Unlikely hit ‘Reservation Dogs’ about Native kids in Oklahoma ends after three seasons
The ground-shaking series, an unlikely hit about Native kids in Oklahoma, started with a suicide and ended with a funeral, but in between were all the cycles of life, some of it alien. The finale aired Sept. 27 on Hulu. Spoilers ahead.
Created by Sterlin Harjo, Seminole and Muscogee, and Taika Watiti, Maori, the show makes room for warrior spirits, UFOs, red-eyed creatures in the woods, avenging Deer Lady, and ancestors dressed in Seminole rickrack that hang out in prisons.
It featured a stellar cast of actors — Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), Elora Danan (Devery Jacobs), Bear Smallhill (D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai), and Cheese (Lane Factor) — and some of the top Indigenous actors in the business – Wes Studi, Cherokee, Gary Farmer, Cayuga, Graham Greene, Oneida, and Zahn McClarnon, Hunkpapa.
After its first season, “Reservation Dogs” won a 2022 Peabody award, 2022 Television Academy Honors award, 2022 Independent Spirit Award for Best Comedy Series, was an American Film Institute Awards Honoree, and won Best Breakthrough Series at the 2021 Gotham Awards and is Emmy nominated.
“We had a little screening of the finale with the Muscogee Creek Nation here,” Harjo told ICT by phone Sept. 28. “We showed it to some community members, so I watched it there with them. There were a lot of tears. The funeral of Fixico seemed to be a better way to go, though.”
“I think the funeral is beautiful because it's the illustration of how community works. I wanted to show that in the show, not talk about it so much, have it play out in front of you. And you know, everything you see in the series family is exactly what we do when someone passes. So yeah, I just wanted to share that bit of reality, but also show how community works and taking care of community being enacted out by the characters.”
Along this madcap journey rez style, Harjo had big fun with his famous actors – McClarnon as Officer Big is drugged, choked by hot sauce, and seduced by Bev, played by Jana Schmieding, Cheyenne River Lakota.
Pothead Gary Farmer as Uncle Brownie is stripped naked, echoing back to his role in “Powwow Highway.”
“Of course, he's got to be naked,” Harjo said “It's a great process to get Gary Farmer naked in our projects. It was his idea. He’s a free man.”
Studi’s Bucky character drugs fish, makes pipe cleaner critters and dances at funerals.
Favorite rez snack Flaming Flamers turned out to be the departed Medicine Man Fixico in spirit, in a powerful opening prison scene with Lily Gladstone, Blackfeet, as Aunt Hokti.
“Yes, I think it's her first time,’ Harjo said. “She was perfect.”
“As for the future of the characters, you know, I'd love to bring them back,” Harjo said. “I think that we needed to end this story. I could easily reset things later and come at a different time. And I think that that's very possible for these characters. I've been developing things. I have other shows, I've been teaching film, there's a lot coming down the pipe.”
Currently, Harjo’s series “Poster Girls,” which he co-wrote with bestselling novelist Jonathan Lee, is in development with FX Productions. Paramount+ recently acquired his series “Yellowbird,” which he is co-creating with Erica Tremblay and is based on Sierra Crane Murdoch’s novel of the same name. LeBron James’s company, SpringHill, is producing “Rezball” (Netflix), a series Harjo co-wrote with Sydney Freeland. Harjo has several other projects in development.
Over his career, Harjo has created and directed five feature films: three narrative dramas and two documentaries. His most recent feature, “Love and Fury," is a documentary chronicling the work and intersection of over a dozen contemporary Native American artists. “Love and Fury” was acquired by Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY and released on Netflix in December 2021. The film premiered at the 2021 Hot Docs International Documentary Festival and was an official selection of the Seattle International Film Festival, Virginia Film Festival and DeadCenter Film Festival.
Harjo’s first feature film, “Four Sheets to the Wind,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007 and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. His feature documentary, “This May Be the Last Time,” premiered at Sundance in 2014. His most recent narrative feature, “Mekko,” premiered at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival and had its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Each of his films is set in Oklahoma and addresses contemporary Indigenous experiences.
A founding member of the Native sketch comedy troupe, the 1491s, who perform live and is on YouTube, Harjo co-wrote the group’s play, “Between Two Knees,” an intergenerational comedic love story/musical set against the backdrop of true events in Native American history. “Between Two Knees” was commissioned in 2018/2019 by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and New Native Theater. In 2022, it completed a run at Yale Repertory Theater.
Still, ending “Reservation Dogs” is a hard one.
“Through tears, I tried to write a hundred things about this journey,” Harjo wrote on Instagram. “It’s very hard to capture the love that surrounded me the last three years. We made this show with so much love. Not everyone gets a chance to make something like this, with as much meaning and heart. We put our souls into it and that’s what you feel every time you watch it. It’s unspoken, it’s palpable, you can’t touch it, but you feel it. That’s the love that every actor, writer, producer and crew member put into this show.
“Thank you all for being there with us, thank you for the messages, the memes, and all the love in return. It means the world to us. Thank you to everyone that wrote me and told me it helped you or a family member get through a dark time. This show and its love will always be there for you. I hope you carry it with you. It’s bittersweet. I know our ancestors had a hand in the making of this, that I have no doubt in. I know we made them proud. Mvto for the best ride of my life. I’ll never forget. To the crew and actors- I love you and will never forget you. All of you. I hope we do it again. That love will go on like that forever.“