‘Rutherford Falls’: New Peacock Series Hopes to Tackle American History

As production starts to ramp up after months of stagnation due to the global pandemic, we’re finally getting a glimpse at what’s heading to screens; one show inching closer to fruition is the new Peacock series “Rutherford Falls.” Starring Ed Helms, “Rutherford Falls” tells the story of small-town guy Nathan Rutherford (Helms) and what happens when a statue of his namesake ancestor is slated to be moved.

The series reteams Helms with “The Office” scribe Mike Schur, with the two acting as co-creators and executive producers. “I always felt like Mike got me in a way that very few writers do,” Helms said during the series’ CTAM Press Tour virtual panel on Monday.

The pair had been developing the series well before recent unrest regarding Confederate statues dominated the headlines, and Schur hoped to use the show to help those who don’t know about tough topics. “[Recent events] didn’t influence the premise,” Schur said, because the premise predated it. “The original idea was about reckoning with history which, traditionally, America isn’t great with,” Schur said.

The pair, instead, wanted to explore themes of identity and how we define ourselves and relate to historical narratives. The show aims to look at “what happens when those narratives get turned on their head” and we learn new things about our identity, Helms said. A key portion of the plot involves Nathan’s friendship with fellow Rutherford Falls resident and Native American, Reagan (Jana Schmiedling). Helms said they knew they needed a Native American voice in the process, leading them to enlist executive producer Sierra Teller Ornelas, who’s worked on “Superstore” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

“You just never see Indians on TV,” Ornelas said. “Or you see one guy and he has to turn into a wolf.”

For Ornelas, she loved that “Rutherford Falls” showed Native Americans as funny and real people. “We had five native writers on-staff…which I think is a first,” she said. And while it may not be a first in television history it was certainly a first for her: “Growing up, native culture….[always] has a gallows humor,” Ornelas said, noting that it’s an easier way to process and absorb information. “It was a learned behavior to cope.”

“Rutherford Falls” was in the midst of their first meeting for the pilot when the pandemic hits. “We’re scheduled to start shooting in three or four weeks,” Schur said. The series is also set to bring in performers Michael Greyeyes as casino CEO Terry Tarbell, Jesse Leigh as Nathan’s non-binary teenage intern and executive assistant, and “Schitt’s Creek” actor Dustin Milligan will appear as a podcaster/reporter interested in the history of Rutherford Falls.

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