I had a realization the other day when I was discussing with Sean the importance of a crucial icescraper that ties together this new Fargo TV series and the movie it’s based on — and it’s that I’ve seen the movie Fargo a lot. Like probably much more than your average cinephile/Coen Brothers fan (they’re pretty much the same thing at this point). This would probably have to do with the fact that the Fargo movie managed to mix together three of my favorite things: dark comedy, film noir, and the great state of Minnesota. The latter has to do with basically all of my extended family hailing from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, which lent itself to a very unique tone and atmosphere that hasn’t been justly replicated in film or television since. Of course, that’s all changed now that this Fargo TV series (don’t worry it’s been blessed by the Coen’s who serve as producers), since the show serves as a respectful counterpart to the movie while also brilliantly carving out it’s own frigid, bloodstained universe.
I’m not sure we’ve established with these TV reviews how much we should go into spoilers, but since the first episode alone of Fargo takes a lot of surprising twists and turns that I wouldn’t want to spoil, I’ll try to be vague. But basically Lester Nygaard (played by a perfectly weasely Martin Freeman) starts getting into some bad shit after a chance encounter with the meticulous hitman Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), and things just keep getting worse from there. Malvo and Nygaard’s crimes are brought to the attention of Bimidji, Minnesota’s local police, which includes the aptly-named Deputy Molly Solverson (Alison Tolman) who suspect Lester’s involvement with the perpetually homicidal Malvo.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t initially have high hopes for Fargo, since outside of say MASH or Friday Night Lights, movie-to-TV adaptations rarely work out, but the cast was what hooked me in. And this might be the first TV show I can remember in which pretty much every cast member is a well-known face. In addition to bigscreen talent like Thornton and Freeman, you’ve got appearances from the likes of Bob Odenkirk, Colin Hanks, Oliver Platt, Keith Carradine, and even Key & Peele show up later on. Billy Bob probably gives the most memorable performance of the bunch, as his character is a singular combination of Thornton’s rascally big screen persona, while also digging at something much darker and unsettling. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got a breakout performance from one of the show’s few unestablished names, Alison Tolman, whose Molly is equal parts no-nonsense cop and nice Minnesota girl, and frequently serves as the show’s conscience in the face of all it’s greed and mayhem.
But apart from the characters and tone, I think what really impressed me about Fargo was a lot of the bold narrative choices the show makes. It’s obviously learned a bit from Breaking Bad, in that Fargo uses a lot of its cold opens to depict memorable stand-alone vignettes that we eventually learn are connected to the overall story. I’ve also heard Lester Nygaard compared more than a few times to Walter White, since he also plays a regular guy who takes up criminal activities without anyone suspecting a thing. But unlike ‘ol Mr. White, they make Lester become unforgivably loathsome at a pretty steady rate, which leaves very little room for the audience to stay on his side. There’s also a particularly snowblind cliffhanger that one of the episodes ends on that momentarily had me questioning what kind of moral chaos this show was taking on. Which then led to a few episodes later when we get a pretty jarring jump in time, which creates problems for storylines which are abruptly discarded, but also creates some satisfying consequences for the show’s conclusion.
And if I had to express any complaints at all about Fargo‘s first season, it’d probably have to do with it’s finale. I think with this show and the much more talked about True Detective from earlier this year, we’ve seen that a stand-alone anthology can be a great vehicle for a season-long crime procedural. But I think these shows have also proven that wrapping up the season (and overall story) with a satisfying ending can be a bit tough. Which I can’t really fault the creators for, since there isn’t yet an established formula for this kind of storytelling — which is also what feels so fresh and exciting about both of these shows. But really my main complaint with the Fargo finale is that it would’ve been nice to see the two characters who are clearly the show’s hero and villain have at least one scene together. Just one is all I’m asking. But am I fine with the finale having a kind of anti-climax, since that’s pretty much how the movie ends and this show is ultimately trying to both respect and transcend its source material? Oh yah, you betcha.
Also, I just hope Oliver Platt is OK.