31 Pilots in 31 Days: Reservation Dogs

When it was originally on: 2021-present

Original network: Hulu (One of those “FX presents” ones though)

Where you can stream it now: Hulu

Had I seen it before: No.

What IMDb says: Comedy series about four Native American teenagers growing up on a reservation in eastern Oklahoma.

Why I picked it: I always love to include shows that are critical darlings that haven’t quite taken the world by storm quite yet. Reservation Dogs fits that bill, and it’s one I’ve been meaning to get to anyway. It’s also a show about Native Americans that is *gasp* actually created by Native Americans, and that’s awesome, especially since I reviewed Yellowstone yesterday and let’s just say that pilot might’ve benefitted from a Native American perspective in the writers’ room.

What I liked: I did not realize coming into this that the squad of “reservation dogs” in question is actually a gang of criminals, “the best thieves in town” to be exact. I love this premise. “Morally conflicted criminal anti-heros caught up in a turf war… but make them teenagers” is one of those ideas that’s so brilliant you wonder why no one did it sooner. And by the end of this first episode, we certainly have moral conflict as well as a budding turf war.

Throughout the pilot, we also get a nice mix of internal and external conflicts. At one point, our band of rapscallions is pummeled with paintballs, and we learn later that this was a squad of white kids who are new to the neighborhood who want to establish dominance. While one of our leads, Elora, is eager to leave for California as soon as the Dogs can save enough money, Bear ends the episode insisting that the reservation is worth fighting for, and that he let won’t these new people drive him out. Bear is also conflicted about whether or not their crimes are really justified, while Elora argues that they’re just a necessary means for survival. You can see where both of these characters are coming from, but ultimately they’re on the same side. It’ll be interesting to watch how The Dogs handle infighting amongst themselves while still standing united against others when they need to.

I think the pilot also gives us just the right amount of information about the Dogs’ fallen friend, Daniel. Clearly this death has shaped all the friends in huge ways, but we don’t really spend that much time talking about it which actually felt far more true to life. We don’t know how Daniel died, but we do know Elora blames “this shitty place” for the death, and it’s hard to tell how literal we should take that. We all know a good pilot needs some unresolved questions that leave us wanting more, and the Daniel story is a shining example of that without taking too much screen time away from our main plot lines.

There’s also a really funny scene where Bear receives guidance from some kind of imagined spirit of a fallen indigenous person; a Ghost of Turf Wars Past if you will. It’s a great parody of Native American stereotypes, yet it’s contained enough that the show doesn’t feel like a farce either. Crossing my fingers that show continues to find its own ways of being snarky while staying fairly grounded and focused. (In other words… go Taika Waititi without going full Taika Waititi if that makes sense.)

What I didn’t like: I wish there was a little more separating our four central characters from each other. Two of the four still just seem like people who happen to be sitting there while Elora and Bear are having a scene rather than active participants in the story. Plenty of time for that to change though.

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: So yes… but I don’t know how much of that is the pilot and how much of that is the buzz this show got. The pilot certainly shows promise, but definitely falls into the “has potential” category for me rather than the “Alrighty, I’m sold” category.

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