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‘Reservation Dogs’ Offers Unique Look at Indigenous Life in America

Reservation Dogs on FX on Hulu
(Image credit: Shane Brown/FX)

Comedy Reservation Dogs, about four Native-American teens committing petty crimes and dreaming of moving away from their rural Oklahoma base, premieres on FX on Hulu Aug. 9. D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Devery Jacobs, Paulina Alexis and Lane Factor play the teens.

The cast, the writers’ room and the directors are all Indigenous. 

Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi created the show. Harjo is from Oklahoma and Waititi is from New Zealand. Despite their different home bases, they connected over similar back stories. “All of the stories that we shared from when we were growing up, they seemed exactly the same,” Waititi said at a TCA press event. “We've all got similar uncles in that community and similar aunties, family members. We both grew up on a solid diet of pop culture mixed with our own culture.”

Waititi directed JoJo Rabbit and Thor: Ragnarok, and executive produces FX series What We Do in the Shadows. “I still to this day have never been to Tulsa, and he's never been to my hometown in New Zealand,” he added. 

Harjo’s credits include 11/8/16 and Four Sheets to the Wind

“One of the similarities in all of those Indigenous communities is humor, and Taika and I, all of the stories that we would tell were funny,” said Harjo. “They were never sad and depressing, which is the only stories that ever get told about Native people.  So when we were doing the show, it was, like, from the beginning, it was going to be a comedy.”

Garrett Basch, who works on What We Do in the Shadows with Waititi, is an executive producer on Reservation Dogs alongside Harjo and Waititi.

Devery Jacobs said Reservation Dogs offers an honest, unflinching look at Native-American life in America. “Basically, what we were all looking for was the reality of our communities and making sure that we were telling the truth in every scene that we made,” she said. 

B+C’s review of Reservation Dogs called the show “a unique, impactful and darkly funny series that depicts the desperation, and occasional glimmers of hope, experienced by teens on the reservation. Full of style, it offers captivating characters who at times leap off the gritty terrain.”

Harjo said Oklahoma offered a unique setting for the show. “A lot of people don't know about it, but there's an interesting history there,” he said, describing the variety of Native tribes across the state. “If you are of the Indigenous community there, you know how unique and special it is.  And you can drive 30 minutes to an hour down the road, and you are in a whole new tribal territory with new languages, new customs, new ceremonial practices, and that led to this really cool upbringing.”

Reservation Dogs is produced by FX Productions.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.