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Vincent Schilling
Indian Country Today

This week proves another milestone for Native representation on television as TV Guide announced its selection for “The 100 Best Shows on TV Right Now.

TV Guide recognized the talent of both Native writers and Native actors in naming FX/HULU Network’s “Reservation Dogs” at number 40 and Peacock TV’s “Rutherford Falls” at 51.

Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone” came in at 83.

And just an FYI to Indian Country, the much loved Grogu (aka Baby Yoda) also grabbed the attention of TV Guide with a number 38 ranking for “The Mandalorian” on Disney Plus.

The three programs listed by TV Guide all have Native representation, though less so for Yellowstone, which portrays a ranchers vs. Natives narrative. Though the show is far from a strictly Native program, the Native actors include Gil Birmingham, Martin Sensmeier, Moses Brings Plenty, Q'orianka Kilcher, Tokala Black Elk, Robert Mirabal and MorningStar Angeline.

“Rutherford Falls” executive producer and the first Native showrunner in U.S television Sierra Teller Ornelas poked fun at Yellowstone on Tuesday, tweeting “We beat Yellowstone. That’s all I care about.”

The online news stream has been hot for Native representation in 2021 including the announcement of the second season for “Rutherford Falls”. Lead actor Ed Helms wrote on Twitter, “#RutherfordFalls is coming back for SEASON 2 on @PeacockTV!!!

So proud to be a part of this incredible team of brilliant people, and can’t wait to see what crazy twists and turns this story takes!”

Extracts of the TV Guide descriptions of the programs are as follows:

Reservation Dogs on FX on Hulu in the No. 40 spot

Contributor Kelly Connolly calls “Reservation Dogs” created by Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo “the ideal end-of-summer show, a chill hangout comedy about friends getting into scrapes.”

Reservation Dogs banner: (From left to right) Willie Jack portrayed by Paulina Alexis, Bear Smallhill portrayed by D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Cheese portrayed by Lane Factor and Elora Danan portrayed by Devery Jacobs.

“Reservation Dogs is brought to the screen by an all-Indigenous lineup of writers, directors, and stars, who've built an authentic world that feels loved and lived-in from the start. It's also a riot. Together with Peacock's Rutherford Falls, which premiered months earlier, it signals a long-overdue shift in Native representation, both on screen and behind the scenes,” writes Connolly.

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(See related: #NativeNerd review: ‘Reservation Dogs’)

Rutherford Falls on Peacock TV in the No. 51 spot

Contributor Diane Frederick says “the ingredients of Rutherford Falls sound like a recipe for resentment followed by a terribly articulated vow to make amends. But the sitcom — created by Sierra Teller Ornelas, Michael Schur, and Ed Helms — isn't out to make too many bold political statements. Rather, it spends its time humanizing its characters and exploring the concept on which the show's small Northeast town rests: legacy.

Rutherford Falls stars Ed Helms and Jana Schmieding, Cheyenne River Lakota

Frederick also cites that the “five Native writers and variety of Native characters” ... “reclaim the American narrative from the detrimental depictions of Native culture we've seen too many times before.”

(See related: #NativeNerd: ‘Rutherford Falls’)

Yellowstone (Paramount Network) on Peacock TV in the No. 83 spot

TV Guide contributor Diane Gordon cites Yellowstone as a “cowboy hat-wearing version of Dynasty” which “has all the elements of an addictive Western soap” … “shows no signs of winding down the tension.”

Gil Birmingham as Chairman Tom Rainwater in Kevin Costner's "Yellowstone."

(See related: Gil Birmingham discusses his role as Chairman Rainwater in Yellowstone and working with Kevin Costner)

Honorable mention: Indian Country loves Baby Yoda aka Grogu

The Mandalorian (and of course Grogu,) grabs number 38 for Disney Plus

A Baby Yoda doll, by Mattel, is displayed at Toy Fair New York, in the Javits Convention Center, Monday, Feb. 24, 2020. From Baby Yoda to eco-friendly stacking rings, toymakers displayed an array of goods that they hope will be on kids' wish lists for the holiday 2020 season. The four-day Toy Fair comes as the U.S. toy industry has been whipsawed by a number of obstacles. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

It is worth mentioning, considering the deep l;ove Indian Country has for Baby Yoda, aka Grogu, that Disney+ grabbed a number 38 spot. It is worth reminding Indian Country that Indigenous New Zealand director Taika Waititi also directed an episode.

Here’s to raising our cups of tea — like the one Grogu sipped — to Native representation on television. 

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