A small town in the Northeast is turned upside down when local legend and town namesake, Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) fights the moving of a historical statue.A small town in the Northeast is turned upside down when local legend and town namesake, Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) fights the moving of a historical statue.A small town in the Northeast is turned upside down when local legend and town namesake, Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) fights the moving of a historical statue.
I'm writing this as a Native who originally picked this up because this is the first major sitcom featuring a Native main character. In movies and tv, where Natives only have just 0.04% representaion, I was surprised to hear a series that will have a large Native cast and the largest Native writing staff in a big-name comedy show. It had my interest, and in the end, blew my expectations out of the water.
Yes, this is a show that is centered on systemic racism. Yes, this episode often has caricatures to drive the satire forward. Yes, this series, if you're not a minority, you might get on a defense about some of the comments they make through this series.
I enjoy Schur's past work. The Good Place remains as one of my favorite series out there, and I adore Parks and Rec. I feel this show falls very similar to the latter. You have characters that are very strong and intelligent, but they are not perfect.
Ed Helm's character, Nathan, plays on someone who is a supporter for equality. But often doesn't recognize when he lives in a bubble. He is passionate about his family's history, so much so he made it his life's goal to teach about it. Whenever it's challenge he meets it with hostility. The city wants to move a historical statue? He makes a fight against it, despite it being a repeated safety hazard and is hated by most of the town. He learns some uncomfortable truths about his family's history? He purposely dismisses or ignores it in favor of the version he likes better.
Native characters Reagan and Terry are by no means pure characters either. Both want to fight for the benefit of their tribe. But both have conflicting ideas that often are at war with one another. Terry believes money will help the Nation, and regularly exploits his identity and culture to achieve that. He worked hard surviving in a dog eat dog system, and has grew to be underhanded for what he believes is a greater purpose. He often has resentment towards the white demographic that has succeed off an unbalanced system. Showing that racism is not just a one-way street.
Reagan is not a pure character either. She worked hard to get two master degrees in hopes of opening her own museum. Her friend, Nathan, was handed the museum while she is left museum less and resented by the community. Her character explores the internal conflictions of Natives, where there is always the groups of Natives that make you question, "Do I deserve to fight for my people?". She is often at odds with herself, and regularly needs to be shown that, despite her strong will and intelligence, needs put her ego aside and learn from others.
I don't think I've ever seen a show that has really captured some of the most significant problems in Native culture so well. It brings a lot of uncomfortable truths forward that encourage a deep discussion. My spouse is non-native, and the episode where Nathan and Reagan were conflicted about awarding a non-native student for his pandering video on Natives pressed us to pause the show and discuss at length about it.
That's what a lot of these episodes ended up sparking. With each episode, character, and problem, it led to a discussion about the situation. I rarely have seen a show that has been able to execute this while filling me with laughs.
Lastly, the comedy I really appreciate. There are some jokes there that were obviously made with a Native audience in mind. I've introduced this show to my dad who told me he was joyfully rioting in jokes. He loved the truth in jokes like "Why wasn't there a statue for the chief?" and the Native museum barren of exhibits.
Some of the stuff in the last few episodes were admittedly too on the nose. This show served to be a show not tell for 80% of their points, but the last bit were met with explaining them. Things like about how we're a group of people, not a monolith. Or, how the experience is just not going to be understood by everyone no matter how much you try. Things I felt like they did well to show us throughout the series, but for some reason they included them as talking points in the latter episodes.
I really hope for a season 2, and cross my fingers this gets picked up for one. I felt this series was not going to be a show with high viewership like Schur's previous work. Shows about Native people usually aren't, and shows about racial topics is usually met a lot with people not wanting to listen. It's why I recommend if you watch this show, be open minded about it.
There are some harsh realities sprinkled into this sitcom. Ones that may take you away from the usually fantasy of TV. But in our current times, I believe that's where we need to be.
- Apr 26, 2021