Photo: ‘Rutherford Falls’
Mastery of the Craft
When first tuning into the delightful and subtle comedy series ‘Rutherford Falls’ on Peacock, it strikes you as something you’ve seen before where a sense of deja vu takes you over and you just instantly slide into the characters and the concept of the show. It’s a rare and very impressive feat to accomplish, but given that the show is co-created by one of the most prolific TV writers of all time, Michael Schur, it comes as no surprise.
Set in the fictional world, but could literally be anywhere in the northeast town of ‘Rutherford Falls’, the show follows Ed Helms in the titular role of Nathan Rutherford, an obnoxiously proud descendent of the small town’s founder Lawrence Rutherford. Way back in colonial times, Lawrence Rutherford brokered a truce with the local Native American tribe, the Minishonkan, and Helms has dedicated his life to preserving that legacy.
Helms fits perfectly into the part of the over-the-top, loveable, but incredibly petulant goofball in Nathan, similar to the one that launched his career as Andy Bernard in another Michael Schur-produced show, ‘The Office.’ Helms is really doing some of his best work as Nathan Rutherford, whether pulling from personal experience or the script he finds a perfect balance of making Nathan a sympathetic protagonist and also someone you would punch in the face. It’s a tough but admirable role for anyone to take on, given the circumstances of the plot. The series revolves around Nathan trying to defend his family’s legacy, while he also butts heads with the local remaining members of the Minishonka who want their town back.
Relative newcomer Jana Schmieding is also great in her role as Regan Wells, Nathan’s best friend and member of the Minishonka tribe who is very passionate about preserving her people’s history. Regan is dedicated to starting her own cultural center museum based on the way of life of the Minishonka people. Schmieding has an impressive mastery of emotions and endures a tremendous amount of growth throughout the series that is on full display to kick off Season 2. She begins the show as meek and unassuming, happy to remain in the background but finds herself growing into becoming a strong independent businesswoman, not afraid to stand up for herself.
Schur and his co-creators Sierra Teller Ornelas and Helms himself, have hit another home run in the comedy series genre. Stepping away from the Mockumentary style that has worked so well before on his shows like ‘The Office’ and ‘Parks and Recreation’, Schur and team this time are focused more on the traditional narrative storytelling. Each of the characters they’ve created brings a nicely grounded but three-dimensional personality to the plot, really bringing these people from this small town to life. You feel as if you know them and the very inner workings of their little, but important to them, town.
It All Begins With Character
A lame but incredibly wise screenwriting trope that exists for a reason. Creating characters that an audience can both connect to and believe that they are real people is a real difficult feat to accomplish. To me, it is the one thing above all else that allows a project to stand out and feel original and real. ‘Rutherford Falls’ is one of these shows where this is certainly on full display. Through Regan and Nathan, we see and feel a real friendship between the two, with all of themselves on full display. Within the first episode, we know so much about each of them that the audience is instantly bought in and wants to uncover more. We know their hopes and dreams, history as friends, and the inner dynamics of how they work as a team.
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Another stand-out character from the series is Terry Thomas, played by Michael Greyeyes. As much fun as it is to watch the friendship of Regan and Nathan, there would be no show without the scene-stealing performance as Terry by Greyeyes. Terry is the owner and operator of the Minishonka tribe’s casino in town and functions as the main antagonist for most of the first season. Given his deeper backstory, we come to learn a lot about Terry’s motivations as he becomes the most dynamic and interesting character in the series, capable of carrying any storyline the writers give him. Terry becomes a larger-than-life character that takes over the show, giving the plot significant layers and possibilities.
‘Rutherford Falls’ – Representation Not Just for Representation’s Sake
One of the standout things about ‘Rutherford Falls’ is how diverse the entire cast and characters are. It’s a refreshing thing to watch a show or movie and not feel like there was a specific mandate or pressure to do certain things with the cast. Seeing the real Native Americans playing the parts of The Minishonka (sorry John Wayne) in this fictional story is cool and refreshing. It’s hard not to compare the two, though they have very different plots the show is greatly reminiscent of the incredible ‘Reservation Dogs’, the Starlin Harjo/Taika Waititi series that debuted earlier this year.
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A great deal of the show’s content, ability, and desire to write and speak on Native American culture and issues, comes from Sierra Teller Ornelas one of the co-creators. Ornelas grew up as a member of the Navajo tribe from Tucson Arizona. She brings a real authenticity to these stories and credits comedy with being a vehicle for being able to have conversations about more difficult and complex topics. She is right on here with ‘Rutherford Falls’, doing a tremendous job of balancing the comedy she wants to bring while also expressing the frustrations and issues she sees with relations between Native Americans and other American communities.
Overall, ‘Rutherford Falls’ is funny, charming, and complex in a special way I was not anticipating. The show is impressively able to balance both the traditional comedy required of it, while also not being shy about getting into the deeper issues afoot. The 8 new episodes of Season 2 of ‘Rutherford Falls’ are streaming now on Peacock, and I encourage all who haven’t yet to give it a try.
Cast: Ed Helms, Jana Schmieding, Michael Greyeyes | Created by: Michael Schur, Sierra Teller Ornelas, Ed Helms | Directed By: Sydney Freeland, Lawrence Sher, Claire Scanlon, Tazbah Chavez, Tracey Deer, Craig Zisk, Rebecca Asher, Eric Kissack and Brennan Shroff
By Mark Raymond
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Mark Raymond is a writer and screenwriter who believes himself to be the only person desiring to work in film who originated in New York and currently resides in Los Angeles. Mark was inspired to write from a young age and has always desired to connect and uplift others through his work, as those that motivated him did for him. Mark feels very strongly that the world could use a lot more positivity and optimism, and is therefore very aligned to the mission of The Hollywood Insider to not spread hate or gossip, but instead to build each other up and shine a positive light on anyone bold enough to put their heart and soul into a piece of art. In his writing, Mark aims to use his signature wit to highlight the severity of the more serious and pressing issues of our time, to shine a beacon of light through the darkness. A devoted ally to all, he seeks to inspire and use his platform to give a voice to the voiceless and let his readers know that while everything may not be great right now, one day it can and will be.