The marginalised made funny…Reservation Dogs is one of a kind, but it really shouldn’t be.
The brand-new series follows four Native American teenagers, growing up in sleepy Oklahoma, dreaming of escaping to California, with crime as their catalyst. It’s a classic recipe for touching, off-beat comedy, but this coming-of-age show has broken the mould, blending American pop-culture with indigenous heritage, with a healthy sprinkling of humour for the perfect bake.
First and foremost, Reservation Dogs is a comedy, and a funny one at that. Anyone who has ever seen Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit or What We Do in the Shadows can vouch that Waititi never misses the mark when it comes to making an audience belly laugh, and with acclaimed director Sterlin Harjo as co-creator of the series, Reservation Dogs’ success was written in the stars – or was it?
Perhaps not, given how rare it is for a TV series with a fully Native American cast and crew to become so popular, with indigenous characters typically depicted as “sidekicks…without inner lives of their own”, in the words of The Rolling Stone’s Alan Sepinwall. However, Reservation Dogs flips the script, delving into the indigenous experience to make way for “all kinds of stories and sources of humour that feel brand new”. The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan furthers this, praising how the Native American cast and crew offers “a perspective which never panders to the often-fetishizing gaze of outsiders”, dispelling “centuries of myth and misrepresentation”.
Furthermore, in The New York Times, Stuart Miller talks of how Harjo and Waititi masterfully “upend the usual Hollywood clichés about Native Americans” to make way for a presentation which has “the right balance of humour and naturalism to really illuminate the truth of Native American life.” And according to Reservation Dogs, the “truth” is both magical and normal, bleak and bountiful, hilarious and heartbreaking. As Inkoo Kang proposes in The Washington Post, “it’s the places where nothing ever seems to happen [in which] anything can happen”, and clearly, indigenous filmmaking, like Harjo and Waititi’s Oklahoma, is that place; an Eden of entertainment, overlooked for too long.
First shown October 2020.