New TV Series “Reservation Dogs” Renewed for Second Season

A short synopsis of the FX on Hulu series and how it has been important for Indigenous representation in pop culture


The Walt Disney Company, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

“Reservation Dogs” is breaking new ground in representation with a team of all Indigenous writers, directors, and leads.

Need a Monday afternoon boost? Meet Bear, Elora, Willie Jack, and Cheese, four Native teenagers and the leads of new FX on Hulu series, Reservation Dogs. With episodes premiering each Monday, you can start your week off right with some comedy and much-needed Indigenous representation. Set on a modern-day Oklahoma reservation, the show follows the misadventures of the main quartet as they navigate life one year after the death of their close friend, Daniel. Looking to escape the circumstances that led to the loss of their friend, the group plans to save up money through petty crimes to leave the reservation and run away to California. However, after stealing a chip truck to raise funds, the group begins to see how their plan has negatively affected those in their community. As Bear’s guilt starts to build and a new crew shows up on the rez, the friends begin to diverge.

Set photos of Bear, Elora, Willie Jack, and Cheese at their favorite hangout.

After the first few installments, episodes begin to delve into the life of each character, slowly revealing their individual motivations that drive them towards California. Bear Smallhill, played by D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, is described by FX on Hulu as “destined to be warrior, and a leader” though the rest of the group doesn’t necessarily consider him one. Confronted with the repercussions of the crew’s actions, Bear grapples with his guilty conscious that takes the form of a “questionable spirit guide”. Then there is Elora Danan, played by Devery Jacobs and possibly the “true leader of the group.” She is the most motivated, but sometimes gets so caught up in trying to outrun her grief that she fails to see the “goodness in herself and all around her.” Willie Jack, played by Paulina Alexis, is the “beating heart of the group” and one of my favorite characters. Though she puts up a relaxed front for her crew, she continues to struggle with the loss of Daniel. Last but not least is Cheese, played by Lane Factor, who is the “gentle, quiet ride-or-die” of the group and another favorite character of mine. He is ready to help his friends get to California, but does not always stop consider his own dreams for the future.

“Reservation Dogs” co-creator Taika Waititi brings plenty of directing and writing experience to the series, including directing Marvel movie “Thor: Ragnarok” and winning an Oscar for his screenwriting for “Jojo Rabbit”.

From the synopsis, Reservation Dogs does not come off as a comedy TV show. And while there are elements of drama that address important issues, humor remains a priority for Reservation Dogs creators Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi. In an interview with NPR, Harjo points out that when Native people are traditionally represented in Hollywood, “you never get to see that humor…it’s always so earnest and so sad or depressing.” When writing the script, he says the goal was to make it funny: “Let’s make a comedy because…that’s really reflective of our communities.” Every director, writer, and season regular involved with Reservation Dogs is Indigenous, which Harjo feels adds authenticity to the storylines: “And the amazing thing about having an all-Native writer’s room is we weren’t afraid. I think if we would have a 50-50 room or something, like, the non-Natives would have been afraid to go where we went. But because we have this authorship and because we have this lived experience, we weren’t afraid to push the humor…And I think people identify with that I think that non-Indigenous people will watch it and they will feel that authenticity. And they will feel the details and the nuance

Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi have said many of the characters on “Reservation Dogs” are based on people from their own childhoods. The series also includes many nods to Native slang and folklore.

of this world.”

There have been criticisms of the quality of representation, however. After the release of the first couple episodes, some have voiced concern that the series depicts Indigenous people as criminals and paints reservation communities in an overall negative light. Some Oklahoma Natives were also disappointed that the main characters do not have the distinct accent of the region. Cherokee and Kiowa author, Oscar Hokeah, wrote an insightful article that further analyzes these criticisms on his blog. Additionally, there have been conservations about the portrayal of Black culture and lack of representation for Afro-Indigenous peoples in the series.

“Reservation Dogs” includes lots of homages to famous works in popular culture, the most prominent being “Reservoir Dogs.”

Overall, though, feedback has been positive. The series boasts a 100% Certified Fresh Rotten Tomato score and audience excitement can be found on various social media platforms, taking form in fan pages and memes. For the Indigenous directors, writers, actors, and actresses on the show as well as viewers, Reservation Dogs has brought meaningful representation. Actor D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai expressed his enthusiasm about this growing representation in an interview with BC Local News: “I feel that it’s going to be a normal thing, eventually. I’m so happy and proud to be part of the first few projects to start that.”

With all these perspectives in mind, be sure to check out the series if you haven’t already and tune in on Monday, September 20th for the final episode of the season! Reservation Dogs will return for a second season in 2022.