Lately, I can’t stop recommending great TV shows you should watch. Last week, I gushed about What We Do In The Shadows, which is returning soon for its fourth season. This week, coincidentally enough, we’ve got another Taika Waititi-masterminded series to talk about.
Yes, when Waititi isn’t off working on that untitled Star Wars movie, or working on one of the two What We Do In The Shadows film spinoffs (there’s another one, called Wellington Paranormal, and you can watch it on HBO Max), he found time to work on a series he co-created, co-writes and co-executive produces. It’s called Reservation Dogs, and I really wish I had seen it earlier.
And, as always, my rush to recommend comes not from merely how much I enjoy Reservation Dogs, but because the show is coming back for its second season pretty soon (more on that below). Some people are more than willing to jump into a show when it starts, but others are more likely to give a show a chance once it’s been confirmed to come back.
So, now that Reservation Dogs is coming back to Hulu, I thought it would be a good idea to get the word out that it’s a must-see. Why’s that? Well, it’s not just a great thing to watch a show live (or the day after) to be a part of the conversation, but anything I can do to draw more eyes to a show I hope gets a third (and so on, if they want it) season is a good thing.
Why I love Reservation Dogs
A good coming-of-age story delivers most of (if not all of) the feels, and Reservation Dogs doesn’t shy away from that expectation. Focused on a group of four Indigenous teens in rural Oklahoma, Reservation Dogs originally confused me by its title. I should have given the show a chance, but the fact that it was even slightly tied to Reservoir Dogs was somehow off-putting. Little did I know, it’s there for good reason. Also, if I’d given the show a chance, I would have been locked in and laughing early (like I was last weekend) as a heist in the first episode had me rolling.
Our heroes are led by … well, they’re not really led at all. Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), the lanky boy with the flowing locks of hair at the center of most promo photos, thinks he’s their leader, but nobody else thinks so. He’s a bit immature, and still trying to come to grips with how his dad left him and his single mother who is raising him on her own. Elora (Devery Jacobs) is the better pick for leader, as she’s focused on her goals of leaving the reservation (which the kids see as depressing) for sunny California.
In lieu of a trailer (which doesn’t seem to be on YouTube), check out this clip from the show where Bear goes to the doctor’s office:
Elora and Bear are supported by the casual and mellow Cheese (Lane Factor) and the tomboyish Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis). And when I say supported, I really mean it. These kids have been through a lot, as the show begins on the one year anniversary of their friend Daniel’s death. That tragically young passing is a thread that we follow through the show, as it motivates the kids’ desire to leave town.
Exacerbating things is the aforementioned ‘rival gang,’ which is a funny joke in and of itself. Elora, Bear, Willie Jack and Cheese aren’t a gang. They’re just friends. But this new group of teens stirring up trouble in town with their paintball guns and beating up Bear go by the name NDN Mafia (say it aloud, you’ll get it), and think of any group of other kids as a gang.. Which may be because of some bad gossip. This leads to the name Reservation Dogs, and a nice joke referencing the color-based character names.
It all works so well because the main group of teens have a natural chemistry that you’d expect from friends. At the same time, they’re already showing signs of fraying at the ends, a situation that comes to a head by the end of the season.
If I had to say one other element of the show truly makes it all work, it’s the kids’ elders. Officer Big (Zahn McClarnon) may be one of the actual good cops on TV, as he’s a lighthorseman who is very casual with the town’s ne’er-do-wells.
I can’t leave out Elora’s uncle Brownie (Gary Farmer) either, as he’s one of the true odd-balls of the show. In fact, it’s characters like Brownie that made me realize that Reservation Dogs kinda feels like some form of The Simpsons. Its reservation town feels as interesting as Springfield, if slightly smaller.
Why the critics love Reservation Dogs
Critics, if you believe in Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab) , loved the first season of Reservation Dogs. The series scored a 98% (Certified Fresh), and going off the reviews, that’s an enthusiastic declaration of greatness.
Emily St. James at Vox (opens in new tab) identified it as one of those rare “Comedies that are sure of themselves from the first scene,” and toasts the Rez Dogs kids, stating “All four actors, however, form one of the best ensembles of teen characters in recent memory. All are equally capable of comedy and drama.”
Judy Berman, at Time (opens in new tab), ranked Reservation Dogs as the fifth best show of all of 2021 (above Yellowjackets and Succession season 3, mind you). Berman also wrote “Like many of the best recent shows about youth, from Atlanta to Betty, it has a hazy, surreal-meets-DIY vibe that allows episodes to move fluidly between madcap hijinks, gallows humor and moments of earnest emotion.”
For The Ringer (opens in new tab)Alison Herman wrote “By looking at reservation life from all angles, Reservation Dogs also captures the totality of grief—an underlying that only amplifies the comedy.”
Outlook: Yes, you should watch Reservation Dogs
Reservation Dogs season 1 (available on Hulu (opens in new tab)) are each comprised of 10 episodes that are about half an hour in length. That means you can watch one season in a weekend day, and be caught up well before its August 3 return.
Oh, and one more thing. You might wonder why I haven’t mentioned that Reservation Dogs is a much needed piece of representation for the Indigenous culture of this country. It’s the first series made entirely-by Indigenous people, and that’s very important.
But Reservation Dogs is simply a great show, and while its brilliance is inextricable from its cultural roots, it is not defined by them. This series has an amazing cast and excellent writing and direction, and you simply need to start it tonight.