Teen Comedy-Drama Deserves an Emmy Nod


With worthy hit shows like Succession (HBO), Ted Lasso (Apple +) and White Lotus (HBO) dominating this year’s Emmy Awards, it’s no surprise that other productions — with more niche followings — were snubbed. Hulu’s acclaimed teen comedy-drama Reservation Dogs, created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, and featuring an all-Indigenous writers’ room, unfortunately suffered this fate. The series, chronicling the highs and lows of teenaged life on an Oklahoma Indian reservation, features tough-but-vulnerable characters like Elora (Devery Jacobs), the most clear-eyed member of the friend group but also the most idealistic; Bear (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai), a devoted son who yearns for his deadbeat father’s return; Cheese (Lane Factor), a mature but willing accomplice to the group’s plans; and Willie Jack (Pauline Alexis), who is haunted by the suicide of her young cousin, Daniel (Dalton Cramer). In its sensitive handling of topics like generational poverty, governmental neglect, and teen suicide, Reservation Dogs is a cut above ordinary teen dramas.

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The show chiefly dwells on how teenaged social isolation and boredom can be both humorous and dangerous. While Elora, Bear, Cheese, and Willie Jack hatch an improbable plan to move to California — frequently locking horns with a rival “gang” and a sympathetic tribal officer, Big (Zahn McClarnon) — the suicide of their friend Daniel looms in the background. Though his cause of death technically isn’t revealed until the end of Season 1, Daniel’s terrible fate informs every decision that the grieving friends make, and is an unpleasant reminder of just how bad life can get on the reservation. Perhaps fearing a end, they resort to a series of zany — and ultimately similar fruitless — plans to escape their seemingly uninspiring surroundings.

Rather than making Daniel’s suicide the “big reveal” of the show, though, Reservation Dogs Wisely focuses on how the complicated bonds of friendship and family form a robust support network for the protagonists, even as they harbor conflicting visions of the future and confront the flaws in their plan to escape their hometown. In doing so, the series avoids the tendency of conventional teen comedies and dramas that indulge in cheap plot twists and obvious, or soapy, conclusions. Reservation Dogs is a show about everyday life, about moving on after loss, and about the meaning of home and family — however complicated, and fluid, those meanings may be.

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On a broader, the series has dared to explore how mental health issues intersect with contemporary Indigenous life. Both of these are topics which have been neglected on the silver screen until recently. It’s a shame that the Emmys weren’t able to acknowledge this as an accomplishment in her own right. Nor do this year’s nominations pay tribute to the show’s solid writing, unaffected performances, and emotional maturity.

Here’s hoping that Reservation Dogs‘ Next season will be more generously awarded. Season 2 premieres on Hulu August 3.

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