Rutherford Falls on Stan is smart but not quite funny enough

Anthony O'Connor
·Contributor
·4-min read

Streamer: Stan

Length: 10 x episodes (25-30 minutes)

Score: 3/5

When it comes to comedy on the telly, Michael Schur seems to have the Midas touch. Everything he lays his hands on turns to gold.

He was a writer and producer on the US version of The Office, co-created Parks and Recreation, co-created Brooklyn Nine-Nine and created The Good Place: a comedy series that made philosophy cool for a mainstream audience.

Anticipation was white hot for his next effort, and now it’s here! And, yeah look, there’s a lot to like about Rutherford Falls, but there are a bunch of caveats too.

Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) in Rutherford Falls
Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) is an affable history nerd until the town starts to mess with his sense of tradition in Rutherford Falls. Picture: Stan

Rutherford Falls is essentially the story of two besties. There’s Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms), who is a descendant of the town’s founder and a wide-eyed history nerd, and Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding) a member of the Minishonka Nation who runs a cultural centre in a casino and wants to champion the untold history of her people.

Events kick off when a push to move the statue of town founder Lawrence “Big Larry” Rutherford causes controversy and brings out the best and worst of the townsfolk. And as tensions rise, the more reactionary white people in town appear to be on a collision course with the Minishonka Nation.

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Here’s the thing about Rutherford Falls: it’s got a great and very timely premise, a pretty excellent cast and a diverse writer’s room (half of whom are people with indigenous backgrounds) which is profoundly laudable.

That said, it gets off to a really rough start.

The first episode in particular is clunky and almost completely laugh-free. To be honest, if your humble word janitor wasn’t watching it for work he may well have stopped there.

The good news is, it gets significantly better! Although our leading pair do swing from charming to annoying and back again a little too often, the supporting actors are superb.

Terry Thomas (Michael Greyeyes) in Rutherford Falls
Terry Thomas (Michael Greyeyes) is easily one of the best characters in Rutherford Falls. Picture: Stan

Michael Greyeyes is an absolute revelation of an actor, playing Terry Thomas the CEO of the Minishonka casino with unexpected depth and a wry sense of humour.

Also excellent is Dustin Milligan (yes, it’s sexy Ted from Schitt’s Creek!) as the driven NPR journo, Josh Carter, who uses the phrase “powder keg” entirely too often.

In fact, there’s a scene between Terry and Josh - where the latter tries to school the former on tribal philosophy and cops a verbal beatdown - that’s absolutely superb.

But again, you might want to adjust your expectations if you’re expecting chuckles aplenty.

Rutherford Falls has its heart in the right place, is clever and well-observed but you won’t be getting the near-perfect mix of pathos, wit and hilarity provided by The Good Place.

But perhaps it’s unfair to lambast the show this early. The first season of Parks and Recreation was quite uneven and The Good Place didn’t really get going until the amazing twist was revealed.

Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) and Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding) in Rutherford Falls.
The friendship between Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) and Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding) is at the core of Rutherford Falls... even if it feels a little unlikely at times. Picture: Stan

Still and all, Rutherford Falls isn’t another golden offering from the house of Schur. It’s a solid, often very droll and engaging, slice of small town social commentary with some great characters, pithy observations and sporadic laughs.

It’s also a bit on-the-nose at times, oddly paced and strangely uneven, particularly in the first third.

There’s room for improvement here, and potential for greatness, but at the moment Rutherford Falls feels like a compelling work in progress, rather than a fully realised final product.

Proof, if you needed it, that nothing in this business is a guaranteed Schur thing.

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