A Sweeter, Steadier Season 2 – The Hollywood Reporter
After a first season spent reckoning with the past, with an inconveniently located statue of a dead white colonialist as the jumping-off point, Peacock’s Rutherford Falls is ready to look forward.
As characters like Reagan (Jana Schmieding) and Terry (Michael Greyeyes) start dreaming big for the town in general and for its Minishonka community more specifically, the storylines become defined less by conflict than cooperation, yielding a series that feels sweeter, more relaxed, less bogged down by the gravity of the past — but also one that seems to render its own white-guy co-lead less necessary than ever.
The Bottom Line
A sweeter, steadier sophomore outing.
Airdate: Thursday, June 16 (Peacock)
Cast: Jana Schmieding, Michael Greyeyes, Ed Helms, Jesse Leigh, Dustin Milligan, Dallas Goldtooth, Kaniehtiio Horn
Creators: Sierra Teller Ornelas, Ed Helms, Michael Schur
Initially, though, it looks like business as usual. Basically as soon as Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) returns to town in the second season premiere, he seems to fall back into his old habit of making everything about him. “I am a Nathan that knows I shouldn’t be centering myself in this way,” he pleads as he hijacks a birthday party. The irony is so dense, even his thick skull seems to be crumbling under its weight.
So it’s a surprise and something of a relief that for the rest of the season, Nathan actually does make good on his epiphany. He spends much of its eight half-hour episodes taking a backseat to Terry in his campaign to get 18-year-old Bobbie (Jesse Leigh) elected mayor, or lending a sympathetic ear to Reagan (Jana Schmieding) about complications in her personal and professional life. The new and improved Nathan makes for a far more likable character than the clueless, self-absorbed son of privilege we met last year.
But having allowed the character to evolve, Rutherford Falls seems at a loss with what to do with him anymore. His main arc, which involves a rekindling of his relationship with former mayor Deirdre (Dana L. Wilson), looks generic in comparison to arcs unfolding around him, as if it could have been dropped in from any other Mike Schur show about likable nerds. Meanwhile, it pushes him further than ever from the true heart of the series, which still lies with the concerns, both petty and profound, of the town’s Minishonka community.
For Reagan, the focus is on expanding her cultural center and applying for a land assignment, both with help from a new curator. As played by Dallas Goldtooth (Reservation Dogs), Nelson strikes the exact right balance between dorky and dreamy to make him an ideal match for Reagan, though it takes her some time to realize it; truly, shoutout to showrunner Sierra Teller Ornelas and her team for understanding that all it takes to turn a seemingly humorless pedant into a viable love interest is to have him roll up his sleeves while announcing he used to be a carpenter.
Meanwhile, Terry’s central concern is steering Rutherford Falls through his ambitious plans to revamp the town center as a Colonial Williamsburg-style tourist destination. His ideas attract the ire of local business owners like Feather Day (Letterkenny‘s Kaniehtiio Horn), who’s none too thrilled about being forced to rename her boutique fitness studio “Ye Olde Sweat” in keeping with his new mandates.
Horn and especially Goldtooth fit so seamlessly into the cast it seems they’ve always been there — which helps make up for what Rutherford Falls loses of the quirky small-town vibe of the previous season, what with characters like Deirdre, Reagan’s radio producer ex Josh (Dustin Milligan) and Nathan’s brother Duz (Benjamin Koldyke) getting reduced or less prominent roles.
As ever, Rutherford Falls‘ humor runs more wry than gut-busting, this time with even less emotionally explosive drama to tip it off course. And the show hasn’t lost its knack for balancing big-hearted comedy with incisive cultural commentary. One of this season’s sharpest installments sends Terry and Reagan to serve as cultural consultants on a Yellowstone-esque hit called Adirondack, to the former’s excitement and the latter’s skepticism. (“This is the place where Adam Beach dies in the first ten minutes of every movie,” Regan grumbles as they walk through the backlot.) That the producers ultimately just want the pair to rubber-stamp their offensive ideas comes as little surprise. That Rutherford Falls turns the tables on years of one-dimensional Native representation by having all the producers played by a single white guy, Jon Barinholtz, makes for a clever bit of payback.
Other plotlines take “Pretendians” to task in a cathartic rant delivered by Terry — “You hide in the cracks of our trauma, feasting on opportunities,” he growls, disgust dripping from every syllable — or trap Reagan in the labyrinth of red tape that is tribal bureaucracy. But still others simply sit back and have fun watching Reagan and Nelson wrestle with romantic jealousy while dressed in ridiculous Halloween costumes, or Nathan burst out of a coffin to the shock and rage of mourners gathered at a funeral. An earnest passion for Native culture pulses throughout the entire series, reflected in casual one-liners but also in featured displays of work by real-life Native artists like Natalie Ball.
Rutherford Falls exudes warmth, but its optimism is one tempered by caution; the show’s faith is not in the traditions that have let these characters down for so long, but in their efforts to work around them, or to invent new ones entirely. Bobbie’s campaign is billed as a breath of fresh air, even if it’s backed by Terry (and even if the Parks & Rec fan in me can’t help wondering if they’re headed toward an Ice Town-style disaster). Reagan’s land-assignment storyline touches on the unfairness of the priority given to married couples with kids, but also inspires her to imagine a new way of life for childless women like herself. Even committed capitalist Terry finds himself admitting, this season, that there are things more important than money. With the fight over Big Larry firmly in the rearview, Rutherford Falls’, and Rutherford Falls‘, journey to a brighter future is just getting started.