“Reservation Dogs” has teens shine with humor & slice of life on the “Rez”

 Reservation Dogs is a quirky new eight-episode series that is quickly becoming the darling of streaming for FX on Hulu.

 The half-hour comedy is a coming-of-age, slice of Native American life as it follows a group of Indigenous teens who are taking a creative path to get away from their rural Okalhoma reservation. Their dream is to move from “the Rez” to California, where they think all their problems will disappear. There’s a lot of illegal mischief that goes on in order to save for their getaway.

 The charm of the show lies with its fresh phenomenal young cast, with D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai as “Bear Smallhill,” Devery Jacobs as “Elora Danan,” Paulina Alexis as “Willie Jack,” and Lane Factor, who plays “Cheese.”

 Created by Oklahoma filmmaker Sterlin Harjo and director Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit, Thor: Ragnarok), the show is making history. Filmed on location in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, Reservation Dogs is a breakthrough production for Indigenous representation on television both in front of and behind the camera. Longtime friends and natives from different parts of the world, Harjo (from Tulsa) and Waititi (from New Zealand) did a Zoom interview session with the Television Critics Association (TCA) to launch their show and talk about how the storytelling resonates with Native American experiences.

 Waititi explained to the TCA, “All of the stories that we shared from when we were growing up, they seemed exactly the same.  We’ve all got similar uncles in that community and similar aunties, family members.  We both grew up on a solid diet of pop culture mixed with our own culture. Also, we know a lot of people from Indigenous communities and many places, Australia as well, and all of those people all share the same experiences.  So I think the reason this idea resonated the most, I think, with us is because of that connection.”

 Harjo said, “I think one of the similarities in all of those Indigenous communities is humor. All of the stories that Taika and I would tell were funny.  They were never sad and depressing…the only stories that ever got told about Native people.  So when we were doing the show, from the beginning it was going to be a comedy.”

Paulina Alexis, Devery Jacobs, D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai, and Lane Factor star in Reservation Dogs (Photo: Shane Brown/FX)

 Devery Jacobs explained that she and her castmates are from communities very far apart from each other, but they can relate to each other. Devery said, “I’m from Kahnawake Mohawk territory.  So, I’m Mohawk, and my community is from just outside of Montreal.” Lane Factor noted, “I am Caddo and Seminole Creek, and my Caddo half is located in Anadarko, Oklahoma, and my Seminole half is located in Seminole, Oklahoma.”

 Although different, Devery added, “We were all looking for the reality of our communities and making sure that we were telling the truth in every scene that we made.”

 Co-creator, producer, writer, director Harjo said some things are over the top and some are surprisingly familiar, but he invites audiences into the Reservation Dogs’ world of Native rappers, catfish, Indigenous superstitions and spirits both hilarious and terrifying. There’s laughter, tears, unexpected grandmothers, decent people, terrible people and a cavalcade of supporting characters who color and shade the vibrant life on “the Rez.”

 Tune in Reservation Dogs now streaming FX on Hulu.

Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.