The Peacock sitcom “Rutherford Falls” has taken the television landscape by storm. Beyond its timely topic of a conflict over a historical statue in a small town, the show stands out for several noteworthy reasons. Firstly, it is the brainchild of Mike Schur, the mastermind behind hit TV shows like “The Office,” “Parks and Rec,” and “The Good Place.” Secondly, it marks the return of Ed Helms to TV, who co-created the show alongside Schur. However, what truly sets “Rutherford Falls” apart is its focus on Native American characters, the largest Indigenous writers room in television, and the groundbreaking presence of Sierra Teller Ornelas, TV’s first Native American showrunner. And let’s not forget, the show is just plain good.
In “Rutherford Falls,” Ed Helms portrays Nathan Rutherford, the direct descendant of the town’s founder, whose entire identity is intertwined with the myth of his family’s history. Jana Schmieding, who also writes for the show, plays his best friend Reagan, a member of the fictional Minishonka Nation, working to regain her community’s favor after leaving a groom at the altar. She now manages an underappreciated cultural center inside the local casino owned by Terry, played by Michael Greyeyes, a determined businessman prioritizing the welfare of his people. When Nathan discovers plans to relocate his ancestor’s statue from the town square, his protest catches the attention of Josh, an NPR podcaster played by Dustin Milligan, who arrives in town to report the story.
The show’s quality immediately grabs the viewer’s attention. The humor is exceptionally smart, leaving a lasting impression with its sharp jokes, well-crafted story arcs, and character development. The humor seamlessly intertwines with unapologetic and inclusive storytelling, creating a refreshing and engaging narrative.
Addressing the representation of Native Americans in the media, “Rutherford Falls” tackles complex issues with finesse. It highlights the shared experiences and struggles of different Native cultures, acknowledging that while they are not a monolith, there are commonalities in their histories of erasure and assimilation. The show masterfully captures the nuanced conversations surrounding Native identity, such as the use of the word “Indian.” By addressing these topics and educating non-Native audiences, “Rutherford Falls” strikes a balance between inclusivity and representation, which is essential in a society with limited Native media representation.
The show’s success lies in its ability to explore serious topics while maintaining a comedic edge. It skillfully navigates the fine line between tragedy and humor, something Native communities have been doing for centuries. The representation of Native people on television has historically been sparse and, often, misrepresentative. However, “Rutherford Falls” breaks this mold by showcasing a diverse range of Native characters living in the present day, engaging in everyday activities, and reflecting the vibrancy of Native communities.
One of the standout characters on the show is Terry, portrayed by Michael Greyeyes. He captivates the audience and elevates the series with his nuanced performance. In a memorable episode focused on Terry, the show delves into his background and showcases his strength and determination to fight for his nation’s rights. The powerful moment where Terry turns off the recorder during an interview and candidly confronts the ignorance he faces as a Native person resonates deeply. It speaks to the hidden rage and the ongoing battle Native people experience when trying to assert their rights and share their stories. Michael Greyeyes brings authenticity and depth to the role, making Terry an unforgettable character.
“Rutherford Falls” is a breakthrough in Native representation, offering validation and empowerment to Native communities. It dispels stereotypes, celebrates Native excellence, and showcases the multifaceted nature of Indigenous cultures. The impact of seeing oneself on screen cannot be underestimated, and “Rutherford Falls” paves the way for a new era of Native media representation.
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