The general approach when creating a television program is to find a way to reach the broadest audience possible. Luring more eyes on a production translates into a higher probability of success.
“Reservation Dogs,” the FX series that follows four Indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma, has taken the opposite approach. The second season has just launched on Hulu. Series star and writer Devery Jacobs suggests that what has made the show one of the biggest success stories in the cable channel’s history is that there is universality in its specificity.
“This couldn’t be this show without it being from a Native community. It’s so ingrained into the DNA of who we are and the stories that we tell, this couldn’t happen anywhere else,” Jacobs says. “This couldn’t be from a different community.
“But then, again, through its specificity, people are really able to relate to, oftentimes, the comedy. When faced with marginalization, many communities can relate to that. But it’s like it’s with our brand of it. It’s our flavor of it, where we come from that, I think, has made it such a special project.”
The first season of “Reservation Dogs” was special enough to be included on more than 80 television critics’ year‑end best lists. It picked up a Peabody Award, Gotham Award, Independent Spirit Award and an AFI Award. The series was one of seven programs recognized in 2022 by the Television Academy as part of its 15th Television Academy Honors, showcasing exceptional television programs and their producers who have leveraged the power of television to fuel social change.
What has garnered such attention is a history-making series where every writer, director and series regular is Indigenous. Co-Creators and Executive Producers Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi have created a half-hour comedy that follows the exploits of “Elora Danan” (Devery Jacobs), “Bear Smallhill” (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), “Willie Jack” (Paulina Alexis) and “Cheese” (Lane Factor).
After the death of the fifth member of the Reservation Dogs, the crew took to stealing, scheming and saving in order to vicariously fulfill his dream of reaching the exotic, mysterious and faraway land of California. After a promising start to their criminal endeavors, the plan went bust. The gang disbanded, with everyone trying to forge their own paths.
The creative team didn’t want the second season to be a rehashing of the first. That’s why instead of the four friends being together, season two begins with each one in a different place.
Harjo says, “I wanted it to feel disjointed. So, I felt like they needed to be in a different place altogether, individually, you know, mentally, and even physically.”
The series that is filmed on location in Okmulgee, OK, has curses and catfish, dance numbers and trust falls, decent people, terrible people and a variety of supporting characters. Because every writer, director and series regular on the show is Indigenous, the series directly reflects their lived experiences.
Harjo agrees with Jacob that the specificity is what makes it universal.
“I think that non-Natives recognize through the show’s DNA that it’s truthful and they also aren’t used to the world, so they lean in a little bit more to it. There’s so many Easter eggs for Native audiences in the show,” Harjo says. “There is so much subtle humor that only Native audiences or people familiar with Native audiences would get. And sometimes that humor still translates over.
“I think that everyone that responds to humor in the same way. I think at a certain point, everybody’s really responding to the heart of the show, and I think that’s across the board. There’s no cynicism when it comes to this show. It’s made with love, and I think there is a heart that runs through this show that I think all audiences respond to.”
One of the themes that resonates the loudest is having to make the decision of whether to stay in the community where you were born or move on to other worlds. Jacobs understands that scenario well. She was born in Kahnawake, Mohawk territory, which is where her entire family still lives.
Unlike her character, she never wanted to leave but knew she needed to move away from home to pursue a career as an actor, writer and filmmaker. Jacobs left to establish her career but eventually moved back to Mohawk territory in Canada.
“It’s also really important for me to get back whenever I can and to stay connected because it’s so much of who I am,” Jacobs says. “All of the writers – and also, Lane and Paulina and D’Pharaoh – all have our own experiences of what home means, where we come from and our connections to community.”
The first two episodes of the second season of “Reservation Dogs” will be available on Hulu Aug. 3. The remaining eight episodes produced by FX for exclusive showing on the streaming service will drop weekly on Wednesdays.