Reservation Dogs
Genre
Created by
Starring
ComposerMato Wayuhi
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons3
No. of episodes28
Production
Executive producers
ProducerKathryn Dean
Production locationOklahoma
Cinematography
  • Mark Schwartzbard
  • Christian Sprenger
Running time22–38 minutes
Production companies
Original release
NetworkFX on Hulu
ReleaseAugust 9, 2021 (2021-08-09) –
September 27, 2023 (2023-09-27)

Reservation Dogs is an American comedy-drama television series created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi for FX Productions. It follows the lives of four Indigenous teenagers in rural Oklahoma, as they spend their days hanging out and committing crimes to earn enough money to leave their reservation community.

It is the first American series to feature all Indigenous writers and directors, along with an almost entirely Indigenous North American cast and crew.[1][2][3] The first season was filmed entirely in Oklahoma, a first for a series.[1][4] The series premiered on Hulu under FX on Hulu branding[5] on August 9, 2021[6] (International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples).[7] It was renewed for a second season in 2021[8] and a third and final season in 2022,[9] which premiered on August 2, 2023.[10] The series concluded on September 27, 2023.

Reservation Dogs received widespread critical acclaim and numerous accolades, including a Peabody Award and two Independent Spirit Awards, and has been nominated for one Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Award, one Golden Globe, two Television Critics Association Awards, and five Critics' Choice Television Awards. Additionally, it was named one of the best series of 2021 and 2022 by many critics,[11][12] and consecutively listed as one of the ten best television programs of 2021, 2022, and 2023 by the American Film Institute.[13][14][15]

Premise

The series follows the lives of four Indigenous teenagers (the Rez Dogs) in rural Oklahoma, in a small town in the Muscogee Nation,[16] where they spend their days "committing crime and fighting it." Their friend Daniel, who dreamed of moving to California, died one year before the events of the show. As the Rez Dogs grapple with his death, they contemplate whether to make the trip to California themselves. They each need to address unresolved issues in their lives and community and make plans to leave.[17]

In Season 2, the Rez Dogs are still experiencing grief over Daniel's death and have lost some of their connection to each other. The "California dream" does not turn out as they expected, resulting in more feelings of disappointment and abandonment. They cope using humor but also increasingly face adult challenges. Financial and family responsibilities arise as they continue to try to figure out their lives.[18]

Season 3 explores the history of the elders in the community and how the events and choices of their youth led to their present day lives. Parallels are drawn between the Rez Dogs and the younger selves of the aunties, uncles and grandparents.[19]

Cast and characters

Main

Recurring

Guest

Episodes

SeasonEpisodesOriginally released
First releasedLast released
18August 9, 2021 (2021-08-09)September 20, 2021 (2021-09-20)
210August 3, 2022 (2022-08-03)September 28, 2022 (2022-09-28)
310August 2, 2023 (2023-08-02)September 27, 2023 (2023-09-27)

Season 1 (2021)

No.
overall
No. in
season
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal release date
11"F*ckin' Rez Dogs"Sterlin HarjoSterlin Harjo & Taika WaititiAugust 9, 2021 (2021-08-09)
Elora Danan, Bear, Willie Jack, and Cheese (the Rez Dogs) steal a delivery truck and sell it. They are trying to raise money to leave their small reservation community and escape to California. They are mourning their friend Daniel who died a year earlier and hold a small memorial for him. When a car full of teenagers (the NDN Mafia) drives by and shoots paintballs at the Rez Dogs, Bear faints and encounters an Indigenous spirit on a horse, William Knifeman (who died awkwardly at the Battle of the Little Bighorn), who attempts to give him life advice.
22"NDN Clinic"Sydney FreelandSterlin HarjoAugust 9, 2021 (2021-08-09)
Bear gets beaten up by the NDN Mafia, necessitating a visit to the local IHS clinic. Elora and Willie Jack set up a table outside the clinic to sell meat pies next to Old Man Fixico, who is selling traditional medicines. Cheese is kind to an old woman, Irene, who thinks he is her grandson. William Knifeman, the spirit guide, has issues. The local doctor flirts with Bear's mom, who works at the clinic.
33"Uncle Brownie"Blackhorse LoweSterlin HarjoAugust 16, 2021 (2021-08-16)
Still concerned about the attacks by the NDN Mafia, the Rez Dogs go to find Elora's uncle, Brownie, to see if he will teach them to fight. Brownie is infamous for having knocked out numerous people in a bar fight. They spend the day trying to help Brownie sell his ancient marijuana, and learn "Indigenous-style" about his ways of fighting.
44"What About Your Dad"Sydney FreelandBobby Wilson & Tommy PicoAugust 23, 2021 (2021-08-23)
Bear's dad, a rapper who goes by the name Punkin Lusty, is hired to perform at the local IHS clinic's Diabetes Awareness Frybread Feast. Clinton is obsessed with Punkin's frybread song and will not stop singing it. Bear spends the California fund buying him a gift made by Auntie B—a beaded medallion of a microphone that strongly resembles a penis. As Rita sadly expects, Punkin calls Bear the day of the show and cancels. Elora is approached by Jackie, leader of the NDN Mafia, about joining their gang. After Bear spends the fund, Elora starts to consider Jackie's offer.
55"Come and Get Your Love"Blackhorse LoweSterlin HarjoAugust 30, 2021 (2021-08-30)
Cheese spends a day on a ride-along with Big. Along the way, they meet Bucky, who makes sculptures from stolen copper. Big gets teased by the white police officers. The NDN Mafia get busted for stealing a car. Big tells Cheese why he became a cop, which involves events in his childhood and encounters with the Deer Lady, who has been a presence in his life since he was a child.
66"Hunting"Sterlin HarjoSterlin HarjoSeptember 6, 2021 (2021-09-06)
Willie Jack and her father, Leon, get up early and go hunting. They spend a day in the woods together, hunting deer and grappling with their grief over the death of Daniel a year earlier.
77"California Dreamin'"Tazbah ChavezTazbah ChavezSeptember 13, 2021 (2021-09-13)
Elora takes her driver's test, after three previous failures. Her instructor turns out to be her former basketball coach. Instead of completing the test, her instructor takes her on a wild ride. She drives them away from a shootout in which he was involved. He reveals that he was friends with Elora's parents, and tells Elora that her mother gave him an Indian name. He reveals more details of Cookie's death, and they both mourn her. In gratitude, Elora tells him what his "Indian name" means. In a flashback, we see Daniel with the Rez Dogs and discover how he died.
88"Satvrday"Sterlin HarjoMigizi PensoneauSeptember 20, 2021 (2021-09-20)
As the Rez Dogs prepare to leave for California, a tornado approaches. Most of the community takes shelter in the church basement, but Uncle Brownie rides through the streets, looking for the right tools to divert the tornado. Bear's guiding spirit, William Knifeman, appears again, to ask Bear whether he has completed all the tasks he needs to before leaving town. Together in the church, members of the community, including the Rez Dogs and the NDN Mafia, talk to each other and make key decisions about their future.

Season 2 (2022)

No.
overall
No. in
season
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal release date
91"The Curse"Sterlin HarjoSterlin Harjo & Dallas Goldtooth & Ryan RedCornAugust 3, 2022 (2022-08-03)
The gang is scattered, with Elora and Jackie on the road to California and the others in various places around the reservation. Willie Jack blames herself for their troubles because she gave Jackie's hair to a white man in a bar so that he could put a curse on Jackie. Uncle Brownie and others tell her that she used bad medicine and it has come back on her, bringing them all misfortune. She and Cheese set out to gather the items and knowledge to reverse the curse. Uncle Brownie has been changed by the tornado ceremony. For a while he wanders naked, thinking he's an invisible spirit or a holy man, because he can see William "Spirit" Knifeman. Knifeman tells him that he is not a holy man. Elora and Jackie break down on the side of the road and catch a ride with a creepy traveling salesman. After he turns onto a dirt road, the frightened girls attack him and get away but leave their bags and money in his car. They try to steal a vehicle from a homestead and get chased by gun-waving rednecks in a truck.
102"Run"Sterlin HarjoSterlin Harjo & Dallas Goldtooth & Ryan RedCornAugust 3, 2022 (2022-08-03)
Elora and Jackie narrowly escape being caught by the rednecks and continue on their way. They are spotted by a friendly white woman, who invites them to her house, feeds them and puts them up for the night. After nightfall the girls steal her truck and head home. Back on the reservation, Willie Jack manages to obtain several items that belonged to Jackie and she, Cheese, Uncle Brownie, and Bucky head down to the river to break free of the curse. William Knifeman (only visible to Uncle Brownie) arrives to sing with them, then announces that they have vanquished the curse, as long as they treat each other well in the future. Bear skulks around town, trying to find a job.
113"Roofing"Erica TremblaySterlin Harjo & Chad CharlieAugust 10, 2022 (2022-08-10)
Bear gets a job working on a small roofing crew with three other men and is surprised to find out that Daniel's father is one of the crew. The workers tease him but he eventually shares an intimate conversation with Daniel's father, who is also full of regret and shame about Daniel's death. Bear is proud to be able to help his mother pay the bills. Elora comes to Bear's window in tears, saying that her grandmother is dying.
124"Mabel"Danis GouletSterlin Harjo & Kawennáhere Devery JacobsAugust 17, 2022 (2022-08-17)
Elora's grandmother, Mabel, is dying. Friends and relatives gather at her bedside to pray and sing in Mvskoke, conduct ceremony, and offer support to Elora. Jackie comes, awkwardly negotiating a setting where she feels unwelcome. Elora's aunt and her friends reminisce about Elora's mother, Cookie, and how their friend group scattered and their lives changed forever after her death. At Elora's request, Cheese leads a prayer. William "Spirit" Knifeman shows up to eat the spirit offerings and wait for Mabel to die so he can take her to "orientation". After Mabel dies, Elora sees her as a spirit.
135"Wide Net"Tazbah ChavezTazbah ChavezAugust 24, 2022 (2022-08-24)
The Aunties, (lifelong friends Bev, Natalie, Rita, and Teenie) go on "the closest thing to a vacation" they get—a wild trip to the yearly Indian Health Service (IHS) conference, where they meet up with Natives from all over the country. They party and set out to make sexual conquests, with variable results. In a flashback, we see them as girls together, before Cookie died, learning a dance they try to recreate on the dance floor at the conference. With his mother out of town, Bear throws a party at home.
146"Decolonativization"Tazbah ChavezErica TremblayAugust 31, 2022 (2022-08-31)
As punishment for throwing the party, Bear's mother makes him attend the Native American Reclamation and Decolonization Symposium Youth Summit (NARDS) at the IHS Clinic. Clinton has hired two online influencers—young people who proceed to talk about themselves, claiming to be a "Young Elder" and a "Matriarch". The duo's claims and mismatched regalia elicit a skeptical response from the audience, many of whom leave. Those who stay—mostly hoping to get free food—are led through exercises that the "influencers" claim are traditional or acts of "decolonization". The exercises resemble corporate-retreat trust-building activities. Bear reaches out to Elora but is disappointed when he sees her with Jackie. Willie Jack continues to reject Jackie, often in painful, personal ways. Other members of the NDN Mafia participate more enthusiastically in the symposium, even pairing with members of the Rez Dogs in trust-building exercises. Bear and Elora grow even more distant.
157"Stay Gold Cheesy Boy"Blackhorse LoweBobby WilsonSeptember 7, 2022 (2022-09-07)
Cheese and Charley are arrested in a raid by Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Cheese does not know why, but the police find cannabis plants in the house.[22] Until his guardianship can be determined, Cheese is sent to a group home run by Gene, who is "awkward, self-centered, incompetent, and, most troubling for Cheese, dedicated to an addiction-recovery plan that involves appropriating random Native American spiritual and cultural practices."[29] Gene forces the Native and Black youth to attend "recovery" circles, despite the fact that, unlike Gene, they are not addicts. Although the environment is stressful and oppressive, Cheese bonds with the other youth, talking openly for the first time about his relationship with Daniel. Jackie, who witnessed the arrests, puts aside her shyness and hurt and goes to tell the Rez Dogs. United in the face of crisis, they come up with a plan to free Cheese. Big arrives to free him from the group home and Irene, the elder he met at the clinic, takes him in as her adopted grandson. Cheese's friends, including Jackie, welcome him home.
168"This is Where the Plot Thickens"Blackhorse LoweBlackhorse Lowe & Sterlin HarjoSeptember 14, 2022 (2022-09-14)
Lighthorseman Big is dispatched to investigate a stolen shipment of catfish. He argues that he should instead investigate a recent bigfoot sighting, but complies with orders and heads to the salvage yard to check on the "methheads" there. Big mistakenly drinks a soda that is laced with strong psychedelics. He has never done drugs and is wracked with guilt. He has vivid hallucinations and re-experiences the traumatic memory of Cookie's death, for which he blames himself. Despite finding Kenny Boy deeply irritating, Big winds up having to rely on him for support, as Kenny is experienced with hallucinogens. They stumble upon masked and robed white supremacists doing a grotesque ritual in the forest, involving a giant owl effigy and sexual penetration of decapitated catfish, while chanting that they are the true owners of Native land. Big and Kenny attempt to arrest them but are assaulted and held captive. Deer Lady arrives and frees them, enabling Big to call for backup. The obscene Catfish cult – which includes the Governor of Oklahoma and other powerful local men – is arrested and exposed in the media. While Big still finds Kenny embarrassing, they form an awkward bond. During the closing credits, a bigfoot meanders across the screen, but an exhausted Big does not notice.
179"Offerings"Sterlin HarjoMigizi PensoneauSeptember 21, 2022 (2022-09-21)
Willie Jack and Bear will soon graduate from high school. Their teacher gives the class letters that they wrote to their future selves when they were freshmen, giving Daniel's letter to Willie Jack. She feels that the Rez Dogs are "in darkness" and not connecting with one another, and seeks advice from Daniel's mother, her auntie Hokti who is in prison. Hokti is a medicine woman who has been neglecting her practice while a cheerful and chatty ancestral spirit, Gram, pesters her to resume. Hokti is bitter, and reluctant to see Willie Jack, who reminds her of Daniel. Eventually she agrees to pray with Willie Jack, and a large group of ancestral spirits appear and gather around them. Willie Jack feels their presence, crying with recognition as Hokti tells her that they "come from generations of medicine people, healers," and that "this is the power we carry." She tells Willie Jack that Willie Jack does not need her, she needs "this" – her people. Hokti also advises her that she cannot help people who do not want help, but Willie Jack is determined to help her friends the way Hokti has helped her. Back at home, Willie Jack tries to lead the Rez Dogs through the same prayer, but it does not work. They are still drifting apart. She gives them Daniel's letter and, as they all read it, they resolve to do something that he had wanted to do.
1810"I Still Believe"Sterlin HarjoTommy PicoSeptember 28, 2022 (2022-09-28)
Daniel's letter indicates that he wanted to drive to California and see the ocean with Bear, Willie Jack, Elora, and Cheese, and that was in love with Elora. The Rez Dogs and Jackie sneak into the salvage yard to steal back Elora's grandmother's car. Kenny catches them but is philosophical about it, stating that they are simply borrowing the car and will pay him back when they can – even if that is in the next life. Kenny tries to relate to them with a quote from Dances with Wolves, but just confuses them. With Elora driving, they go to California, deciding to take Daniel's letter to the ocean. They go into a restaurant in Los Angeles and their car is stolen with all of their money and belongings. White Jesus appears and says he will guide them to the ocean. He leads them to a homeless encampment, where they stop for the night until it is raided by police. At dawn they walk five more miles to the sea. At the water they draw on their experiences of the past season and Willie Jack sings a new version of the song they sang at the river, this time to free them from grief and despair. She asks Cheese to lead a prayer and he speaks powerfully about Daniel. In the water, crying and hugging, Daniel joins them as a spirit and they are united in their love for one another. When they return to the shore, Elora says she needs to return the car to Kenny. Bear tells the others that he is not going back.

Season 3 (2023)

No.
overall
No. in
season
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal release date
191"BUSSIN'"Danis GouletSterlin Harjo & Dallas GoldtoothAugust 2, 2023 (2023-08-02)
The Rez Dogs are stranded with no car and no money in California. They find Bear's father's house, but an irritated white woman with two Native children answers the door and says that he is not home. Bear leaves the beaded medallion he commissioned, for his dad, along with a sad and angry goodbye note. Bear's aunt Teenie arrives to bring the children back to Oklahoma by bus. At a bus station along the way, Bear misses the bus because he is in the restroom being advised by spirit guide William Knifeman. With a dead cellphone and no money or transportation, Bear wanders off into a field, accompanied only by Knifeman, whose monologues Bear finds increasingly long-winded and confusing. Bear is frustrated and worried that he will die there. On the bus, unaware that Bear was left behind, Teenie tells Elora that Elora's dad is still alive, that she is friends with him on social media, and that he is white.
202"Maximus"Tazbah ChavezTazbah ChavezAugust 2, 2023 (2023-08-02)
Bear is lost without food or water, in the harsh sun on the plains. A Spanish conquistador spirit attacks him. William Knifeman saves him, but an overwhelmed Bear yells at his spirit guide to leave him alone. Knifeman sheds one tear and leaves. Bear is shot with a tranquilizer dart by Maximus – an eccentric mohawked recluse driving a dune buggy. Maximus studies star maps, monitors radio frequencies, and grows eggplants "for when the star people return." He is violently opposed to outsiders but takes a liking to Bear and shows him around his compound. Maximus tells Bear that he also sees spirits, which makes people either jealous or fearful. He tells Bear that because no one, not even his friends, believed what he saw was real, he was locked up and given shock treatments. When Bear says his friends believe him, Maximus is angry, because he feels that Bear has nothing to complain about. Maximus shows Bear home movies of himself and his friends in the 1970s, when he lived on the same reservation Bear is from. The group seems similar to Bear's Rez Dogs, and one of them is Elora's Uncle Brownie. Maximus points to his younger self and says he reminds him of Bear. Eventually police and healthcare workers come and take Maximus away peacefully. After watering the eggplants, Bear heads back to Oklahoma.
213"Deer Lady"Danis GouletSterlin HarjoAugust 9, 2023 (2023-08-09)
Deer Lady stops at a diner. Bear arrives at the diner, still penniless and lost, but polite to everyone even though they do not help him. Deer Lady observes him for a while and then invites him to sit with her. She shares her food with him and offers him a ride back to Oklahoma. When he realizes who she is, he is frightened, but does not run. Through flashbacks, we learn that when this incarnation of Deer Lady was still human, she was a child at a very abusive American Indian boarding school, St. Nicholas Training School, where she witnessed her friends being beaten and killed. One night she escaped and fled for her life. She was saved in the woods by an otherworldly deer, became the Deer Lady, and exacts vengeance on abusers. Bear goes with her and waits in the truck while she goes to the home of the abusive man who ran the boarding school. Bear is worried but ultimately approves of her seeking justice for herself and the other children of the school. Together they drive back to Okern, and Bear returns home.
224"Friday"Tazbah ChavezErica TremblayAugust 16, 2023 (2023-08-16)
At the IHS Clinic, the Rez Dogs are punished for running away to California. Willie Jack and Cheese have to clean up graffiti Willie Jack painted on the IHS building. She talks to Old Man Fixico while Cheese cleans. Fixico says he has no one to pass his medicine ways on to when he dies. Willie Jack says she's interested in learning. Cheese finally picks up his glasses and is amazed at how much clearer the world looks. Elora cleans with Willie Jack's dad, who offers her a job, but Elora is thinking of going back to school. She gets her records and learns the name of her birth father. Even though Jackie did not go to California, Auntie Bev makes her join the cleaning crew with Bear. As Bev and Rita watch them interact, Bev becomes convinced Bear and Jackie are going to get together and have a baby. Bev then flirts ostentatiously with Big. No one believes Bear when he says he met Deer Lady.
235"House Made of Bongs"Blackhorse LoweTommy Pico and Sterlin HarjoAugust 23, 2023 (2023-08-23)
In 1976 in Okern, Maximus, Brownie, Bucky, Irene, and Mabel are students at the same boarding school attended by Deer Lady, but now there are some Indian teachers, it is more like a regular boarding school, and there are sports teams called "Chieftains" (with an Indian mascot). It is the end of the school year. Maximus (who prefers to be called Cvpon) is filming his friends, making the home movies shown in episode 2. They go to a party by a lake where they smoke marijuana, drink, and take LSD. They talk about what they want for their older selves. Maximus has never taken LSD before and is very altered. Fixico arrives and is very popular. He has recently begun his training as a medicine man and Maximus is jealous. Fixico tries to make peace with Maximus but fails. Driving home, Maximus has his first encounter with the star people, but no one believes him.
246"Frankfurter Sandwich"Blackhorse LoweBobby Wilson and Sterlin HarjoAugust 30, 2023 (2023-08-30)
Cheese is isolating and avoiding his friends. Alone in his room, he plays video games for days on end. Grandmother Irene is worried about him and calls the Uncles for help. Brownie, Bucky and Big arrive and take a reluctant Cheese on a camping trip. Cheese has trouble adjusting to being alone with his thoughts, and the older men in the silence as they fish and sit around the fire. But eventually he adapts, admitting that he is afraid his older friends will move on without him. He gets the Uncles to open up about their feelings also. They tell him about their "lost" friend, Maximus, and say they worry that Cheese will get lost like him. The Uncles cry with sorrow and regret about how they let down their friend. Cheese promises he will not let that happen to him. He calls his friends and the Rez Dogs come out to the woods to join Cheese and the Uncles on their retreat.
257"Wahoo!"Kawennáhere Devery JacobsMigizi PensoneauSeptember 6, 2023 (2023-09-06)
Rita is offered a promotion at IHS and is considering moving away from Okern for a better-paying job. As she weighs her options, her dead friend Cookie appears to her as a spirit. Frightened and troubled, Rita rushes to the clinic and asks to see Larry, the therapist. He does not believe Rita, and insists that it is all in her mind. He wants to talk about trauma, mainly his own. Rita is left with no option but to listen to Cookie. Cookie has been trying to reach Elora, the daughter she never got a chance to raise, desperate to tell her she loves her and has been looking out for her, but only Rita can see Cookie. Rita and Cookie sit with Elora and Rita tries to communicate with Elora for Cookie. It is awkward, but seems to help everyone. Cookie tells Rita that the ability to see spirits runs in some families. This experience changes Rita and back at home she tells Bear that she believes his story about meeting Deer Lady. Since Cookie said that she was neither in the world of the living or the world of the dead, Rita gets Bev and Natalie, and they go to the river to pray and say goodbye to Cookie, to let go so their friend can be free to cross over to the other side.
268"Send It"Erica TremblaySterlin Harjo and Ryan RedCornSeptember 13, 2023 (2023-09-13)
The Rez Dogs, NDN Mafia and Kenny Boy are brought in for questioning by Big. At an elder breakfast, Fixico and Irene reminisce about their youth and in particular Maximus. Fixico regrets that he and his cousin have never buried the hatchet before one of them goes to the spirit in the sky. The Rez Dogs decide to make it happen before it is too late after Fixico has a heart attack. They approach Kenny Boy to borrow a car to spring Maximus from hospital; instead he takes them in an old school bus. When Bear and Willy Jack learn that Maximus can come and go from hospital as he pleases, they convince him to act like they are busting him out so as not to lose face with the rest of the gang. Just as they reach Okern, the bus breaks down and is engulfed in a fireball.
279"Elora's Dad"Sterlin HarjoKawennáhere Devery JacobsSeptember 20, 2023 (2023-09-20)
Elora attends college for an interview. With no scholarships available she needs her absentee father's financial information to apply for financial aid. After tracking him down she makes it clear she is not looking for a relationship, just the information. He reveals Elora has three half-siblings and presents her with a photograph of her on her first birthday; the last time he saw her. Elora agrees to meet them and whilst chatting, bonds with her father.
2810"Dig"Sterlin HarjoChad Charlie & Sterlin HarjoSeptember 27, 2023 (2023-09-27)
The community unites for Old Man Fixico's funeral. The Rez Dogs, along with many of the other recurring characters from the series, gather to participate in the ceremony and burial. The women prepare a large meal overseen by the elders. During the event, Elora informs Bear that she is leaving town for college. Bear, acknowledging the depth of their friendship, supports her decision. Bear meets with Spirit for the last time, coming to the realization that he does not have to be the only leader and recognizing the strength of his community. Willie Jack, inspired by advice from Hokti in prison, delivers a speech at sunrise, honoring Fixico's legacy. The episode culminates in a group hug among Bear, Elora, Willie Jack, and Cheese. The series concludes with the elders reflecting on the successful send-off for Fixico. They raise their cups of coffee, a gesture signifying continuity and remembrance.

Production

Development

The series was first reported on in November 2019 and was confirmed by Taika Waititi on Twitter shortly after.[31] The initial report announced that Waititi would be co-writing the series with Native American filmmaker Sterlin Harjo, who would also share executive producer and directing duties with Waititi.[32] After the pilot had been shot in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, FX announced a series order for the project in December 2020. The casting for the four lead actors, D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Devery Jacobs, Paulina Alexis, and newcomer Lane Factor, was also confirmed at this time, alongside a group of guest stars to be featured in the pilot episode.[17] Filming sites for principal photography for season one, which had wrapped by July 2021, included Okmulgee, Tulsa, Sand Springs, Beggs, Inola, and Terlton, all in northeast Oklahoma.[4] On September 2, 2021, FX renewed the series for a second season,[33] also filmed on location in Okmulgee.[34]

Creative team

The series features a predominantly Indigenous cast and crew, including creator Sterlin Harjo, and an all-Native writers' room. It's the first show to feature an entirely Native writers' room.[35][36][37] Discussing their creative partnership and respective roles in the production, Waititi stressed, "I really believe people need to tell their own stories and especially from whatever area they are from", leading to Harjo, who is from Oklahoma, taking the lead on the project and Waititi taking a more supporting role. Additionally, many of the storylines in the show are inspired by events from Harjo's childhood.[2]

Part of the development process included casting unknown actors from Indigenous communities, and the young leads in particular forming a working rapport, often around their shared love of Indigenous comedy. Jacobs and Alexis added that they bonded over their mutual appreciation of the sketch comedy group 1491s.[2] Four of the five members of the 1491s worked on season one of the series, and with the addition of Ryan RedCorn to the writers' room for season two, all of the 1491s are now working on Reservation Dogs as writers and actors, directors, or producers.[2][3][38] On September 22, 2022, FX renewed the series for a third season.[9] Harjo announced on June 29, 2023, that the show would end with the third season.[39]

Themes

The series explores themes of death, grief, and community, mirroring experiences common in Native American communities.[40] The series is marked by loss, notably the off-screen deaths of Daniel and the death of Elora Danan's mother, Cookie. This theme of loss resonates throughout its three seasons, culminating in the poignant series finale.[41][42]

Release

The series premiered on FX on Hulu in the United States on August 9, 2021. In international markets, it is distributed through the Star hub of the Disney+ streaming service. In Latin America, the series premiered as a Star+ original.[5][6] In India, all eight episodes of season 1 premiered on Disney+ Hotstar on October 2, 2021.[43]

The series made its cable TV premiere on FX in the United States on June 26, 2023.[44]

Reception

Critical response

Critical response of Reservation Dogs
SeasonRotten TomatoesMetacritic
198% (61 reviews)84 (22 reviews)
2100% (35 reviews)93 (16 reviews)
3100% (40 reviews)94 (15 reviews)

All three seasons of Reservation Dogs received critical acclaim. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the overall series holds a 99% approval rating.[45] Meanwhile, on Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, the overall series received a score of 89 out of 100.[46] Each season of the series was also listed among the ten best television programs of 2021, 2022, and 2023, respectively, by the American Film Institute.[13][14][15]

Season 1

On Rotten Tomatoes, the first season received an approval rating of 98% with an average score of 8.2 out of 10, based on 61 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads: "Aimless afternoons yield absurd delights in Reservation Dogs, a low-key comedy that deftly captures the malaise of youth and Rez life thanks in no small part to its impressive central crew."[47] On Metacritic, it received a score of 84 out of 100, based on 22 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[48]

Writing for The Guardian, Ellen E Jones gave the show a rating of five out of five, and said "Reservation Dogs is able to lay waste stylishly to centuries of myth and misrepresentation due to one simple, crucial, innovation: almost everyone involved in the production is a Native American, offering a perspective which never panders to the often-fetishising gaze of outsiders. Instead, this show tells of the push-pull of home: that simultaneous yearning to both belong and be free".[49] Candice Frederick of TV Guide rated the series four out of five, based on the first four episodes and said, "Though it wrestles with some heavy, but not overtly political, themes, Reservation Dogs seems to mostly have fun with young life on a reservation."[50] In another four out five rating, Alan Sepinwall, writing for Rolling Stone, said, "a show like Reservation Dogs feels long overdue. And this exact show? It's awfully good."[51] Paste magazine's Allison Keene gave a rating of 9.2 out of 10 and called the series "a perfect summer series, one that takes places on languid afternoons and moves at an unhurried pace."[52]

Reviewing the first two episodes, Danette Chavez of The A.V. Club gave it a "B+" and said, "Reservation Dogs is already on track to be one of the best comedies (and shows) of the year."[53] Kristen Lopez of IndieWire also gave it a grade of "B+", saying, "[Reservation Dogs] is a surprising series that illustrates why everyone's story is worth telling" and also praised the four main actors, stating that "the teens assembled here are all fantastic, conveying so much about their characters' true selves even if they don't know it yet".[54] Vox's Emily St. James also praised the main actors, calling them "one of the best ensembles of teen characters in recent memory" and regarded the first season as "one of the best first seasons of a comedy in some time."[55] Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter also praised the cast as well as the "triumph" representation of the Native Americans.[56]

The New Yorker's Doreen St. Félix wrote, "Reservation Dogs is a mood piece, and a sweet one, a collection of intertwined and poetic portraiture that focuses not solely on the central cast".[57] Daniel D'Addario of Variety said, "Reservation Dogs is a lovely, eminently watchable triumph. It's an overdue tribute to a sort of community it doesn't mythologize. Instead, the show treats the reservation and its residents on their own terms, as worthy of being explored for just what it is, and just who they are."[58] Polygon's Joshua Rivera praised the series, saying, "like a lot of great art, Reservation 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."[59] Writing for IGN, Matt Fowler said, "Reservation Dogs features characters we like, a community we're drawn to (and may be curious about)."[60] Esther Zuckerman of Thrillist praised the series' tone, stating that "Reservation Dogs is at times melancholy, and at times deeply irreverent. But whatever mood it's going for at any given moment, it's some of the most unique, enjoyable, and artistically satisfying television available to watch."[61]

Season 2

On Rotten Tomatoes, the second season holds an approval rating of 100%, with an average score of 9.1 out of 10, based on 35 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads: "Reservation Dogs has bittersweet bite in its sophomore season as it mines more difficult dilemmas than before with its spiky sense of humor, making for a piquant portrait of a community and a place."[18] On Metacritic, it holds a score of 93 out of 100, based on 16 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[62]

Critics were given the first four episodes prior to its premiere to review. It received an "A" from Manuel Betancourt of The A.V. Club and Chase Hutchinson of Collider,[63][64] an "A-" from Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly and Brian Tallerico of The Playlist,[65][66] and a "B+" from Kristen Lopez of IndieWire.[67] Betancourt highlighted the way it treats dark materials, such as generational trauma, wounding grief, and systemic inequities, with "winsome humor", without going too far.[63] Hutchinson praised the writing, humor, and performances, particularly Jacobs' and Woon-A-Tai's.[64] Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter also praised the performances and further singled out Jacobs', particularly in the episode "Mabel".[68] Kristen Reid of Paste gave it a 9.3 out of 10 and said, "Just a season and a half in, Harjo and co-creator Taika Waititi have already found their groove with Reservation Dogs. Inviting us onto the reservation to experience it with this group of quickly beloved kids, [It] feels like a celebration of Native life and a way to inspire change for the better."[69]

Variety's Caroline Framke wrote in her favorable review: "for the hundreds of shows premiering every year, there's still simply nothing else on TV quite like 'Reservation Dogs'. [It] gives voice, time, and flawed dirtbag humanity to Indigenous Americans, who have long been little more onscreen than one-note punchlines. But it also does so with an approach that could only have come from these writers, actors, directors and production crew members. This is a show so self-assured in its own voice and perspective that it's not just gratifying to watch, but a welcome relief."[70] Joe Keller of Decider summarized his review by saying, "Reservation Dogs improves on its excellent first season by deepening the community on the rez, making it less about the Dogs and more about traditions, people who think they know the traditions but don't, and just how funny and rich life there can be, even if people have to be creative to get by."[71]

For the season finale, TVLine named Woon-A-Tai, Jacobs, Factor and Alexis the "Performers of the Week" for the week of October 1, 2022. The site wrote: "No single actor outshined the others; rather, it was their combined chemistry and the characters' reliance on each other that made us laugh at their antics and reel in their heartbreak. [...] Jacobs exhibited a wealth of vulnerability in her body language and diction as Elora admitted her fear of letting Daniel go. Woon-A-Tai was brought to tears, as Bear was consumed by love for his friends. Alexis displayed a wealth of fortitude as Willie Jack proved to be both the Dogs' safety net and comedic relief. And after they joined together for a prayer, Factor quivered and choked on his emotions as Cheese revealed his lingering anger."[72]

Season 3

On Rotten Tomatoes, the third and final season holds an approval rating of 100%, with an average score of 9.5 out of 10, based on 40 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads: "Bowing out while still having plenty of creativity to spare, Reservation Dogs' final season sidesteps feeling premature by satisfying on every level."[73] On Metacritic, it holds a score of 94 out of 100, based on 15 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[74]

Critics' top ten list

Accolades

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
2021
American Film Institute Awards Top 10 Programs of the Year Reservation Dogs Won [13]
Gotham Awards Breakthrough Series – Short Form Won [75]
Outstanding Performance in a New Series Devery Jacobs Nominated
2022
American Film Institute Awards Top 10 Programs of the Year Reservation Dogs Won [14]
Artios Awards Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Television Pilot and First Season Comedy Series Angelique Midthunder, Jennifer Schwalenberg, Chris Freihofer, Stacey Rice, Lisa Zambetti Nominated [76]
Critics' Choice Awards Best Comedy Series Reservation Dogs Nominated [77]
Golden Globe Awards Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy Nominated [78]
Hollywood Critics Association TV Awards Best Streaming Series, Comedy Nominated [79]
Best Directing in a Streaming Series, Comedy Sterlin Harjo (for "Hunting") Nominated
Best Writing in a Streaming Series, Comedy Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi (for "Fuckin' Rez Dogs") Nominated
Hollywood Music in Media Awards Best Music Supervision — Television Tiffany Anders Nominated [80]
Independent Spirit Awards Best New Scripted Series Reservation Dogs Won [81]
Best Ensemble Cast in a New Scripted Series Paulina Alexis, Funny Bone, Lane Factor, Devery Jacobs,
Zahn McClarnon, Lil Mike, Sarah Podemski, and D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai
Won
Peabody Awards Entertainment Reservation Dogs Won [82]
Television Critics Association Awards Outstanding Achievement in Comedy Nominated [83]
Outstanding New Program Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards New Series Tazbah Rose Chavez, Sydney Freeland, Sterlin Harjo, Migizi Pensoneau, Tommy Pico, Taika Waititi, and Bobby Wilson Nominated [84]
Episodic Comedy Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi (for "F*ckin' Rez Dogs") Nominated
2023
American Film Institute Awards Top 10 Programs of the Year Reservation Dogs Won [15]
Critics' Choice Awards Best Comedy Series Nominated [85]
Best Actor in a Comedy Series D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai Nominated
Best Actress in a Comedy Series Devery Jacobs Nominated
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Paulina Alexis Nominated
Golden Trailer Awards Best Billboard (for Feature Film or TV/Streaming Series) "Extension Billboard" (AV Print) Nominated [86]
Best Comedy Poster for a TV/Streaming Series "One Sheet" (AV Print) Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Episodic Comedy Tazbah Rose Chavez (for "Wide Net") Nominated [87]
2024
Art Directors Guild Awards Excellence in Production Design for a Half Hour Single-Camera Television Series Brandon Tonner-Connolly (for "Deer Lady") Pending [88]
Critics' Choice Awards Best Comedy Series Reservation Dogs Nominated [89]
Best Actor in a Comedy Series D'Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai Nominated
Best Actress in a Comedy Series Devery Jacobs Nominated
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Paulina Alexis Nominated
Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (Half-Hour) and Animation Patrick Hogan, David Beadle, Sonya Lindsay, Michael Sana, Daniel Salas, Amber Funk, Lena Krigen (for "This is Where the Plot Thickens") Nominated [90]
Satellite Awards Best Comedy or Musical Series Reservation Dogs Pending [91]

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