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'Rutherford Falls' stars: Friendship stronger after tested by identity crises

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'Rutherford Falls' stars: Friendship stronger after tested by identity crises
Left to right, Ed Helms, Jesse Leigh and Jana Schmieding can now be seen in Season 2 of "Rutherford Falls. Photo by Tyler Golden/Peacock

NEW YORK, June 16 (UPI) -- Jana Schmieding and Ed Helms say the lifelong best friends they play on Peacock sitcom Rutherford Falls will have an even stronger bond after their brief falling-out.

Season 2 debuts Thursday. The first season ended with Schmieding's character, Reagan, teaming up with casino owner Terry (Michael Greyeyes) to establish a Native American cultural center that jeopardizes his historic home and the museum job Nathan loves -- just as he learns he really isn't a descendant of the Rutherford family, whose legacy he has always fiercely protected.

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The events cause Nathan and Reagan to clash over their respective cultures' contributions to their fictional upstate New York town, and forces Nathan to realize how selfish he can be by prioritizing his own needs and ambitions over Reagan's.

"They both had their own learning, their own internal journeys and getting to where they needed to go and, of course, their friendship survived some turmoil, as it does in life," Schmieding told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

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"They find a way to help each other out in these tough times, which we wrote intentionally to portray their friendship as a central part of the show. They can endure some really intense identity crises and still come out thriving -- that element of the season is really touching."

Helms said the characters have a special bond, and even though his character has made a lot of mistakes, he still is learning from them and about himself.

"Hopefully, that stays sympathetic. I do think the underlying love and respect between these two characters is what allows the audience to empathize and love these characters through these stumbles because they love each other through these stumbles," he said.

The beginning of Season 2 sees Nathan return to the titular town after a road trip to find himself.

"He's kind of been through the ringer emotionally and in terms of his sense of self and his identity," Helms said, declining to discuss what career path Nathan takes in the new episodes for fear of spoiling it for viewers.

"He's kind of rebounding in some ridiculous ways. I really think Season 2 leans hard into the comedy stuff. Nathan's not always the most functional in how he is dealing with some of these things."

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After years of career malaise, Reagan is enjoying her new purpose and responsibilities at the cultural center.

"She is stepping into her power and that, of course, comes with a lot of hangups and challenges," Schmieding said.

"She is sort of stepping into her Terry Thomasness, and that can be a really problematic position to be in, especially in a Native American community. Leadership brings responsibility, and so she is in that position where she is about to make a lot of mistakes, too. Not everyone is perfect on this show, and that's where we learn."

Terry tries to mentor Reagan, contradicting a recurring theme that winds through the show of how members of a community sometimes discourage success instead of trying to lift each other up.

"We're challenged by the success of others," Schmieding said. "We see it a lot, and it's unfortunate, but at least we can identify it when it is happening. It's just always going to be a thing that exists for better or worse. That is something that happens to Reagan. She gets a little bit of power, and so it is challenging to hold those positions of power in a small community."

Now that the setting is established and viewers know and care about the characters, series co-creator and executive producer Sierra Teller Ornelas said the writers can relax a bit and focus on the show's humor.

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"I feel like we did such a great job of setting them in Season 1 and created these really great dynamics, but there were also a lot of combinations of characters we hadn't tried. I was really excited to see how this ensemble expands out," she said.

Greyeyes added, "What I loved about Season 1 was establishing who this community was, who these characters were and what they were fighting for.

"For Season 2, I think what Sierra and the other writers and producers did was start to allow the chemistry that was hinted at before to really blossom."

Fans will definitely see more of Terry and Reagan in the new episodes.

"Every time we're on the screen together in Season 2, I could just scream, I am so excited," Greyeyes said. "I have a new relationship with Jesse Leigh's character, Bobbie Yang, and then, of course, I have a nemesis this year, which is so delicious."

Terry also will interact more with Nathan, who was humbled by his experiences in Season 1 and, hopefully, are more aware of the other people in their town and what they want to accomplish.

"Nathan was brought low at the end of last season, and it is a joy to see him rebuild. It is beautiful," Greyeyes said.

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Teller Ornelas agreed.

"We ended Season 1 taking Nathan's legacy completely away. It has been really wonderful in Season 2 to watch him carve out his own legacy and, obviously, fall and fumble in the silliest way possible," she laughed.

Teller Ornelas said she loves creating something that is hilarious, but also tackles big issues surrounding history, identity and the art of settling differences in a civil manner.

"We were the first Native American sitcom. Others have followed, and it's been such a great renaissance that we're in now, but when we were making it we felt this real responsibility to put as much in as we possibly could," she said.

"It was like, 'Leave no stone unturned,' in terms of the stuff that we wanted to talk about. It was a real call to action. I feel like the beauty of Season 2 is: 'OK, they like us. We can stay and we can really explore the comedy of these characters.'"

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