Reservation Dogs
A publicity still for the new show Reservation Dogs, and its co-creator, Taika Waititi (Images; supplied; additional design: Tina Tiller)

Pop CultureAugust 10, 2021

Why won’t America let us watch Taika Waititi’s new show?

Reservation Dogs
A publicity still for the new show Reservation Dogs, and its co-creator, Taika Waititi (Images; supplied; additional design: Tina Tiller)

We gave them Wellington Paranormal, yet when it comes to Taika Waititi’s latest TV series Reservation Dogs, the United States is holding out on us.

It is, according to Variety, “a triumph”. Rolling Stone says it is “awfully good” and Paste Magazine calls it “perfect”. “It’s kooky, hilarious and just what you’d expect,” declares IndiewireIn other words, the new TV show from the man with the Midas touch, Taika Waititi, is another winner. And we can’t watch it.

Reservation Dogs, Waititi’s eight-part show co-created with acclaimed Native American filmmaker Sterlin Harjo and made with an entirely Indigenous cast and crew, debuts its first two episodes in America today. It’s screening on the FX network, and streaming via Hulu, where Waititi’s other show What We Do In The Shadows also airs.

What’s it about? Great question. I’d love to tell you. But I haven’t seen it. Kiwi critics haven’t been sent copies. That’s because, in New Zealand, we can’t watch Reservation Dogs. At least, not yet, we can’t. There’s no release date, no word when it might land.  We just gave America Wellington Paranormal, and it seems they’re not returning the favour.

According to critics who have seen the show, Reservation Dogs tells the story of four Native Oklahoma teenagers indulging in petty crimes in a bid to make enough money to up sticks and move to California. Their first big heist involves stealing a potato chip food truck, an event featured heavily in the incredible, hilarious, mouth-watering first trailer.

You can see Waititi’s influence all over this: the wry, dry humour, the small town boredom he showed off so well in Boy, and you just know the kid busting out some bad breakdance moves came directly from him. When one young character says to another, “I don’t have any friends,” you can almost hear Waititi’s tone in his sarcastic reply: “Go get some, then.”

The show’s ambition to showcase a Native American story from a cast and crew that is entirely Indigenous is also obvious. “To be able to tell a real story about real people through comedy, it’s about time,” Harjo told Associated Press recently. “There’s been 130-something years of cinema and we’re finally showing ourselves as human beings, which shouldn’t be radical, but it is pretty radical today.” The show was shot entirely on the Muscogee Nation reservation in Oklahoma.

It comes at a frenzied time for Waititi, who finds himself at the busiest point of his career, juggling multiple projects across different mediums. He appears in two different films that recently hit cinemas, Free Guy and The Suicide Squad. He’s readying Thor: Love and Thunder for release next year, as well as Next Goal Wins, a football film featuring Elisabeth Moss and Michael Fassbender. He’s also slated to direct a live-action version of Akira, and, before we forget, an untitled Star Wars movie.

Reservation Dogs isn’t his only TV project either. Waititi’s helming Our Flag Means Death, a period pirate comedy caper with Rhys Darby airing on HBO Max, in which Waititi also plays Blackbeard. He’ll also be directing Jude Law in The Auteur for Showtime – that one’s a horror-comedy based on the Rick Spears graphic novel. Whoa. Just typing all of this out is making me tired. Imagine how fried his brain must be.

Yet it doesn’t seem like the workload is affecting the quality. Reviews for Reservation Dogs are incredible. It has an 85% approval rating on Metacritic, where critics say things like, “It’s a series full of oddball characters with a likeable quartet at its center” (The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review), and, “there are more than enough pleasures to be found in this easy-going, but quietly revolutionary, Southwestern snapshot” (The Hollywood Reporter).

So why can’t we watch it? The answer to that question is incredibly boring and ultimately comes down to a complicated network of red tape involving international TV streaming rights that no one, except high level television network executives and dinner party bores, understands or cares about. It’s the same deal with other shows that aren’t available for streaming in New Zealand right now, like Lost, The Bureau and Ziwe.

Probably, it’s just going to take some time. An email needs to be sent. Someone needs to sign something. I asked TVNZ and they said they wouldn’t be getting it. Sky TV, which seems the most likely choice as it holds the rights to air What We Do In The Shadows, says it’s “not in the schedule”. I asked Amazon Prime Video, and got no response.

So, has Waititi gone the way of beef, lamb and timber, with all that Kiwi excellency heading offshore and forgetting all about those of us stuck back at home? Maybe. Maybe not. I found this note at the bottom of a Wikipedia page: “In international markets, (Reservation Dogs) will be distributed through the Star portion of the Disney+ streaming service”.

We have Disney+ in New Zealand. And we have Star as well. I checked, but there’s no sign of Reservation Dogs on there. Disney’s publicity team didn’t respond to The Spinoff’s request for comment, but it seems likely that, when the time comes, you’ll need to sign up and give the mouse with the big ears your $9.99 a month to be able to watch Reservation Dogs.

You could try messaging Taika, like I did, but he’s almost definitely too busy to do anything about it.

Keep going!