The brilliant Indigenous sitcom has a bounty of wit and heart in its many dialogues.
Warning! Adult Content!
With the recent announcement that Hulu has green-lighted a third season for the hit Peabody-winning series Reservation Dogs, fans of the sophisticated show are rejoicing. Creators Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi crafted a brilliant dramedy focused on four friends coming of age on an Oklahoma Indian Reservation.
The all-Indigenous cast and crew have showcased Native representation through humor rather than standard Hollywood tropes with wild success and have offered some of the most hilarious and poignant sitcom scenes in recent television history.
In the season two finale, the Rez Dogs hash through enough of their recent falling out to take on a collective mission to get Elora's grandmother's impounded car out of the junkyard so they can finally head out to California together. Their newfound motivation is prompted by a time capsule letter written by their deceased comrade Daniel.
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Impound lot boss Kenny Boy (Kirk Fox) catches Elora and Jackie in the act, but he lets them take it, having a new perspective on life after a recent acid trip shared with fellow series regular Big (Zahn McClarnon).
One of season one's longer lasting repercussions involved Willie Jack's enlistment of a local 'white wizard' to put a curse on Jackie for giving the go-ahead to her NSN Mafia crew to beat up Bear. After the tornado hits at the end of the first season, Willie Jack has second thoughts, remembering Brownie told them not to mess with bad medicine.
She seeks out the man who took the lock of hair from her, who tells her it wasn't really him, it was her. Naturally Willie Jack proceeds to razz him with this hilarious rejoinder, resulting in one of the imminently likable character's best lines.
Dallas Goldtooth, a respected character actor also appearing in the CBS sitcom Ghosts, renders the character of William Knifeman in exquisite comedic form. He became a fan favorite early on for his irreverent portrayal of an otherworldly shaman who turns the stereotypical Hollywood portrayal of the Indigenous medicine man on its whitewashed head.
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A clear purveyor of dirty jokes, in episode eight of season one Spirit informs Bear he might be interested to know Bear has some colonizers in his family line, including his great-grandmother Susie who apparently wasn't shy with her oppressors.
The longtime activist and Indigenous actor-musician Wes Studi has been a prominent face throughout the last several decades of modern cinema, appearing in such seminal films as Dances With Wolves, The Last of the Mohicans, Heat, and he's currently showcased both in Reservation Dogs as iconic Indigenous character Bucky and in the newly released Spirit Rangers as the voice of Sunny.
Depicting a man both down on his luck and having the wisdom of ages, his friendly rivalry with Gary Farmer's Brownie has been one of the series' most amusing dynamics, shown most epically as they team up to try and break Willie Jack's supposed curse via a Tom Petty song.
It's become clear in Reservation Dogs' first two seasons that primary comic relief tends to fall to Gary Farmer's Brownie and Paulina Alexis' Willie Jack. Their characters enjoy a greater portion of funniest one-liners, whether they're playing off the ensemble or having a solo moment pondering the nature of their existence, each actor impressively toeing a fine line between Native pride and human vulnerabilities.
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While the four Rez Dog teens occasionally seek out the questionably sage advice of Uncle Brownie at their own peril, it's interesting to note the frequency in which fast food Sonic chain product placement occurs, as their locations are often found perhaps not so coincidentally near low income communities.
There's more than a few allusions in Reservation Dogs to the classic high fantasy movie Willow. Dr. Kang, played by MAD TV's Bobby Lee, gets off the best zinger toward Elora, who's literally named after the baby in Willow because her mother was a fan. Junkyard boss Kenny Boy gives a lauded shout-out to 'the Ron Howard joint' and he wears a shirt patch that says 'Burglekutt's Salvage', a clear reference to one of Willow's characters.
Willow's deuteragonist Madmartigan is also referenced, and the near-twin actors and Christian rap duo Lil Mike and Funny Bone show up not long after Kenny Boy talks about the twin babies that played Willow's infant princess.
This groundbreaking season two episode spotlighting the aunties of Reservation Dogs was a genius examination of modern Indigenous sisterhood. The episode's main storyline follows Rita, Bev, Teenie, and Natalie to an Indian Health Services Conference, where they proceed to paint the town red, looking to 'snag' (casually hook up with someone they'll definitely see in the future), steam Rita's 'biska,' and engage in an edible-induced hallucinatory dance sequence.
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What's truly magnificent is the manner in which it shreds the pop-cultural fetishized bias of what it means to be a Native woman.
Along with fellow Native show Rutherford Falls, Reservation Dogs manages one of the great firsts in Native representation in modern TV shows. It tells Native stories without falling back on the reductionist tripe Hollywood has historically reserved for Indigenous peoples. The series' prolific use of genuine Native American ('NDN') slang gives it an authentic feel to Native viewers, which sometimes has non-Native viewers playing catchup.
That's all for the better, as proper incorporation of marginalized peoples within entertainment industries has a necessary learning curve. Willie Jack of course is the banner bearer of Native identity slang phrases such as 'stoodis' (let's do this) and 'skoden' (let's go then).
The full quote is, "Ah yes, that old Indian saying that 'I'm here. That should be good enough. You should know exactly how I feel without me even saying anything.' Hey, listen up, little fucker. I'm trying to give you some ancestor teachings here. All the ways back in my day, when I was a young warrior on the plains, I once had an engorged testicle. Fucker was about the size of a cantaloupe. And I didn't talk about my pain. I swallowed it, and it got worse and worse. And my friends, they didn't say nothing about it because we didn't communicate with each other. And then, that testicle was the first part of me to go on to the spirit world…my point is, your friend in there, she's got that testicle pain, that pain in her heart. Her heart nard."
A list of ten best quotes from Reservation Dogs could've been compiled entirely from season two's fourth episode 'Mabel,' wherein star Kawennahere Devery Jacobs wields her considerable talents both as actress and co-writer. A definitive exploration of nearly the entire cast and their respective places within the reservation community, the main storyline follows Elora's reaction to losing her grandmother after the premature deaths of her friend Daniel and her mother Cookie.
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Spirit offers a brief respite from the austerity of the authentically rendered Indigenous funerary rites of passage with a humorous yet instructive exchange with Bear who's still struggling to reconcile with Elora.
It's highly unlikely there's a more outstanding sequence of acting chops throughout Reservation Dogs to date than Kawennahere Devery Jacobs' breakdown at the outset of her grandmother Mabel's funeral. After all Elora has been through, with Daniel's suicide and Cookie's death, her Californian dreams seemingly kaput, and then her grandmother succumbing to the ravages of age, she was bound to crack.
Yet when Mabel makes a quick pit stop to chat with her granddaughter before heading off into the spirit world, instead of reverting to typically rendered Indigenous spiritual tropes, Mabel is still her wisecracking, ordinary self as a spirit, perfectly fitting in with the Indigenous humanization of the entire show.
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Alex is a entertainment journalist, an acclaimed novelist, and is most often found wandering the wastelands of Southern California fending off mutant hordes with his doggie sidekick.