Ed Helms, Jana Schmieding, Dustin Milligan and Michael Greyeyes in Rutherford Falls, launching Thursday on Showcase, STACK TV and Peacock.
Rutherford Falls, a new comedy series created and produced by Ed Helms, Michael Schur (The Office, Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place) and Sierra Teller Ornelas (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Superstore, Splitting Up Together), sets a milestone in mainstream television. Rutherford Falls looks at the relationship between settler and First Nations communities in ways that haven’t been seen on TV before. The New England village “founded” by the Puritan Rutherfords abuts a reservation and its wildly successful casino. Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) and casino owner Terry Thomas (Canada’s Michael Greyeyes) are lifelong friends, and fierce, unyielding competitors. Reagan Wells, played with wit and warmth by Jana Schmieding is from the rez, and observes them with amusement. She has feet in both camps, and sometimes she’ll cover a shift at the settler museum. The series with the largest indigenous writing staff on American television gently upends stereotypes with humour and compassion and explores the cultural and historical facts of life in that shared patch. What She Said’ Anne Brodie spoke with Schmieding on the eve of Thursday’s launch of Rutherford Falls on Showcase and STACK TV in Canada and Peacock in the US.
Jana, are you nervous, excited?
I’m overwhelmed! But in good way.
Rutherford Falls is witty and funny and deals with major historic cultural issues through comedy. A true feat!
I think Michael Schur generally deals with major cultural issues, for sure focus on indigenous and natives is new, but not new to our comedy. Comedy is a perfect position to point out the faults in the culture of power.
It is the first mainstream network sitcom about the indigenous community. We have APTN in Canada, all indigenous programming and news, but Rutherfords Falls is widely, and probably will be available globally. Please tell me your thoughts on that and the potential impact.
I hope that the impact is that native people feel seen and feel centered and cared for in this show and for a wide non-native audience, I hope that we can watch a show like this and see where we have been collectively experiencing digging our heels in when your philosophies and ideas about history have been challenged. We’re living in a moment when this is happening a lot and the show is holding up a mirror to our culture and settlers and saying “Hold on”. It’s the first time we’re giving a spotlight to indigenous people.
Reagan’s lifelong friends with Nathan Rutherford, the town big shot and works for him in what amounts to a settler museum. How does she reconcile that?
Well, I think in many ways in our lives as native people, we are constantly asked to put our issues aside for more mainstream issues, asked to silence our own history and truth to centre our white colleagues and non-native peers. I’m sure this is not obviously written into this season but part of Reagan’s friendship with Nathan, she sometimes rolls her eyes at his realities. They’re both huge history nerds, and that’s the foundation of their friendship, for both of their histories. Nathan supports her aspirations and she doesn’t necessarily work but supports him. What we’re seeing here is when she pulls that support away from him and tries to help him see what she’s trying to do for her, given his aversion for working for Terry in any way.
The statue of Nathan’s Puritan ancestor, the so-called founder, parked in the centre of town, is somehow made fun too.
It isn’t about the removal of (statue) Big Larry, it’s a larger conversation that positions the monument as a metaphor for this way in which history we believed historical narratives to be set in stone, immoveable and unchallenged. It’s a great metaphor for our current cultural moment, to see how everyone reacts to this narrative shift. It’s an inciting incident and then the larger ripple effect and what their histories mean.
Speaking of Dustin Milligan, (a journalist and Reagan’s love interest) the way Rutherford Falls handles powerful issues, with its naturalism and zany humour makes me think of Schitt’s Creek which is also about compassion, social issues and realism cloaked in witty comedy.
Where was the series shot?
Largely on the Paramount lot.
You had me fooled, it looked like a cute little village in New England, like Murder She Wrote which shot at Universal.
We had a really amazing design team on the show. The sets and the lighting that gave Nathan’s story a warmer to make his seem the warmer history and the native storylines and sets were the blues and neons of the casino and artificial lighting to bring native people into the present and future; the antithesis of what is generally seen in film and television.