April 28th, 2021 Last Updated on: April 28th, 2021
“Rutherford Falls,” Peacock TV‘s binge-worthy new show, manages to do something few ever have: bring multi-dimensional indigenous characters into an American sitcom.
While Native Americans have historically been portrayed as monolithic in American film and TV, “Rutherford Falls” breaks the mold, taking Native Americans out of the box they're so often forced into. But beyond that, the show's just downright brilliant.
Created by Michael Schur (“The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Brooklyn Nine Nine”), Ed Helms, and Sierra Teller Ornelas (Navajo-Mexican), “Rutherford Falls” is equal parts clever and heartwarming and provides two unique perspectives of the Native American experience.
Ornelas staffed five Natives, including herself, which comprise half of the writers' room. Many details in the show—the wardrobe and the beadwork, for instance—were direct contributions from the writers themselves.
Reagan, played by Jana Schmieding (Lakota), will have you rooting for her from your couch. Her character is witty, beautiful, and loyal—especially to her best friend, Nathan Rutherford (played by Helms), the town founder’s descendant, who is struggling to save a statue of his ancestor that needs to be removed. Reagan wants to open a museum to honor the Minishonka Tribe and to be accepted by the community on the reservation.
And then there’s Terry, played by the uber-talented Michael Greyeyes (Cree Nation), who runs the Minishonka casino. You might recognize Greyeyes from other projects like “Wild Indians,” “I Know This Much Is True,” and “Blood Quantum.” His character is smart, ambitious, and successful—again, a rare depiction for Native Americans. He is a father, husband, businessman, and vital member of the Minishonka Tribe.
SPOILER ALERT (sort of): Though, he’s initially set up to be the villain, you quickly realize there's a lot more to his character. In episode four, (one of my favorites), we get to see what drives him and who he is at his core. His off-the-record interaction is phenomenal, and where Greyeyes shines the most. He explains why and how capitalism is different for he and his tribe because they operate under “the seven generation mentality.” The scene is phenomenal.
All in all, the writing and acting on “Rutherford Falls” are stellar, allowing you to incrementally experience the layers of each character. It’s one of the first times that indigenous people are cast as, well, real people, and it's ushering in a new kind of indigenous storytelling that presents a real window into the full spectrum of a more realistic Native American experience. The good news is that there's more of this type of media coming down the pipeline. For instance, FX’s “Reservation Dogs,” a satirical show written by indigenous people about indigenous people, is set to debut later this year.
“Rutherford Falls” skillfully tackles current issues with a refreshing blend of humor and honesty. If you're in the mood to binge the night away, give this delightful sitcom a shot.
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