The Pitch: When Reservation Dogs debuted last year, the FX series centered on four Native American teenagers living on a reservation in Oklahoma – the titular “Rez Dogs” – stealing and scamming to save up enough money to move to California.
But by the end of the first season, those plans had started to fall apart. Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) and Cheese (Lane Factor) decided they didn’t want to leave home. And then Elora (Devery Jacobs) ditched Bear (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai) to make her journey west with a member of a rival crew, Jackie (Elva Guerra). Season 2, which features guest stars including Marc Maron and Megan Mullally, picks up soon after, with the crew scattered into separate storylines.
Reservation Dogs, co-created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, made history when it debuted last summer as the first TV series written and directed entirely by Indigenous people. But it wasn’t one of 2021’s most acclaimed new shows simply because it broke barriers. The impressive young cast, the mix of local color and reservation slang (sex is frequently referred to as “snagging”), and the relatable coming-of-age story made it the kind of show that instantly gets under your skin and stays there.
Like FX’s other recent hit The Bear, Reservation Dogs is categorically a comedy thanks to its 30-minute episodes, but it just as often feels like a drama. And in both shows, the recent suicide of a loved one looms over the characters, with an undercurrent of grief running beneath even the lightest moments.
Off the Reservation: Season 2 opens with Willie Jack addressing a framed picture of her cousin Daniel (Dalton Cramer), who died by suicide over a year earlier: “Sup, shitass?” She proceeds to get Daniel, and the viewing audience, up to speed on everything that’s happened since we last saw the crew, including the odd, slightly mystical incidents that seem to be a regular occurrence on the reservation: “The tornado winds picked up someone’s horse and dropped it off at Kenny Boy’s.”
Harjo, whose Oklahoma-set features Four Sheets to the Wind and Barking Water were hits at Sundance, directed the first two episodes of the season, which center primarily on Elora and Jackie’s misbegotten attempts to get to California. Meanwhile, Bear continues to see visions of a dead ancestor, William “Spirit” Knifeman (Daniel Goodtooth, who also co-wrote the first two episodes). But the Lakota warrior who died in 1876, one of the funniest recurring characters from the first season, just munches away on snacks and quotes the Kansas classic rock staple “Carry On Wayward Son” in lieu of giving actual meaningful advice.
With or without Knifeman’s guidance, however, Bear seems ready to grow up and leave his teenage delinquent days behind him, getting a construction job to help his mother pay the bills. Nathan Apodaca, better known as TikTok creator Doggface (who was catapulted to fame two years ago thanks to a viral video of him lip-syncing to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”) plays one of the roofers showing Bear the ropes. But one of Bear’s other co-workers is Daniel’s father, setting the stage for one of the series’ most emotionally cathartic scenes to date.