Review: Hulu and FX’s booking dogs are revolutionary and super funny
It’s really rare for a TV comedy to know exactly what it’s about from the first scene of its first episode. Usually, these shows take at least half a season to establish the foundational relationships, the best stories to tell, and the strongest punchlines possible.
Even some of the best comedies spent a lot of their early seasons polishing things up. (Parks and recreationto eat, for example, spent his first two seasons eliminating the elements that just didn’t work and focusing on the ones that did.) Self-confident comedies from the first scene exist (Cheers, Development stopped, Atlanta, etc.), but they are few in number.
I’ve only seen one season of FX’s new fantasy comedy Dogs Reservation, but I’m happy to add it to the list. (The first season is now available on Hulu.) From the first scene of its premiere to the last scene of its finale, the series’ first season includes eight episodes of witty and perfectly balanced comedy, with just enough weight. dramatic. This gives the teenage characters, who are all petty criminals trying to save enough money to leave their Oklahoma reservation, a lot more leverage than they expected.
Much has been written about the historical nature of Dogs Reservation. It is the first American television series with a room for writers and a production team entirely made up of Indigenous people from across North America, and the second with an Indigenous showrunner. (The first, Peacock’s Rutherford Falls, also made his debut this year.) This showrunner is called Sterlin Harjo, and not only did he co-create the series with Taika Waititi (himself of Maori descent), he also wrote five of the eight episodes of season and completed three.
Harjo is a film director, with three feature films and one documentary to his credit. (He’s also directed several shorts and episodes of other TV shows.) He and Waititi met when they were up-and-coming directors, and Waititi used his growing muscles within the entertainment industry to help to do the show. (Waititi has a relationship with FX, having also produced and directed two episodes of the Emmy-nominated film What we do in the shadows, which is derived from his film of the same name.)
But despite the great name of Waititi, Dogs Reservation truly is Harjo’s show, with a unique and witty visual style all its own. A sequence of a hunting expedition is shot entirely using animal cameras in a series of still shots, almost like comic book panels. The dream sequences unfold with a giddy feeling of characters trapped amid stereotypes of Indigenous people still so common in other movies and TV shows. The shots are chosen to subtly emphasize the poverty and natural beauty of the characters’ surroundings, sometimes with frames that isolate the characters in a small section with the setting overwhelming them.
Lest it all sound very exhilarating, Dogs Reservation is also extremely funny. It opens with its four central characters performing a daring heist … of a truck carrying crates of crisps. (They are not apprehended because the local police officer is distracted by a YouTube video about conspiracy theories for the Kennedy assassination.)
The aforementioned dream sequences feature one of the characters meeting a Native American, in a stereotypical costume, riding a horse, but he continues to try to overinflate his importance at the Battle of Little Bighorn and can’t help but cough. There’s a whole episode about an elderly relative of a character trying to sell a 15-year-old bag of weed and finding no takers in a world where marijuana has been legalized. The characters constantly utter the word “shit” for a very funny effect.
The riskiest part of Dogs Reservation could have been the cast. The show’s only four regular characters who appear in nearly every episode are four teenagers, and all are played by little-known actors.
Paulina Alexis, who plays the dry yet energetic Willie Jack, seems to have only had one credit under her belt before working on Dogs Reservation, while Lane Factor, who plays Cheese, the group’s little brother, had his first acting role in the series. The other two main stars – Devery Jacobs, who plays Elora, the girl who wants to leave town the most, and D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai as Bear, the de facto leader of the group – have more experience. . But Woon-A-Tai apparently had less than 10 credits under his belt when he started working on this show.
The four actors, however, form one of the best sets of teenage characters in recent memory. All of them are equally capable of comedy and drama. (Jacobs, in particular, finds new nuances in a character you’ve seen many times before, the girl from a small town who longs for something better.) The scenes where the four of them sit down and joke have chemistry. easy that never feels forced, which is hard to do in a show this young, with actors so relatively new to the game.
The guest stars that appear are also excellent. In particular, I loved Zahn McClarnon’s turn as Officer Big, who only seems timidly interested in doing his job. McClarnon is an actor with a wealth of experience, but he tends to play rather dark characters. You may remember him as a hitman in season two of Fargo and as a Native American host who is gaining in sensitivity Westworld. He is too rarely allowed to become a comic, and Dogs Reservation allows him to be incredibly stupid early and often. (He’s the officer distracted by a video of JFK’s plot in the first episode.)
But beyond McClarnon, the guest cast is full of amazing performances. Native rappers Lil Mike and Funny Bone appear as a Greek bicycle choir, while veteran actor Gary Farmer is awkward and breathless as potential weed trafficker Uncle Brownie. There’s even a surprisingly dramatic turn for stand-up comedian Bill Burr as a driving instructor who helps Elora deal with some of her more complicated emotions.
The team behind Dogs Reservation has been adamant every step of the show’s commercial cycle that this is not another story about the tragic lives of those living on a reserve. And they are right about it. This series is above all a comedy. But it also tells a slyly moving story about teenagers who don’t know how many options they have and a community where resources are increasingly stretched. It’s a hilarious show, but it’s also a beautiful show, adding to one of the best first seasons of a comedy in quite some time.
Dogs Reservation ” the first season is available in on Hulu. A second season has been picked up and will likely debut in 2022. For more recommendations from the growing world, check out the A good thing archives.