Reservation Dogs (FX) is a new TV show produced by the ingenious Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows movie and show), and it might be the best show on TV right now for how utterly charming and genuine it comes across in a modern TV landscape of vapid teen dramas and reality TV nonsense.
I found this stellar show one night on Hulu and the premise caught my attention. Four indigenous Native American teenagers live on a reservation in Oklahoma while trying to find their place in the world. Fast forward to four hours later when I had binged the whole season, laughing and sometimes crying along the way. It is a transcendent experience more people need to take.
Honestly, this show is a revelation.
The Cast is the Heart and Soul
From the opening scene of the first episode, the chemistry between the show’s four stars is evident. Elva Guerra plays the badass of the group, Jackie who takes very little shit from anyone.
Lane Factor plays Cheese, the sweetheart. He is a bit smaller and a bit gentler than the other members, but balances the group’s dynamic perfectly. Then we have Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs who portrays Elora Denan. Elora is the most serious and driven of the group, focused on getting them all out of Oklahoma and out to California as quickly as possible (more on that later).
And finally, we come to D’ Pharoah Woon-A-Tai (coolest name ever?) who plays Bear Smallhill. He sees himself as the leader of the group, even though the whole group doesn’t seem to agree. And he does tend to be the focus of the show a bit more than the other three because he is still very much in the process of figuring out his place in the world, both literally and spiritually. A young man trying to find himself is not a new concept by any means, but its execution here is flawless.
There is also a fifth member of the group, Daniel, who sadly takes his own life before the show begins and sets the events in motion. That loss is the catalyst for the journey the group wants to take across the first season.
The Plot and Running Themes
This group of social miscreants wants to get themselves off the reservation and out to greener pastures in California after the suicide of their friend Daniel, who we only meet in flashbacks. He was the brother of Jackie, struggled with bipolar disorder and took his life one night without warning.
Thing is, as heavy as that sounds, (it is no Midnight Mass) this show is actually a comedy with drama elements.
It is about the follies of listlessness – of being young and aimless in a place where you don’t feel like you belong. Within the first scene of the first episode, you realize these kids are not particularly law-abiding (they steal a truck and drive it to a scrapyard for some cash), yet you still cannot help but cheer them on. They lie and cheat and steal to get what they want, but that is solely because they long to leave, and do not want to end up like their deceased friend. They also slowly realize that they need to better themselves, and they come to this conclusion when they start to realize the things they do have consequences, sometimes on innocent people.
And one of my favorite characters from the show is a character Bear only sees in visions called The Unknown Warrior. He is Bear’s spirit guide, yet he doesn’t quite seem to be as pulled together as you would assume a spirit guide should be.
He isn’t in the show very often, but when you see the Unknown Warrior, expect some serious belly laughs as he slips and stumbles his way through spiritual advice.
But that is the beauty of Reservation Dogs. It can break your heart and mend it, all in a clean and quick 22 minutes.
The Heaviness and the Supernatural
Of course, when dealing with suicide things can get justifiably heavy. And though that can be hard to take, it is handled with great care here, showing us the individual loss each person experiences from the trauma.
What we start seeing over time is that Elora becomes more driven then the rest of the group in terms of leaving and becomes frustrated at the fact that she seems to be the only one taking it seriously. With Bear in particular, you can see there is a divide between them that they are trying to fix, but they seem to move to the beat of different drums. The cast is magical and the writing is fantastic, so you feel like a fifth member of the group when you watch it, off to the side, like the spirit of Daniel drifting among them.
Another thing that makes this show shine brighter than a diamond is the integration of Native American folklore into the material. From the legend of the Deer Woman (a shape-shifting female who punishes men who cheat on their significant others) to a creature that looks an awful lot like a Wendigo (a possessed spirit of someone who has eaten flesh and been corrupted by the act) Reservation Dogs manages to stay true to Native American folklore while also being riveting and consistently humorous.
The Taiki Waititi Connection
The fact that Taiki Waititi produces this show is a strong enough selling point for most. If you know that man’s track record (What We Do in the Shadows, Thor Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit) then you know the man’s record is essentially spotless. This show continues his trend of sinking only threes from mid-court.
He also has a great way of infusing some heart and soul into comedy, and that is on full display here. That is what sets this show apart and makes it so remarkable. While you watch most TV shows with a degree of distance, you live this one with the characters. You never want the season to end, because it’s saying goodbye to those childhood friends you shared so many memories with – happy and painful.
I have seen a lot of TV in 2021. From the atmospheric darkness of Chapelwaite to the insanity of Squid Game, but no show has touched me quite like Reservation Dogs has. It’s emotional, entertaining and even kind of creepy at times. It’s a real revelation, and deserves a spot on everyone’s shelf.
But sadly, it is a revelation very few of you have seen, and that needs to change so we can get as many seasons of this amazing show as is humanly possible.
Does Reservation Dogs sound good to you? Why not pop over here and find out everything we know about the new Lord of the Rings series and then over here to find out about the best scary movies you can watch on Tubi free this Halloween!