The desire to escape from your hometown is the birthright of every young man. In America, bets and hit the road are incorporated into popular culture – it’s “Go west, young man”; It’s a Bruce Springsteen lyric.
However, for some Americans—like the four teens on an Oklahoma sanctuary in FX’s Reservation Dogs’ slick adult comedy—the idea of home, to whom it belongs and to whom it belongs, is a more complex one. After all, the romance of the road is tied to the history of seeing North America as a frontier. When your ancestors lived in a place that others saw as a void to fill themselves, that American legend strikes a little differently.
Pushing away from home and rushing into it constitutes the dynamic that underpins “Reservation Dogs,” which emerged out of the box last year as one of TV’s most precisely drawn live-action comedies. The brilliant first season focused on the desire to escape; The second, which returns to Hulu on Wednesday, is about what it takes to rediscover your home.
The pilot episode explodes on your screen like someone is chasing it. His gang of four (the show’s title is from their nickname, a nod to Quentin Tarantino’s movie “Reservoir Dogs”) are in the midst of seizing a snack chip truck. Their plan is to raise money, head to California, and leave behind the sanctuary they blame for the suicide of their friend Daniel (Dalton Kramer).
Like many impromptu plots, this one takes on some roles, and the season embodied the kids into a calm, committed character piece. Elora (Devery Jacobs) is a grieving walker who deeply feels the loss of Daniel (we eventually know she was the one who found his body). Bear (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai) is a skinny boy who stumbles toward being the man he appears to be. Cheese (Lin Factor) is hard and crumbled; Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis, the instant winner) has an amazingly foul mouth and a loyal heart.
California is not a tangible destination for them more than an idea, an alternative to “not here”. But “Reservation Dogs” is deeply connected to a feeling and flavor over here which he portrays.
The creators, Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, have produced a story about Indigenous Peoples by Native Americans, filmed on location in Oklahoma, with the wonderful regional television tapestry. (It’s a welcome example of television paying attention to rural life and a reminder that “rustic” is not synonymous with “white.”) An episode of the first season delves into the legend of the avenging deer lady and the career of the Native American Redbone squad in the 1970s.
Like “Atlanta,” FX’s other magical real-life comedy, “Reservation Dogs” has an outright disdain and aversion to romantic clichés. The bear is visited by the spirit of a Lakota warrior (Dallas Goldtooth) who was at the Battle of the Little Big Horn – but not in, because he died when his horse hit a gopher’s hole – and who relays nuggets of wisdom in a torrent of brother-speak. In a new episode, Bear solemnly tells, “Go on, my prodigal son, there will be peace when you’re done,” a prayer of classic rock band Kansas.
The eight-episode first season doesn’t go anywhere blissfully fast, building up the world and its eccentric local cast. Starring in the AMC crime drama “Dark Winds,” Zane McClarnon gave a satirical performance as Big, an unlucky tribal police officer with great insight. An episode set in an Indian Health Service clinic depicting the problems of sanctuary and support systems in microcosm.
As in many teenage novels, the things dogs hate about their home (isolation, money problems, bad memories) give you entry into the things they admit or don’t like, that they love (relationships, bonding, best memories).
One by one, the friends are cold about leaving, and Elora heads to California on her own, where she takes her grandmother’s car with her best friend, Jackie (Elva Guerra, also from “Dark Winds”). She’s finally free, but she seems even more annoyed the farther west they’re traveling. Meanwhile, her friends are trying to find ways to build a home at home, make up for what happened in the past and process Daniel’s loss.
The new season leans a few degrees closer to the dramatic side of the drama, but there’s still plenty of comforting humor. In the second episode, Willie Jack and Cheese turns to Uncle Brownie (Gary Farmer), an advice elder and decades-old weed, to help lift the curse. He stumbles his way through a party that he says should conclude with an “old song.” Stop and summon the music from within – “Free Fall” by Tom Petty. (“It’s like 30 years. That’s old!”)
The miracle and the mundane always hit the elbows in Reservation Dogs. Jackie receives a souvenir card prophecy from a Medicine Man fortune teller at a gas station gift shop. (“You should get off the path you’re on.”) Bear guides Uncle Brownie, who in the Season 1 finale performed a hurricane-fighting ritual and is now believed to be a holy man. The soul says this is nonsense. “He turned a storm,” he says, but “whatever it is, everyone can do it.”
Like a soul, “Reservation Dogs” believes that any of their characters are capable of magic, not just the literal and meteorological type. Each person, even if corrupt, has power and responsibility as part of a larger community. You can get prophecy from a drunk man sitting in a bar or wisdom from a man cutting his hair on the porch.
You can also, at times, peek at enlightenment while doing daily work. In the new season, Bear takes a construction job and finds himself working next to Daniel’s father, Danny (Michael Spears), sparking uncomfortable memories for both of them. The bear nearly collapsed off a rooftop trying to grab some loose boards, but Danny caught him. “First rule of thumb,” says Danny. “Don’t chase after him if he’s already fallen.” It’s a lesson Bear and all his friends are trying to learn: how to know what to let go, and how to memorize what matters.