How 'Rutherford Falls' Skewers 'Yellowstone' With Fake 'Adirondack' Show-Within-a-Show (Exclusive)
As one of the very few series created and written by as well as starring Indigenous people, Rutherford Falls has sparked a new trend of authentic storytelling on TV. And after debuting to critical acclaim, the Peacock comedy co-created by showrunner Sierra Teller Ornelas is back with an even funnier and sharper season 2.
“I had an absolute blast making a show that’s heartfelt, laugh-out-loud funny, and depicts Native Americans in ways you never see on television,” Ornelas said ahead of the new episodes’ debut on the streaming platform.
While it continues to follow the many lives of the small town as it comes to terms with its cultural identity and controversial past, the sitcom also hilariously skewers Yellowstone, Big Sky and other hit series that have included problematic subplots centered around Native Americans with the running joke, a show-within-a-show called Adirondack.
“The show-within-a-show is genius. It never, never doesn’t slay. It’s always good,” Michael Greyeyes, who plays casino magnate Terry Thomas, tells ET about the writers’ satirical take on all those series within that genre.
First referenced early in the season, Adirondack becomes a larger presence on the show, culminating with Terry and Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding) being hired by the white writers as consulting producers. However, things quickly go south for the two friends, who find themselves unheard and unappreciated.
“During season 1, we did a lot of press and kept getting asked about Native representation. And one of the things we kept echoing was when Native people are at the helm of these Native stories, they’re just better and they’re funnier and they bring more humanity to the Native characters,” Ornelas says.
“And, in our trying to so hard to do our due diligences as storytellers, we were like, ‘How easy must it be to not have to do all these things and to not have to think this way?’” she continues, revealing the idea for Adirondack came out of the juxtaposition of that. “We created this fake show where they’re not asking any deep questions and they’re not asking anything to make sure that it is accurate.”
And much like the characters on the series, especially Reagan’s dad, Ornelas and the writers “have family and friends who love those shows,” she says. “And as we’re watching them, all we can see are the mistakes and the frustrations and the flattening of these characters. And so we thought, ‘Well, that is an absurd Native American experience that we’ve all kind of gone through and let’s talk about it. And let’s exhibit it and really answer that question of what is Native representation?’”
In episode five, Terry and Reagan end up on set after being hired to consult on the hit series, which Terry hopes to have produced in Rutherford Falls. But as soon as they approach those in charge -- the many, same-looking white men played by Superstore’s Jon Barinholtz -- their concerns about certain scenes are quickly dismissed. After being pushed too far, Terry tricks the series to unknowingly lean into controversial depictions of Native culture, which leads to a media backlash.
For Schmieding, who co-wrote "Adirondack,” things cut even deeper. “As Native people, as Native writers, especially, we have been positioned to consume that kind of content. It’s often that those are the kinds of shows that hire us,” she says, explaining that “it’s our little homage to Native writers in Hollywood and honoring that journey that we’ve been on when we’ve been unpaid consultants for many, many years for many shows and the kindness with which they say no to our requests.”
More specifically, the actress has had problematic experiences with non-Native writers trying to create Native content. “I will say that, for me, being in the episode but also covering set as a writer was really exciting because I got to ask the camera operators, who are also my friends and colleagues, ‘Do you guys see these kinds of shows differently now that you’ve worked on this episode?’ And they would be like, ‘Yes, absolutely.’”
While what happens in the episode is “a little bit elevated,” for Schmieding it was all about “letting people in on the joke and making sure that it’s building awareness while being funny,” she says.
And as an actor who’s been in the business for 30 years and has experienced it all, Greyeyes was delighted to push back on all past projects. “I’ve done those shows and we see those shows on TV right now. And we’re like, ‘Wow,’” he says, explaining that they all “were able to collectively dive into the Adirondack episode with such glee.”
He adds, “I giggled my butt off with every line. So yeah, for me, it was the perfect revenge.”
Rutherford Falls season 2 is now streaming on Peacock.
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