The most memorable scene in “Rutherford Falls” features two people sitting opposite one another and speaking with shocking candor. This scene deviates significantly from the established pattern of the show.
Otherwise, the new comedy from Ed Helms, Sierra Teller Ornelas, and mega-producer Michael Schur centers on hapless heir Nathan Rutherford (Helms) trying to preserve his family legacy while his childhood best friend Reagan (Jana Schmieding, also a writer) works to do the same for her tribe — which, to say the least, has a complicated relationship to the Rutherfords who “settled” the town decades ago.
In the first four episodes seen by critics, the show oscillates between hilarious hijinks and grounded sincerity, never quite settling on a satisfactory middle ground as the plot becomes increasingly convoluted.
In the fourth episode, when “Rutherford Falls” becomes laser-focused on making a certain point and even deadly serious about it, it makes for a very unsettling scene, but also a welcome one, given the lack of another clear focal point.
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Terry (Michael Greyeyes), a wealthy Native American casino owner, meets in his office with Josh (Dustin Milligan), a white NPR reporter who smells a Great American Story in Rutherford Falls that may put his radio career on the map.
As Terry prepares to sue one of the town’s most influential entities, Josh wants to know why, not just because tribes have historically had such little success with such cases, but also because he views Terry’s concentration on accumulating wealth as opposed to the beliefs of his tribe. “Doesn’t every capitalist say this?” Josh inquires as Terry stares at him with unsettling composure. “Don’t you feel that you’re selling out your culture by chasing the almighty dollar?”
Terry’s entire demeanor changes in an instant, albeit he hardly permits his face to move. He stops, then walks up to Josh’s recording and turns it off.
Terry delivers a stunning monologue about the lessons he’s had to learn about “the genuine American pastime — which is power,” the extent he’ll go to in order to keep his, and how his tribe has been persecuted and preserved throughout the years without the assistance of anybody else.
Terry says, “I’ve learned to play this game through bare-knuckled necessity, and while it may not make for a happy tale, I won’t rest until my Nation regains everything that was taken from them.” With that, he turns the recording back on and shows a stunned Josh out of his office with a patient smile.
It’s a sequence that exemplifies Greyeyes’ talent as a performer and the show’s unique perspective as a comedy directed by a Native American (Orenelas) and featuring a writers’ room with numerous others. It is not really humorous, as the comedy strives to be, but it is captivating and unique in its own way.
Four episodes in, “Rutherford Falls” has become something of a thesis statement for reclaiming the Native American narrative from white people — even the self-proclaimed “liberal” ones who believe they are well-intentioned — and making Native American characters the protagonists, antagonists, and everyone else in their own stories.
In many ways, “Rutherford Falls” feels like a direct reaction to Schur’s “Parks and Recreation,” a pleasant comedy that frequently acknowledged the “atrocities” its Midwestern town committed against its Native American community in the past but never allowed any Native American characters to have recurring storylines or appearances.
In “Parks and Recreation,” the enigmatic casino owner Ken Hotate (played by Jonathan Joss) would occasionally interfere with a park project by bringing up the number of Native Americans who had perished at the site but would always be appeased by the end of the episode. Terry, in contrast, is the gravitational core of his show, bending everything to his will by smart calculation and pure determination.
Technically, Terry is not the primary protagonist of “Rutherford Falls.” In the first several episodes, Nathan and Reagan share this role as they bumble toward their objectives.
Reagan, played with warm charm by Schmieding, is learning how to own her own voice and expertise without crumbling under pressure; Nathan, played with a bit more restraint than usual by Helms, lacks many other distinguishing characteristics due to his singular focus on ensuring that his extremely powerful family continues to receive its due. Despite being great friends, they share the screen infrequently throughout the first few episodes.
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Instead, Nathan spends the majority of his time fumbling through life with his dependable assistant (Jesse Leigh), and Reagan grudgingly joins forces with Terry while flirting with Josh.
Each character has his or her moments, but Nathan in particular appears so lost that I began to question why he is a series regular beyond the fact that Helms portrays him.
There is a chance that “Rutherford Falls” will settle into a more familiar rhythm by the conclusion of the season, as many new comedies do.
Given only the first four episodes, however, it is difficult to fathom what that would entail due to their lack of focus on the subject matter. “Rutherford Falls” will become an interesting response to past prejudices, which could make it worthwhile, if the scene involving Terry proves to be as crucial as it appears to be in the moment.
Is Rutherford Falls a good performance?
Due in no small part to the efforts of Native writers and actors, “Rutherford Falls” is intelligent, funny, and able to strike a balance between the serious and the humorous. You will desire to spend time with these individuals and in this location; Rutherford Falls is a winner.
Does Rutherford Falls depict a true event?
The cast of Peacock’s Rutherford Falls explained to E! News how the series balances comedy and contemporary Native American stories. The Minishonka tribe near Rutherford Falls may be fictitious, but the Native representation is real.