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Series / Rutherford Falls

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"I'm the one connecting all those dots. I'm the one telling the whole story. I am the steward of my family's legacy that will resonate throughout history. That's not nothing, jerks."
Nate Rutherford

Rutherford Falls is a Peacock original series created by Ed Helms, Michael Schur, and Sierra Teller Ornelas. The show is notable for featuring a cast that is half made up of Native American actors and having a majority-Native writer's room.

Nate Rutherford (Helms) is a proud resident of Rutherford Falls — a town founded by his family in the 17th Century — and dedicated to promoting his home and his family's association with it. However, the statue of town founder Laurence "Big Larry" Rutherford causes one too many traffic accidents and leads to the the townspeople wanting to move it to a less prominent location, Nate engages in an angry rant that piques the interest of Terry Thomas (Michael Greyeyes) of the (fictional) Minishonka Nation who sees an opening to try and reclaim land that originally belonged to his people.

Simultaneously, Nate's childhood friend Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding) struggles to find support for a proper Minishonkan Cultural Center, and finds herself torn between helping Nate and supporting Terry's efforts while integrating herself back into Minishonkan society after having been ostracized for many years.

The cast also includes Jessie Leigh as Bobbie Yang, Nate's peppy intern, Dustin Milligan as Josh Carter, a journalist doing a piece on Rutherford Falls, and Dana L. Wilson as Dierdre Chisenhall, the town's no-nonsense mayor whose family history is almost as old as Nate's.

A second season released on 16 June 2022, but the show was then cancelled by Peacock.

This series provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Ms. Fish, a teacher at the town school, who throws herself at Nathan at every opportunity despite it being transparently obvious Nathan has no interest in her. Until the final episode of season 2, where Nathan becomes attracted to her confidence and professionalism in her role as Deirdre's doula, and the two sleep together.
  • Aborted Arc: The first season finale's plot thread of Nathan finding his real family and identity is dropped in season two in favor of Nathan making amends with the town and becoming a good father to his child by Deirdre.
  • Affair Letters: Reagan finds letters denoting an affair involving Nathan's mother, that seems to prove Nathan illegitimate.
  • Army of Lawyers: Double Subverted. After Terry sends a lawsuit his way, Nathan claims to Terry that he has the backing of Rutherford Inc., who will surely send a team of lawyers his way to back him up. They, a wimp who got his junior associate position through nepotism, and whom Terry easily sends a way with his tail between his legs. Following that, Rutherford Inc. then sends a legitimate team of lawyers led by PR head Kaitlyn herself; they even show up in a helicopter and Team Power Walk to the casino.
  • Artistic License: Josh sleeps with Reagan and participates in her efforts to build up the Minishonka Cultural Center while still covering her as part of his reporting for NPR. These are unethical behaviors for a journalist, with the former being a fireable offense at most reputable organizations while the latter is often serious enough to warrant formal discipline.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Initially, Terry and Deirdre's tense relationship is implied to be because he views her as another representation of the colonizing force on his people's lands. Actually, it's because Deirdre's brother trashed an Airbnb property Terry owns and that the fallout resulted in Terry's host rating taking a severe hit.
  • Bastard Angst: In the tenth episode Nathan, shaken by the revelation that he is illegitimate, goes on a quest for identity to find his real family.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Reagan is an attractive plus-sized woman; in "Halloween" when her new boyfriend Nelson comments with dismay that both her recent exes look like models, Sally explains that Reagan's intelligence, confidence, and independence make her attractive.
  • Black Boss Lady: Lampshaded, during their argument in "History Fair" Deirdre (the town's black female mayor) accuses Terry of making her come off like an intimidating black woman. He counters that she is making him look like a shifty Indian.
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins:
    • Exploited. Terry keeps a case in his office full of Native American accessories, including multiple bead necklaces, metal jewelry, and feathers. When preparing to meet with the white Army of Lawyers, he decides against the hair feathers, saying they're "too much", but the beadwork and jewelry can still make them guilty and jealous.
    • Exploited after Terry is hired as a consultant on a Yellowstone-like TV show and is unsuccessful in getting them to portray their Native Americans more accurately and sensitively. He instead steers the production into a carnival of mishmashed Native stereotypes (headdresses, tepees, yelling, over-the-top beadwork, "sexy Pocahontas" costumes). They leak photos to Josh, who publishes them, bringing negative attention onto the production.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Nate's arc over the first season is his growing realization that his ancestors weren't the paragons he was led to believe and that the major corporation bearing his family's name is more concerned with maintaining its bottom line and doesn't care about him or the Rutherfords on any level.
    • Nate also slowly finds out that Professor Kaufman, whom he viewed as a mentor, is actually an alcoholic and holds racist beliefs.
  • Brutal Honesty: Terry says he admires Reagan's lack of tact when it comes to him since most people are afraid to tell him their honest opinion.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: Reagan works part time at Terry's casino but doesn't like the job, viewing casinos as "cesspools of blind capitalism". Terry argues that casinos make people happy by pointing to a man celebrating his victory at one of the slot machines. Reagan counters by pointing to a nearby couple who are arguing.
  • Cool Aunt: The episode "Aunt Sue" deals with the death of Reagan's beloved Aunt Sue who was quite the force of nature. She owned a Cool Bike, had a gun collection, was a party animal even in her old age, once brought the doctor to the store when her sister's water broke and helped her deliver the baby and was overall just a kind and loving relative to her niece.
  • Could Say It, But...: The morning after Deirdre and Nathan spend the night together:
    Charlie: As your employee, it would be inappropriate for me to ask why you're wearing the same outfit as yesterday, so I won't.
  • The Clan: The Rutherfords are a large family who have been in the United States for four centuries and Nate is the self-appointed steward of the family legacy. He's aware of the various trails the Rutherfords have blazed and cherishes their ancestral mansion, but is either blissfully naive or willfully ignorant about the thorny legacy that comes with being colonizers.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Nate always does extensive research, exemplified when he writes a song about his family and amazes new additions by singing about milestones they haven't revealed yet.
  • A Degree in Useless: One of Reagan's degrees is in Russian literature, which she acknowledges has been of little use to her in her career.
  • Foil: Reagan and Nate, the show's central friendship. They are lifelong best friends who share values, senses of humor, and a love of history and culture. But Nate is the white descendant of the town founder, while Reagan is a member of the local Native American tribe. These contrasting identities bring disagreement about the town's legacy and treatment of Native Americans.
  • Easily Forgiven:
    • Played for Laughs in the season 2 premiere. Nathan is ready to give a big apology to Bobbie for abandoning them in the previous season, only for Bobbie to just hug him and forgive him before Nathan has a word out.
    • Terry is upset with Nathan for crashing his birthday party with an apology video for a few minutes before accepting Nathan's apology. Terry attributes this more to seeing Nathan make a fool of himself which made Terry feel much better about the stress he's been dealing with.
  • Enemy Mine: After learning that Terry intends to purchase a large swathe of land owned by the Rutherfords to expand the casino, Deirdre sees this as an affront and decides to throw her weight behind Nathan, whom she had been on antagonistic terms previously.
    Deirdre: You know what they say: the enemy of my enemy is my temporary co-conspirator.
  • Feuding Families: Nate carries on a centuries-long grudge the Rutherfords have held against the Chisenhalls. He's actually the only one who care about it, with Deirdre Chisenhall not even knowing what the feud is about. It was over the drunken theft of a horse.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: The Wellses. Reagan (studious and uptight museum director) is the Responsible, while her brother Curtis (irresponsible and layabout hot tub salesman) is the Foolish. She resents that their dead aunt's land is going to him just because he has kids, when she was the one who stayed in the town and did the work.
  • Hidden Depths: For two seasons Ms. Fish is simply a shallow teacher who adores Nathan, to his dismay. In the final episode of season two, however, she is revealed to be a certified doula and is very competent and professional in this role, to the point that Nathan is attracted to her. He comments that it's interesting seeing this new side of her.
    Nathan: Who knew Ms. Fish was a doula?
    Reagan: Okay, burying the lede. Ms. Fish's first name is Peggy?
    Nathan: Literally the first time hearing any of this.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Terry does a traditional Minishonka land acknowledgement and makes sure the only English words he uses are "Mayor Deirdre Chisenhall", "unfortunate genocide", "so frigid", and "unemployment".
    Deirdre: What the hell, Terry? You said my name five times and I distinctly heard you say "genocide"!
  • Indian Burial Ground: Inverted. At the start of the second season, Bobbie suspects that the new cultural center, located in an old colonial house, is haunted. They call in Sally and Wayne, who declare the house must be haunted by angry white ghosts and try to communicate with them using "traditional cultural items" such as a Cheers DVD and a bottle of Chardonnay.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Josh, a journalist played by Dustin Milligan, gets several comments about his attractiveness thrown his way throughout the show.
  • Irony: Nathan is extremely proud of his Rutherford lineage and has made it his life's work to preserve the family's history and legacy. He is eventually revealed to be the result of his mother's extramarital affair, meaning he is not related to the Rutherfords by blood.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Reagan's ex-fiancé Ray moved on and married a white woman. Ray's mother is presumably not happy about the relationship and blames it on Reagan dumping Ray.
  • Mighty Whitey: In-Universe. When judging student films in "History Fair", Reagan (who is an indigenous woman from the local Minishonka tribe) and Nathan (a white descendant of the town's founder) both initially favor a film that emphasizes the oppression of the Minishonkans. But they come into conflict upon learning that the student who made it is white, with Reagan wondering if it would be proper to recognize a white ally for their efforts to uplift the tribe's voice.
  • The Missus and the Ex: At Wayne and Sally's Halloween party, Reagan's new boyfriend Nelson is transparently jealous upon seeing her chat with her ex-fiance Ray (despite Ray being married), and the two get into a dick-measuring contest about whose tribe is better and who can start the bonfire.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: Reagan is ostracized by the Minishonkan community. At first, she thinks it's because she's a townie who doesn't live on the reservation, but it's actually because she called off her engagement the night before the wedding, leaving her fiancé's mother with a huge financial burden and disappointing many people who put in a lot of effort to make the day special. Terry decides to help Reagan get back in everyone's good graces as a way to advance his own agenda.
  • Native American Casino: The Minishonkans operate the Running Thunder Casino. Josh wonders if unfettered capitalism is really the way forward for Native American nations, while Terry counters that the casino brings communal benefits for the Minishonkan community. Terry also has ambitions to turn it into a resort destination. Midway through the first season, Terry brings Reagan to a gaming conventions where they get to see what other reservations are doing with their own casinos.
  • N-Word Privileges: "History Fair": In the discussion at P.F. Chang's about separating art from the artist, one of the white employees asks why he can't say the N-word. The minorities in the room shut him down, saying it's not that much of a safe space.
  • Our Founder: The statute of the town founder, Laurence Rutherford, is a central plot point. The city wants to move it because it causes a lot of traffic accidents; Nate (who is descended from "Big Larry") sees this as an insult.
  • Platonic Life-Partners:
    • Nathan and Reagan are very old, close friends who form the show's central relationship; the other subplots in the show branch out from them. However, they are completely platonic and are involved in separate love triangles in the second season.
    • Implied to be the case with Wayne and Sally. Wayne is married and Sally is single by choice. However, the two are the best of friends and are always seen in each other's company.
  • Rose-Tinted Narrative: Nate sincerely believes that his family founded Rutherford Falls by approaching the Minishonka in peace and that everything's been perfectly friendly until the present day. Terry goes out of his way to disabuse Nate of these beliefs. This rose-colored view extends to how Nate sees the current members of the Rutherford clan, as he's convinced that everyone is doing well until Dudley, his brother, points out that their relatives are suffering through job losses, financial issues, marital problems, and alcoholism.
  • The Social Expert: Bobbie is a social media savant. They are very attuned to what folks are saying online and able to track other people just from a quick glance at his phone. They are able to turn this online popularity into a victorious grassroots campaign for mayor.
  • Show Within a Show: Adirondack, a drama named after a nature park that's popular with older demographics and has questionable portrayals of indigenous peoples.
  • Strawman Political: In his interactions with Terry, Josh sets up arguments over whether or not capitalism and gambling meshes with Native American culture, giving Terry the opportunity to speak at length about how they do.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Shaken by certain revelations about his family, Nate tries to invoke Toppled Statue by looping a chain around the statue of Big Larry, attaching it to his car, and driving off. Because of the weight, however, the effort instead tears the rear bumper off of his car.
  • Tagalong Kid: Bobbie, as the heritage museum's intern, is often by Nate's side, although they can't contribute much beyond being supportive.
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: "Crab mentality", aka "crabs in a bucket" (someone out catching crabs doesn't have to cover their bucket as the crabs will pull each other down) informs Minishonkan social interactions. When Reagan gets featured on a billboard, the Minishonka badmouth her through gossip and social media out of the belief that she thinks she's better than the community. At first, Reagan tries to explain herself to the community but snaps and starts cutting down the ones who piss her off and ends up winning some favor.
  • Technical Advisor: An In-Universe example in the second season. Terry and Reagan, who are Native Americans of the fictional Minishonka people, are brought on to be cultural consultants for Adirondack, a Yellowstone-like Show Within a Show that prominently features Native Americans. However, their concerns about the offensive and appropriative portrayals in the script are ignored by the writers and directors. Eventually, Terry gives up on cultural accuracy and instead encourages a very stereotypical depiction of Native Americans (such as Tipis and Totem Poles and Braids, Beads and Buckskins), which brings on negative attention to the production.
  • That Came Out Wrong: While sniping at each other Terry and Deirdre accidentally bring up some negative stereotypes.
    Terry: You're completely unable to listen to reason!
    Deirdre: Oh, so I'm the "angry black woman" now?
    Terry: That's not what I said.
    Deirdre: Even if you're still mad at me, that's no reason to undermine me at every turn. Besides, slanderous Minishonka land acknowledgements, what other tricks are you going to pull?
    Terry: Oh, so now I'm the tricky, "shifty Indian"?
    Deirdre: I didn't even know that was a thing!
    Terry: Oh, it's a thing.
  • The Theme Park Version: Invoked. Part of Terry's ambitious redevelopment includes a section of the town made up to look like Colonial Williamsburg — or, rather, the version of it that exists in people's minds. Nathan complains about the historical inaccuracies of the costume and props (eg. the type of butter churn Terry procures was used in North Carolina, not New York); Terry dismisses his concerns since audiences don't care enough about the real details to withhold profits.
  • Those Two Guys: Wayne and Sally, two Minishonkan employees at the casino, who always show up as a duo to make fun of Reagan, snark about goings-on, or snark about Reagan's goings-on.
  • Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Variation in season 2. Deirdre reciprocates Nathan's feelings, but rejects him as a romantic partner because he disappeared for months while she was pregnant with his child (though he didn't know about the latter). Nathan accepts his and at the end of the season sleeps with Ms. Fish, their doula... just before Deirdre calls him, implying she was ready to date him for rea.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: When Nathan attempts the "Boot Challenge" at an Italian restaurant, he manages to finish the enormous amount of food. But when the servers ask him for his name, he ends up projectile-vomiting across the table, then passing out.
  • White Male Lead: Nathan, the main protagonist, is surrounded by diverse characters: his assistant/intern Bobbie (Asian and nonbinary), his best friend Reagan and self-proclaimed nemesis Terry (Native Americans of the fictional Minishonka people), and the town mayor Deirdre (black descendant of a white family). Identities are important here, as for all he bumbles, Nathan — as a white man from an old and well-regarded family — remains much more privileged than all the other players.
  • The Whitest Black Guy: Played With. Reagan, who is Minishonka, assumes that the reason her people don't like her is because she's a "city Indian" who got multiple postgraduate degrees instead of living on the reservation. Terry bluntly informs her that it's because she dumped her fiance the night before their wedding and still hasn't repaired those bridges, and puts Reagan to work in doing so. However, when she gets cyberbullied for being put in charge of the upgraded cultural center, the complaints include that she isn't in touch with the cultures and doesn't attend the rituals.
  • Written-In Absence: Terry's family features in "Halloween", sans his daughter Maya. His wife Renee has a line explaining Maya is off on an exchange program in Canada.
  • Young Entrepreneur: Terry started out as one. As a young child, he had a successful lemonade stand that expanded to include brownies, and this business sense eventually got him to the position of boss of the local Native American Casino. He's disappointed that his young daughter, who makes beadwork, doesn't share his entrepreneurship and prefers to give her art away for free.