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Best friends Reagan Wells and Nathan Rutherford currently live in Rutherford Falls which, as the local story goes, Nathan’s ancestors “discovered.” When the Indigenous residents (including Reagan) want to better reflect how badly Nathan’s ancestors treated theirs, Nathan and Reagan’s friendship comes to a head.
Ed Helms, who played the ever preppy Andy on The Office stars as Nathan (he also serves as the series co-creator). You may also recognize Michael Greyeyes, who starred in Fear the Walking Dead and True Detective, and Dustin Milligan, who played Alex’s sweet boyfriend on Schitt’s Creek.
Created by Ed Helms, Sierra Teller Ornelas, and Mike Schur, Rutherford Falls has the same zany humor as Schur’s previous series Parks and Recreation and The Good Place so if you’re a fan of either of those you’ll feel right at home here. The main conflict of the first season centers around a poorly placed statue (as in, the middle of the street) of Nathan’s ancestor, Lawrence Rutherford, which the town’s mayor decides needs to be moved. Nathan is not pleased by this decision, and fights to have the statue remain where it is. This draws the ire of the local Minishonka people, particularly the owner of the local casino, Terry (Michael Greyeyes) who also wants the statue taken down. Amidst all this chaos, podcaster Josh Carter (Dustin Milligan) arrives to record the ongoing fight.
Although Helms’ character has all the surface qualities of a privileged white man, he manages to make Nathan not insufferable. That has a lot to do with his inherent likability as an actor, but it’s also worth pointing out that as one of the creative forces behind the show he’s got a lot more control over the stories and characterization than a lead actor usually gets. You want to root for him, and you do when he learns from the error of his ways, especially when he realizes how much he’s hurt Reagan (Jana Schmieding).
Helms may have more name recognition, but it’s Schmieding who is the real star of the show. From the second she’s introduced, Reagan is a relatable and endearing character thanks to Schmieding ‘s brilliant work. She doesn’t quite fit in with the other Minishonka due to her years away at university and overall nerdy demeanor. She loves learning about rare baskets and artifacts and she’s determined to boost the Minishonka cultural center so that it gets just as much attention as the museum Nathan runs about his family. Some of Reagan’s best moments involve her love life because her awkwardness is so darn understandable. It’s refreshing to see a bright and funny Indigenous woman as a lead in a TV series, especially one who doesn’t fall into any stereotypes or tired tropes.
The series itself is refreshingly inclusive. Nathan’s assistant/intern, Bobbie (Jessie Leigh) is a non-binary child of immigrants who dresses better than anyone else on the series. They’re delightfully sardonic, yet dedicated to Nathan, even as he throws astronaut ice cream at school children visiting the museum. Best of all, they get a much larger plotline in the second season that breaks down barriers further. Greyeyes is perfect as Terry, who doesn’t have time for any white nonsense and is determined to help his people. Terry could be a rather dull character, but Greyeyes nails his one-liners with the right amount of sass. In one scene, he calls out a “pretendian” a white man who Reagan accidentally hires to help run the cultural center. It’s hard not to cheer for Terry.
The second season is as funny and heartwarming as the first. We see Nathan begin to learn more about who he is and Reagan finally get the respect that she deserves. One of the best episodes features Reagan and Terry being called in as consultants for a western TV show (that may or may not be based on Yellowstone) and their horror over the lack of proper research done is a wry comment on “representation” in Hollywood. Since many of the writers (and one of the showrunners) for Rutherford Falls are Indigenous, many of the jokes are inside nudges towards this kind of behavior while also portraying an honest look at life for Indigenous folks. You can put this alongside Reservation Dogs in terms of the kind of Indigenous stories and characters we’d love to see more of in Hollywood.
Despite their ongoing debate over who has the right to tell history, Reagan and Nathan’s friendship endures. They support each other in all their endeavors as well as apologize when they need to. Very few shows feature platonic relationships between (straight) men and women, and the friendship between these two life-long friends proves you don’t have to secretly pine for your best pal.
Rutherford Falls is a clever and sweet satire similar to Michael Schur’s other half-hour comedies. Like Parks and Recreation and The Good Place, it’s surprisingly deep and deserves just as much attention.
Your friends, especially your best friend. The friendship between Nathan and Reagan proves that, contrary to popular belief, men and women can be just friends.
Rutherford Falls was one of the first sitcoms to have an Indigenous showrunner (the other being Reservation Dogs).