REVIEW: ‘Reservation Dogs’ Season 2 Couldn’t Have Done It Better

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Reservation Dogs Season 2 - But Why Tho

The most specific stories can be the most universal. When we tell our personal stories, share our specific cultures and our particular ways of experiencing the world, it can be easier to find connections and kinship in those stories than in those that are intended to be universal or unspecific. Reservation Dogs is perfectly one of those kinds of stories. It’s a dramedy about a group of teenage friends living on a reservation in Oklahoma who dream of going to California to honor their dead friend, Daniel, getting into all kinds of hijinks, and going through all the ups and downs of life along the way. Everything about this show, from top to bottom, is deeply specific to the experience of the Native creators behind it, but in that specificity, you get some of the most richly relatable and satisfying TV airing right now. Reservation Dogs Season 2 takes all that made its first season great and levels it up with 10 simply excellent episodes.

The way Reservation Dogs mixes drama and comedy is the first layer of its excellent formula. It’s hilarious. Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis) is stone-cold in her comedic timing. Cheese’s (Lane Factor) sweet innocence is always as funny as it is endearing without ever making him personally the butt of the jokes. Bear’s (D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai) machismo and bluster get him into just the right number of comedic situations.

And really, everyone in the whole cast of recurring secondary characters like Big (Zahn McClarnon), Uncle Brownie (Gary Farmer), Kenny Boy (Kirk Fox), and even White Steve (Jack Maricle) are used perfectly in every single situation they appear in. They not only fill out the comedy, but their recurrence makes the world of the show feel like a genuine and fully realized community. Even the one-off characters that show up, like the inspirational white guy Willie Jack meets in the prison lobby (Steve Mathis) and White Jesus (Brandon Boyd), are instantly integral parts of the show every time a new one shows up.

But of course, life isn’t all laughs. The show has a dark undertone from the onset, and in Reservation Dogs Season 2, the crew is hurting badly. Bear feels betrayed that Elora (Devery Jacobs) ditched him for their one-time sworn enemy Jackie (Elva Guerra) to make their trip to California. And since the two of them got back, nothing has been the same between Elora, Bear, Willie Jack, and Cheese. Plus, a load of other difficulties weigh on the characters when personal and communal tragedies come to bear.

The way the show is constantly able to weave comedy and fun together with drama and serious emotions is renowned. Every character that steps foot onto the screen is richly complex with layers of pain and joy and pride and trauma, making them into the beloved characters they each are. And this season only makes you love them all the more, for their flaws and their good qualities alike.

One of Reservation Dogs’ other great strengths, that gets even stronger in Season 2, is how it manages to be both a serialized show and a set of character-driven vignettes at once. While you can feel a throughline across the show, and you’d benefit from watching the episodes largely in the order they come out, many of them also stand on their own perfectly as studies of individual or a small set of characters at a time, each taking their own creative approach to directing those episodes too. It’s not just the main cast that gets their moments to shine either.

An episode focused exclusively on Big and Kenny Boy may be one of the best of the series so far, right next to an unparalleled stunner focused on Willie Jack and a Cheese-focused episode that perfectly balances his geniality, comedy in a dark situation, and the sincerity of that situation itself. The season also contains excellent episodes focused entirely on the mothers and aunties of the show, a tear-jerker focused on Elora, and a purely funny episode about some Bay Area liberals coming to the reservation to teach the teens. Honestly, almost every episode is a 10 out of 10 on their own. There are no misses. And not an episode passes where I’m not left in both tears and a laughing fit.

Reservation Dogs Season 2 is at its strongest when it leans into family. It is its strongest writing, its greatest emotional depth, and the most universally relatable aspect. Whether calling on ancestors for strength, mourning loved ones together, longing for absent fathers, resenting the family who stuck around, making new family, or struggling with your chosen family, nearly every instance is a punch to the emotional gut. But it also constantly resonates with how much I can see myself in these moments too. My life, my cultural practices, and my peoples’ history is certainly different from those we watch in Reservation Dogs, but part of the beauty of watching somebody else’s culture on screen is the way you can find notes of yours in theirs. The similarities are many, even if they’re completely different, and the kinship I find in seeing parts of myself in somebody else’s story makes my emotional investment that much more powerful from episode to episode.

Reservation Dogs Season 2 launched what was already a great show into being one of my favorites. It has a powerful ability to blend comedy and drama on both the character and story levels alike. Every episode this season is simply excellent, with every character growing deeper and every theme growing more resonant across the season. It’s one of the most emotionally satisfying yet entirely funny ongoing series airing right now.

Reservation Dogs Season 2 is streaming now on Hulu. Watch now with our affiliate link.


Reservation Dogs Season 2
  • 10/10
    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL;DR

Reservation Dogs Season 2 launched what was already a great show into being one of my favorites. It has a powerful ability to blend comedy and drama on both the character and story levels alike. Every episode this season is simply excellent, with every character growing deeper and every theme growing more resonant across the season. It’s one of the most emotionally satisfying yet entirely funny ongoing series airing right now.

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