Entertainment

Inside the ‘surreal’ journey to ‘Reservation Dogs’ Season 2

Devery Jacobs was thrilled when she was shooting the pilot for FX’s Reservation Dogs two years ago. The coming-of-age story about a group of mischievous teenagers on a Native American reservation in rural Oklahoma mirrored her own experience, and she felt personally involved in the project.

Jacobs also feared the show would never see the light of day.

For years, the actress/writer has faced resistance in Hollywood to telling stories about Indigenous Peoples, particularly stories that transcend the long-standing industry stereotypes central to the Western genre. She was concerned that “Reservation Dogs” might meet the same fate.

“We didn’t know if FX was going to pick it up and that this might be the only time we had to tell that story,” Jacobs recalled. “It was a love letter to the reservations we all grew up on. We put our heart and soul into it. It was such a cathartic experience. We made it for ourselves. We thought, ‘If we never tell this story again, we’ve laid everything on the table.’”

Her worries soon vanished. FX has picked up the series that has quickly become one of last year’s newcomer favorites, charming critics and viewers alike with its offbeat humor and eccentric characters, while casting an authentic and loving spotlight on a universe found in mainstream films and – TV was rarely seen. (Both times TV critics Lorraine Ali and Robert Lloyd voted “Reservation Dogs” one of the best TV series of 2021.)

The second season of “Reservation Dogs” premieres Wednesday on Hulu with several major awards in hand, including a Peabody Award and two Independent Spirit Awards. The show is shot entirely in the Muscogee Nation and has an all-Indigenous writing and directing team.

“It was such a surreal experience,” said D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, who plays Bear Smallhill, the Dogs’ unofficial leader. “I never thought I would work on a project that I am so proud of. I was worried about how the show would be perceived. I knew it was good, unique. And I knew it was funny. We are funny people who crack jokes in difficult times. It may seem inappropriate, but this is how we deal with trauma and pain.”

“Reservation Dogs” is at the center of a rising Native American presence on screens in recent years, with characters and plots that are worlds away from Hollywood’s long-standing Western formula of warring “cowboys and Indians.”

AMC’s “Dark Winds”, Peacock’s “Rutherford Falls” and Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone” all have pivotal and current storylines relating to Native Americans. Reservation Dogs co-star Wes Studi (“Dances With Wolves”) stars in the new theatrical release, “A Love Song.” And several more projects that spotlight Indigenous characters and themes are on the horizon.

Jacobs referenced Hollywood’s past treatment of tribal peoples last year when the show won the Independent Spirit Award for Best New Screenplay Series. She paid special tribute to Native American artists, who she said paved the way for “Reservation Dogs.”

“To everyone who has come before us to play antagonists in western films and mythical, stoic and wild Indians, to native creators who have had to break tropes in this industry, we accept this award here because of you,” she said in her acceptance speech. “We are walking the same path that you have walked and paved for us. We hope this is a fresh start.”

A long-haired teenager in a denim jacket is walking down a street on a gray day.

D’Pharaoh Woo-A-Tai as Bear in Season 2 of “Reservation Dogs”.

(Shane Brown/FX)

A few hours before walking the red carpet for a premiere event at Tulsa’s River Spirit Casino Resort, Executive Producer Sterlin Harjo reflected on the show’s success and importance.

“Part of it is hard to understand, and part of it is about being happy and living in the moment,” said Harjo, who created the series with Academy Award-winner Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”). “It’s exciting, but I take it easy. The great reward for me is to have this show and to be able to tell this story. I knew if I had the support to really find the right way to showcase aboriginal humor and a good aboriginal story and infuse it with drama and magic, I could create something that would resonate.”

In the dramedy, the dogs – Bear, Elora Danan (Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) and Cheese (Lane Factor) engage in petty crimes and other schemes to fund their planned exit off the reservation to more seductive opportunities in California.

The motivation for her mission is her continued grief at the death of her comrade Daniel, who took his own life a year before the series began. In addition to their interactions with several colorful adults on the reservation, the dogs also battle a rival group – known as the NDN Mafia – who gunned them down in a paintball drive-by shooting.

As season two begins, the Dogs are fragmented – Elora Danan has headed to California after forging an uneasy truce with NDN leader Jackie (Elva Guerra), while the others continue to try to make the best of it on the reservation.

“In the first season, the dogs deal with the loss of Daniel, while the second season sees them working on their relationship,” Harjo said.

When asked what he thinks audiences respond to on the show, Harjo said that different viewers are drawn to different elements. “For non-locals, it’s captivating,” he said. “It puts you in a world you never knew existed. That’s good storytelling. And the aborigines see themselves for the first time. It is a true representation. There have been so many misrepresentations of ourselves.”

The humor and chemistry of the cast also draws audiences. Most of the actors had never met before the project began, but still felt connected.

“We all liked each other right away,” said Woon-A-Tai. “When we were all in LA for the final callbacks, it didn’t even feel like we were competing. Also, you throw 10 Indigenous teenagers in a room together and we’re all going to tell jokes and s—”

The success of Reservation Dogs has made Harjo optimistic about the future of Native Americans in Hollywood.

“This culture is literally the longest culture that’s been in this country, so there are so many stories,” he said. “This show opened everyone’s minds. If you let indigenous people tell their stories, there is no end to where they can go.”

‘Reservation Dogs’

Where: Hi

When: At any time

Valuation: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under 17)

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-08-03/reservation-dogs-season-2-cast-hulu-fx Inside the ‘surreal’ journey to ‘Reservation Dogs’ Season 2

Sarah Ridley

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