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'Rutherford Falls' review: Genial charmer that quietly makes TV history

"Rutherford Falls" cast  (l-r): Ed Helms as

"Rutherford Falls" cast  (l-r): Ed Helms as Nathan Rutherford, Dana L. Wilson as Mayor Deirdre, Jana Schmieding as Reagan Wells.   Credit: Peacock/Colleen Hayes

SERIES "Rutherford Falls"

WHEN|WHERE Streaming Thursday on Peacock

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) is the chief civic booster of the upstate town his family cofounded with the local Indians 400 years earlier. He's also the last of the Rutherfords to live here because the rest left long ago to build a multinational corporation that makes everything from missiles to baby wipes. Nathan's boosterism is about to be challenged by a growing local movement to remove "Big Larry," the statue of his great great (great) grandfather that's inconveniently situated in the middle of an intersection. He enlists childhood friend, Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding), to help in the battle — she's Rutherford Fall's chief booster of its Indian heritage — which puts both n a collision course with Terry Thomas (Michael Greyeyes), boss of the casino on the nearby Indian reservation. Another challenge: "Big Larry" is the Rutherford company logo.

Helms and Michael Schur ("Parks and Recreation," "The Office") cocreated.

MY SAY "Rutherford Falls" is a quirky charmer with a big heart told from an Indigenous perspective. The "quirky charm" part makes sense because this is a Mike Schur co-creation and he's spent a career doing quirk, most recently "The Good Place."

What's unprecedented is that "Indigenous" part.

"Rutherford Falls'" showrunner is Sierra Teller Ornelas, a Navajo (and a master weaver) who's written for "Superstore" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." Half her writer's room is Indigenous, and more than half the cast, too, including colead Schmieding (Lakota), and Greyeyes (Plains Cree), a TV veteran most recently on "I Know This Much Is True."

Meanwhile, Ornelas' show is a comic exploration of a whole range of Culture War flashpoints that crowd around a core one — who gets to write history? Or, by extension, their own TV series? American Indians rarely if ever have, and "Rutherford Falls'" is at long last that series.

Ornelas is not about to squander her opportunity. White privilege and cultural appropriation are a couple of those flashpoints on trial here, but tribal identity gets a workout too. For example, what does it mean to be a "City Indian" like Reagan versus the Indian like Terry who stayed on the "rez" (reservation) — with Reagan intent on preserving tribal identity, Terry on building his casino?

Fans of Schur's series usually know what they'll get and they'll get a little of that here too. Nathan is a Capra-esque hero with an open heart who believes in small-town virtues, as long as the small town is named after his family and those virtues precisely mirror his own. Like Michael Scott or Leslie Knope, he begins at a fixed — or rather ossified — position, then grows from there. It's a wonderful life in Rutherford Falls until he fitfully realizes there are other lives and perspectives to consider here as well.

In an obvious sense, "Rutherford Falls" is the flip side of Bedford Falls while Nathan is the alter-ego of George Bailey. We all know what Bedford Falls would have been like without George, but what would Rutherford Falls have been without the First People?

Nathan is about to become enlightened on that question, and if Peacock gives this promising newcomer the time it'll need to grow, so will viewers.

BOTTOM LINE Genial charmer that quietly makes TV history.

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