TV Review: Reservation Dogs, 1×1, “F*ckin’ Rez Dogs”

Chike Coleman reviews the series premiere of Reservation Dogs.
User Rating: 6

When you’re little, the first thing you’re taught is the difference between right and wrong. As you get older, you realize that people ignore that lesson if what they’re taking is advantageous to them.  In the case of the Reservation Dogs, that lesson not only doesn’t matter but barely holds weight given their economic situation.  FX’s Reservation Dogs surrounds the lives of four indigenous teenagers in Oklahoma.  The teenagers are named Bear, Elora, Cheese, and Willy Jack.  Together, the teens commit crimes all across the city to move away and start new lives.

In the series premiere, Bear, Elora, Cheese, and Willie Jack steal a truck filled with flaming hot potato chips from a truck driver. They sell the truck to the local junkyard and keep the chips to start a business of selling bags of potato chips.  The audience would be forgiven for thinking that causing that much chaos and being young students would get the attention of the police. Unfortunately, law enforcement seems to be of the bumbling variety.

Bear has a crisis of conscience thanks to being shot with multiple paintball pallets by a rival white gang and, for a brief moment, is sent on a VisionQuest.  The Indian guide trying to mentor young Bear informs him that he’s not doing anything positive by committing these crimes.  He should be putting his energy toward the building of the community instead.  This information sits with Bear for a while before he can start talking to the group about doing better.  They disagree because all they want is to be out of their bad situation.

The show looks like it takes place in the mid-90s. I say that because one of the elements in this show is Bear’s mom singing “Waterfalls” by TLC.  If that truly is the setting for this unconventional comedy, I can forgive the cheesy teenage dialogue.  This show is groundbreaking in many ways, mostly because it features indigenous writers and directors throughout the entire first season telling stories that are honest about their life experiences growing up.  I love the concept.  It’s inventive that this group of people only has each other as friends and the only way out is to work together. The comedy in this series comes from the different heists the kids pull off and how their actions directly affect those closest to them.

I love the idea that indigenous creators are getting the chance to tell their stories on a premium cable network. Having said that, while the voices of these characters is consistent, what they have to say about daily life feels underwhelming. I want to know what these characters’ struggles are, not just how they’ve chosen to combat them.  Even though Reservation Dogs is a comedy, not every serious moment should be immediately followed with a joke. Honestly, that type of writing takes the audience out of the moment and doesn’t allow us to properly sympathize with the characters’ struggles.

Also, these kids don’t feel like a group. They feel like unique individuals with the same problem, and when you’re trying to advertise the show as a group effort of criminal activity, there needs to be some sort of cohesion.  I can only hope the next episode provides more context to these people’s struggles because it is important considering the stories of indigenous people have been invisible for decades.

Reservation Dogs is now streaming on Hulu.

Written by
Chike has been a film critic in Illinois for the last 10 years with Urbana Public Television. Most of his work can be found on their YouTube channel where his show Reel Reviews is posted. The films he enjoys most are the kind that surprise you with characters that are deeper than you could ever suspect. As much as he loves reviewing it’s the stories that are unexpected that bring him the most joy. He lives in Champaign with his parents surrounded by cornfields.

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