Reservation Dogs review: Taika Waititi dives into his meaner side
In January 2015, Eddie Huang was pissed. The chef-turned-TV-personality and author of the narrative Fresh Off the Boat will see his book end up being a nationally transmitted ABC comedy, however in the procedure of making the pilot, he understood he disliked it. He described all this in the pages of New york city Publication, composing a vibrant, arrogant essay about the distinctively unbearable experience of seeing his Taiwanese-Chinese immigrant story being watered down into something tasty for a white American audience.
To Huang, there was something deeply jeopardizing about a program that focused on the convenience of white audiences over the verisimilitude of its characters’ lives, particularly when those characters were based upon his real-life household. While he ended his essay on a favorable note about the historical accomplishment Fresh Off the Boat represented, Huang later on disowned the program on Twitter, keeping in mind that soon after the pilot, the series ended up being about an experience he did not acknowledge.
Fresh Off the Boat ran for 6 seasons, concluding with a series ending that aired in February 2020. At 116 episodes long, it’s the longest-running broadcast series to include a mostly Asian-American cast. Much of those episodes are amusing, however they’re likewise toothless. Among the important things you detect when you’re from a marginalized background is when punches are being pulled for the sake of the viewed bulk. There’s a worry that individuals who have actually taken advantage of the marginalization of others may not have the ability to maintain, so the swimming pool can just be so deep.
Appointment Pet Dogs doesn’t have that worry. Developed by Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo, the brand-new FX on Hulu funny is an abrasive slice-of-life series about 4 Native teens who long to leave their Oklahoma house and produce the sunlight of Los Angeles. However that strategy would cost cash they don’t have. So they take it.
This is our introduction to Elora (Devery Jacobs), Bear (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai), Cheese (Lane Factor) and Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), four rural punks recklessly stealing a snack delivery truck so they can sell it to a junkyard. As a gang (the eponymous Reservation Dogs), they get into fistfights and paintball shootouts with other gangs, take groceries, and shamelessly do whatever they can to add a few extra dollars to their escape fund. They feel like a version of Scooby-Doo’s mystery-solving gang, but meaner.
Later in the pilot, the audience discovers what gives them this sense of urgency: It’s the one-year anniversary of their friend Daniel’s death, and they blame their hometown for killing him. Their California dream was originally his.
It isn’t hard to see why a bunch of teenagers would think their small Oklahoma town has it in for them. Appointment Pet dogs’ vision of the Indigenous neighborhoods of Okmulgee is a stark one, bound by poverty and institutional neglect. Battered buildings are losing a slow war against the weedy overgrowth, legitimate ways to make a living are few and far between, and the local clinic is overcrowded and seemingly staffed by one overworked and condescending doctor. There are few things as bleak as standing under a sky so big, unable to see the sun.
But there’s whimsy throughout the show. A pair of bicycling rappers are forever trying out new songs. One cop knows what the Rez Dogs are up to, however is seemingly unwilling to actually punish them for it, even as they antagonize him. And Bear has strange visions of a spirit guide that visits him from time to time, only to give him the most questionable advice.
Reservation Dogs is a surreal mashup of tough-edged cynicism and deep longing, one that has a kinship with other stories about marginalized people struggling in the shadow of white folks who nowhere in sight: Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar or HBO’s Los Espookys come to mind. The series’ humor is goofy, but also mean — not in its characterization, but in its setting, bearing down on the harshness of a life on the margins.
In a way, it’s the sort of show that Fresh Off the Boat could never be, in spite of Eddie Huang’s best efforts. Whiteness has a way of centering itself: Even when stories aren’t centered on white people, they’re still largely considered a key part of what’s considered a “general audience.”
Sterlin Harjo and the writers of Appointment Pet Dogs don’t come across as interested in translating their worldview for anyone. It’s on the audience to do the work of understanding the series’ portrayal of the Native experience, and placing it in context. Like a lot of great art, Reservation Pet dogs challenges its audience with wit and style to look in spaces that have long been ignored, and identify with experiences that are outside their own. Its Indigenous representation isn’t cloying nor self-important — instead, it’s refreshingly indifferent — another work to point to in a growing body of shows about the marginalized, one that will soon be so large that perhaps we will finally consider it a crime that the so-called margins could ever be this vast.
The first two episodes of Appointment Pet Dogs are now streaming on Hulu. New episodes premiere on Mondays.
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.