Since the first sitcom aired on American television in 1947 (Mary Kay and Johnny, for the trivia nerds) there has never been one that focuses on this country’s original peoples. While there have been Native actors as regular characters in sitcoms like Northern Exposure, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Parks and Recreation, the American visual media landscape has not focused on an Indigenous community in a comedic setting.
Lucas Brown Eyes is a prolific television writer who is attempting to remedy this decades-long oversight with his Native sitcom Reservations, currently in a holding pattern at 20th Century Fox as it looks for a network. We had a chance to chat with Brown Eyes about this important project.
Thanks so much for chatting with BGN! Could you share a little bit about you and your background as well as your professional experience in the industry so our readers can get to know the man behind the show a little better?
Well, I’m Oglala Lakota, my family moved down here when I was 13. I know first-hand what it feels like to be the future of your family…mainly because I was told that. But I was too naive, or too dense to actually feel any of the pressure back then. I went to USC film school and upon graduating I had no idea how to make it in TV. So, I did the only thing I could think of, looked at how the other Native TV writers did it.
Turns out you can count them all on one hand and have a few fingers left over. But I did notice that most came from the ABC Disney Writing Program. Thankfully, I got in and was staffed on Young & Hungry and KC Undercover. Upon graduating from the program my contract was picked up and I worked on Young & Hungry for five seasons. After the show ended, I decided I was tired of not seeing people like myself on TV, and started developing my own pilot, Reservations. I got very lucky and it sold to 20th Century Fox Studios and the Fox Network.
What’s your elevator pitch for Reservations?
Reservations is a fish out of water story based on my life when I moved from South Dakota to California with my very matriarchal and very Native family.
Could you also share the longer pitch? And do you have potential actors in mind for the roles?
It follows a Native American family moving from the Pine Ridge Reservation to Southern California so the youngest child can pursue his dreams. It’s not a typically represented family structure as it’s based on my real family. Along with my brothers and cousins, I grew up with my Mom, Grandma, and Aunt all living under one roof. I basically had three moms. It’s definitely an underdog story as my family basically moved with no money, no connections, and no idea how to “make it.” It’s messy and there are pitfalls along the way, but there’s never a straight line to getting what you want when you start from nothing. It’s the story of culture shock, hope, perseverance, and not letting the past govern who you are. It’s the story of my family.
I do have potential actors in mind. When you’re a Native creator you dread the “but how do we cast it?” remark, so I like to stay informed on all the Native actors in Hollywood. And to that remark, I also like to say that at some point “how do we cast it?” was said about every first POC show. It just takes a studio with courage and persistence to make history.
What are some of the episode ideas you have for when you finally get this made (which you will!)? Will there be a social justice component like Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat?
Since it would be the first ever Native American family comedy there are a wealth of untapped stories. Without giving away too many spoilers, some will be based on real-life stories like my mom getting banned from Hometown Buffet, and some will include issues that Native Americans face like invisibility.
The news from Indian Country is so heartbreaking every day, from missing Indigenous women to the disenfranchisement of voters and the Dakota Pipeline spills. Why is this important to you and your community to have a Native-based comedy as opposed to another genre?
Well, the stereotype of the “Stoic Indian” has always been a stereotype that I resented, mainly because I’m a loudmouth class clown. I have project ideas for dramas, sci-fi, and romantic comedies as well. But I really wanted to make a Native American family comedy because I feel like it’d be one of the biggest steps towards representation we can make. Family comedies are so relatable because the love and bonds of family are universal. It humanizes us. Right now, we’re invisible, forgotten. Which is why I’m so passionate about my Native family comedy because we’ll be able to show the country that we’re funny, loving, and still here.
Why did you decide to set the show off the reservation in an urban setting? How do you think this will change or shift narratives from and about Indian Country?
Well, it’s based on my life. Whenever I told my life story, I always got, “Wow that should be a show.” So, I made it one. This premise completely changes the narrative as a Native family in a reservation setting has a completely different set of problems to deal with. And the culture shock going from rural to urban is a core component of the show. I’m currently working on a few projects that deal with other settings as well. That’s the amazing thing about Native projects, there are so many fresh stories that haven’t been told. We are an incredibly diverse people as there are over 562 tribes and nations, each with an amazing story to tell.
What are some of the challenges you have been facing?
We are currently looking for a network or streaming service to call home. But speaking generally, there are so many things that Native Creators have to deal with. Invisibility, gatekeeping, lack of access, this could be an entire article itself. The entertainment industry doesn’t like to take a lot of chances. Which is why when one diverse project is a success, then they all jump on it. Natives are still waiting for those first projects from a Native creator to break the ice.