Rutherford Falls is a 2021 comedy show starring Jana Schmieding and Ed Helms and is for anyone looking for a show that does more than make you laugh. The show follows best friends Reagan Wells (Schmieding), an Indigenous woman who has recently come home, and Nathan Rutherford (Helms) her best friend a man obsessed with his family’s legacy. The show follows Reagan and Nathan as they navigate their friendship even when being pulled in opposite directions. With Indigenous TV representation lower than 1% (as stated by UCLA’s Diversity Report from 2020), Rutherford Falls is a much-needed addition to the TV landscape. With the topics of Indigenous inequities, white privilege, and the ethics of statues at the center, it would seem the show would be a natural drama, but somehow the show always manages to approach all these topics with comedy and nuance. Statues in fact are in interesting plot device for the show, being used to pull the two friends toward opposite ends of the spectrum.
Much of the first season is spent focused on Nathan’s goofy and sometimes awkward obsession with his family legacy. Nathan is a man stuck in a past he didn’t live; he literally lives in a museum dedicated to his family. When the mayor decides it is time to remove a statue of Nathan’s ancestor from the middle of the town where people hilariously keep running into it, Nathan becomes obsessed with preserving the statue. While it may seem (especially from the first two episodes) that Nathan’s storyline is the driving force behind the show, as it goes on it becomes clear that Reagan is the heart of the show. Schmieding’s character becomes much more interesting, and she slowly begins to outshine Nathan in the comedy facet as well. As the season goes on, Nathan’s antics become less quirky and more blatantly out of touch. The show perfectly juxtaposes Nathan’s plight with Reagan’s. The more Nathan whines or throws tantrums in the name of his family legacy the more it becomes unsettling, considering the realities of the legacy Reagan’s tribe is left with. While the Rutherford family has a town named after them, a successful business conglomerate in their name, a museum, and even a huge ancestral home, Nathan still cannot fathom the removal of one small statue. In comparison, Reagan is fighting for one small room (her cultural center) inside of a casino as her contribution to her tribal legacy. As both friends fight to contribute to their respective cultures the antics get crazier.
While Reagan is the heart of the show, her character still seems to live on the fringe of Indigenous life. As a woman who left her tribe and came back, she is often out of touch, and that element is constantly being pointed out by her boss, casino-owner Terry (played by Michael Greyeyes). I felt Terry was one of the best parts of the show, as he is a man focused on giving his tribe a better future. Terry has a vision for his tribe that flips the script on traditional dominant culture approaches to Indigenous life. In addition to this, Greyeyes’s comedic timing is impeccable, especially when playing against Schmieding. If you were to make the assumption that Helms would be the star of the show (thanks to The Office and The Hangover), you would be wrong. While Nathan seems to be one dimensional, Reagan is multifaceted. Her struggles to fit in with her culture and her exhausting attempts to educate her out of touch friend are ones that many BIPOC can relate to. The show, while cutting at many important issues, also provides an element of television that has been sorely underrepresented--Indigenous comedy. Greyeyes and Schmieding (as well as the supporting cast) manage to be hilarious without adhering to Mainstream culture. There are many jokes that are made specifically for Indigenous viewers, and it is a perfect example of why diverse writing rooms are so important to the future of television and film. With a sequel/reboot/remake culture dominating much of what we consume, it is refreshing to watch TV that gives voice to cultures that have been historically underrepresented. There is no other show on TV quite like Rutherford Falls, which gave me a fun space to explore my own feelings on some important topics. I cannot wait for my next trip to Rutherford Falls as season 2 is set to drop sometime this Spring.
You can watch Rutherford Falls season one on Peacock.
Autumn Andersen is an editor for Penumbra Online and grad student at CSU Stanislaus. She enjoys reading, writing, and talking about her favorite shows.