Rutherford Falls first caught my eye on the Rotten Tomatoes website as a Top 5 “Certified Fresh TV” option. It’s a critical success that hasn’t quite caught on with the masses yet, probably due to its network—Peacock—still building and gaining subscribers.
But this show, made by the creators of Parks and Rec and The Office, is worthy of its acclaim and a wider viewership. Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) is trying to preserve his family’s legacy as colonial founders of the town, a quaint New England hamlet first settled by the fictional Minishonka people. Supporting him is his best friend, Reagan (Jana Schmieding, also a writer on the show), a member of the Minishonka tribe who is valiantly trying to run a tribal cultural center wedged in the corner of the town’s Indigenous-run casino. Nathan is clueless about a lot of things, including how his ancestor’s “handshake agreement” with the Minishonka to settle the town is problematic. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body and bumbles along haplessly in his quest to burnish the Rutherford name.
But as the show gently points out, this kind of seemingly harmless bumbling actually can be harmful when one’s blinders are so entrenched.
Reagan is the more interesting character, as she navigates her desire to honor her people while not fitting in with them, either. It’s refreshing that her plus-size body is never commented on, and she is given a real love interest.
Enter Terry (a riveting Michael Greyeyes), the wealthy owner of the casino, who is keenly ambitious to restore Minishonka flourishing to pre-Rutherford days.
In one stunning scene, Terry gives a monologue to a startled NPR reporter about his tribe’s preservation despite hundreds of years of obstacles and displacement. “I’ve had to learn to play this game through bare-knuckled necessity,” Terry says, “and while that might not make for a feel-good story, I won’t rest until my nation gets every single thing that was taken from them.”
It is an anchoring, potent scene, one that stands out as the rest of the series takes a milder approach to issues of Indigenous land rights. Really, the overall vibe of the show is ‘how can we all honor our cultures, be equals, and flourish together”? But the viewer can’t ever forget the steel in Terry’s eyes and voice.
There’s nothing on TV like it—a show that centers Native characters and is written by Native writers and run by a Native showrunner. However, neither Nathan or any other white character is cast as a villain though Nathan’s privilege is obvious to everyone but him. There is plenty of compassion for Nathan as he figures out his own identity and purpose in life.
Yes, it’s a comedy, but the humor is lowkey and smart rather than broad. In the same way Parks and Rec and The Office took awhile to percolate, humor wise, Rutherford Falls’s first season is all about character building and introducing us to life in Rutherford Falls. It’s a show that entertains you as it makes you think, yet there is nothing heavy about it. Rated TV-14. (In Canada, watch on the StackTV Amazon Channel or for free with ads on Global TV.)
Escape to the Chateau
This winsome British gem has become one of my go-to comfort shows. A mix of House Hunters International and any number of construction/design shows on HGTV, Escape to the Chateau blends wish fulfillment and travelog with DIY—a winning combination.
Lt. Col. Dick Strawbridge and his partner Angel Adoree scrape up their savings to buy a ramshackle but magnificent 19th-century French chateau, and work like pack mules to restore it, not only as a home for themselves and their two small children, Arthur and Dorothy, but as a venue for weddings and other events. They need to start making income, and fast.
There are 45 rooms, 12 acres of land, a moat, and an orangery (a dedicated building on the grounds of fashionable residences of Northern Europe from the 17th to the 19th centuries where orange and other fruit trees were protected during the winter).
Since they spent all they had to buy the chateau (£280,000, a bargain), they have a very limited budget to fix it up. Dick was an engineer in the military, and he can do seemingly anything, including install a hugely complicated heating system and build an elevator that takes people up to the fairy tale turret (one of two turrets). Angel, a flamboyant designer, has boundless creativity. Her flair and innovation transform the chateau into something magical.
No matter what they face—floors falling through, bats, and a constant lack of money—Dick and Angel are loving to one another. (They do get married at the end of season one, which is lovely to witness.) Their kindness to each other and others in the face of crazy-making obstacles might be the most inspiring thing about them and this charming show. (Rated TV-PG. In Canada, watch on CBC Gem.)
“How are you in confined spaces?” is the question posed to Officer Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) in the first episode of this BBC-produced 6-episode thriller. Gulp. Neither Officer Amy Silva nor I, the viewer, are very good in confined spaces, which made the premise of this series crackle with tension.
Silva is claustrophobic and traumatized by a previous confined spaces situation, yet she answers the call when her superiors ask her to be helicoptered to an anti-nuke Navy submarine somewhere in deep, churning waters, and quite literally dropped inside to investigate a murder onboard. I do love a good setting for a story, and setting a murder investigation on a submarine is brilliant. Obviously, there are far fewer places for a murderer—or a victim—to escape to. My heart was pounding several times during this procedural drama as Silva navigated the tiny quarters of the submarine, and one spoiler location that made the submarine look roomy in comparison.
There’s 140 men and eight women on board, and Silva must figure out who killed the officer and why. Another wrinkle is that she can’t exactly text people on the outside, but she can send and receive messages via code. Advocating for her on the outside, and doing her own investigation, is Silva’s ex, Officer Kirsten Longacre (Rose Leslie). Their interactions (in flashback) are generally mild, although the show is rated TV-MA for violence, language, and some sexual innuendo. Leslie’s Officer Longacre was the most compelling, nuanced character to me as she displayed a range of believable emotions. If you’re looking for a cozy British mystery, this is not for you. However, if you want to bite your nails through six taut, gripping episodes, Vigil is your show. (Rated TV-MA. Watch in Canada on Starz.)