you're watching something special.
The show was co-created by Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Muscogee Creek) and Taika Waititi (Maori), who plucked many of the storylines from their own experiences. It's the second show to debut this year with an all-indigenous cast.
The idea for the project blossomed when Harjo and Waititi realized they had interesting scripts with similar themes. The show features indigenous heavy hitters such as Sydney Freeland (Navajo), Blackhorse Lowe (Navajo) and Tazbah Chavez, a citizen of the Bishop Paiute Tribe, who were involved with various levels of production.
“Reservation Dogs” follows the lives of four angsty teens living in Oklahoma who are determined to escape their reservation after the death and suicide of a close friend. A trip to California lays the groundwork for the series and it draws you into the lives of the characters—played by D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai (Bear- Ojibwe), Lane Factor (Cheese-Caddo and Seminole Creek), Paulina Alexis (Willie Jack-Lakota), and Devery Jacobs (Elora Danan- Mohawk). The combination of poignant storylines and hysterical shenanigans creates an on-screen dynamic that feels fresh, yet accessible. Beneath it all, you'll pick up an undercurrent of “seeking”—everyone is searching for a deeper connection with their family, friends and home.
Veteran actor Zahn McClarnon (Lakota) plays “Big,” the town's policeman, and it’s pure comedic gold. As a fan very familiar with his work in “Mekko,” “West World,” and “Fargo,” it’s refreshing to see him bring a character to life that is very different from what he’s done on-screen. McClarnon can will also appear in Marvel’s Disney+ series, “Hawkeye,” and AMC’s psychological thriller “Dark Winds.”
“Reservation Dogs” is a creative effort to portray indigenous stories with an authenticity that's still in short supply in Hollywood. Indigenous actors, writers, producers, and directors should be given a chance to showcase their talent. After all, indigenous characters have been part of television forever, but unfortunately, far too often these characters perpetuated damaging stereotypes. Shows such as “Reservation Dogs” and Peacock’s “Rutherford Falls,” introduce audiences and Hollywood elites to stories, sources, and humor that portray indigenous people differently, even positively.
Representation matters, and this could only mean bigger and better opportunities for indigenous people.