FARGO – Season One Review
When I first heard of Fargo, it was hard to imagine a TV series deserving of the name without the Coen Brothers. TV producers so often tries to just capitalize on a name that they don’t care whether it’s true to the original content or not. Fargo manages to forego any such nonsense and from the beginning of the season until the end, manages to embody the whole tone and vibe of the movie. Showrunner and writer, Noah Hawley, feels like an extension of the Coen Brothers or perhaps even a long lost brother reaching out to them through his talent.
If you still haven’t watched Fargo, you might be wondering how a show that carries over no characters from the original movie and no real ties can truly be a sequel and the answer is that it’s not. Fargo is its own separate entity for the most part. The real ties to the original movie are in how the story is presented to us. It’s a Fargo spin-off as opposed to a direct sequel.
For starters, the show tells us that the events taking place are based on a true story. Most people would believe something like that, but when it comes to Fargo, you best not. Both the movie and the series boast that fact but both are entirely fictional. However, Hawley said that’s part of the appeal. Recently I had a chance to ask him about the show’s fictitious nature and whether there were any actual true crimes that helped to inspire the series and his response was this (spoilers in Hawley’s response only):
“No. There wasn’t. It wasn’t like I read anything that I felt like was a detail that would play in well to this case. It was more that once I put the characters in motion, once I said—and there is a slight [indiscernible] undertrained quality to the set up, but the minute that “Lester” came in and “Malvo” came in and the idea of killing the bully and killing the wife came in, then it was about playing out the consequences of that, and the idea that “Sam” has had connections to a Fargo crime syndicate and that “Mr. Wrench” and “Numbers” came to town and all that. So, at that point, I wasn’t really looking for any true story to rely on. It was more the idea that once you call something a true story, you’re able to break a lot of the rules of hero-based story-telling that this sort of Joseph Campbell heroes journey thing that our friend Dan Harmon talks about all the time.
It was more like you’ll seen in Episode 4, “Gus” manages to arrest “Malvo” and he calls “Molly” and says you should be here, and she gets her coat but she never makes it there and “Bill” goes instead. In the fictional story, you would want her in that room, she’s the hero. She’s supposed to be sitting across from the villain, but the true story version is that she never makes it there, just like “Marge” wasn’t there when “Jerry Lundegaard” was arrested at the end of the movie and the same thing in 106. When “Malvo’s” doing his whole thing of setting up “Don Chumph” and playing out that end game, and even the shootout, it’s like “Molly” and “Gus” are sort of driving around and they’re having coffee and they’re not—the textbook tells you to put them at the center of the action, but by not putting them in the center of the action, it feels more real, I guess, was the conceit. So, it wasn’t so much about looking for real-world inspirations as much as it was to try to make a fictional story feel realer.”
The parallels between the show and the movie don’t just stop at the fictional storylines though. While FX didn’t get Frances McDormand back to reprise the role of Marge, they didn’t need to. They got Allison Tolman on board to play an original character that draws blatant inspiration from Marge. Tolman plays Deputy Molly Solverson, a smart and observant officer in the Bemidji Police Department. She’s the chief’s go-to gal and everything from the way she talks and solves crimes is very Marge-like without feeling like she’s a rip-off of the character. Allison Tolman makes the role her own and is definitely the breakout start of the series.
More comparisons exist but it’s honestly more fun to just watch the show and find them yourself as you go along. You will discover one throwback to the movie while watching the series and it’ll be interesting to see if that particular part of the story makes it into the next season in a sort of follow-the-money kind of way.
Everyone cast in Fargo does an outstanding job though. It’ll never not be weird to see Martin Freeman in the show with a Minnesota accent. I still maintain that his character, Lester Nygaard, is pretty much a mid-west Bilbo Baggins. He starts out not wanting to really leave his house or his town or do much of anything with his life and slowly as the show goes on, Lester evolves and not necessarily for the best. You’ll see.
Then there’s Billy Bob Thornton who plays Lorne Malvo, a hitman that is more comparable to a wild animal than a person. He has no real human compassion and is functionally insane and wow, does Thornton ever pull it off. I can’t recall the last thing that I really loved Thornton in but him as Malvo will forever be embedded in my brain and I hope he continues on this streak of taking on these high-quality roles.
It’s great to see Colin Hanks in something notable too. Hanks is a great actor that I’ve adored since his role in Orange County. He plays a police officer from Duluth and looks like a perpetually lost puppy in the best kind of way. He’s doing a job he doesn’t really want to be doing to support his family, trying to make the best of the bad things that come his way, like Lorne Malvo. As the show progresses, you’ll find yourself rooting for him and hoping that everything comes up Milhouse for him.
Bob Odenkirk and Keith Carradine are also equally fantastic in the show, as if you couldn’t deduce that for yourself. The performances are top-notch from everyone involved and that’s all I’ll say about that.
The art direction on the show was something else I wanted to make note of. The scenery and cinematography are breathtaking and if any of you watched HBO’s True Detective series, the whole Fargo aesthetic felt a bit like that. Each shot felt constructed as if they each might become a painting someday. If this doesn’t get an Emmy nomination at the very least for cinematography, then the show is being robbed.
Lastly, the story itself is wonderful in that dark, twisted Coen Brothers kind of way. I often find myself trying to figure out what’s going to happen in the movies and shows that I watch. I’m usually pretty good at it. I can’t help myself. Because of the nature of the show, you’re still trying to predict what will come next throughout the season but there are delightful twists and turns that you don’t see coming and it makes for excellent entertainment. There is also humour in the show too, despite the true crime nature of the plot and again, it’s that Coen Brothers-esque dark humour that we see and Noah Hawley nails it.
FX’s Fargo series is a must-watch. Even if true crime isn’t always your thing, make it your thing with Fargo. The show is spectacularly constructed and plays out like a movie rather than a TV show. And just as a FYI, the first season acts more like a mini-series than anything else as it has a definite conclusion by the end of it. FX has stated that the seasons that follow will be focused on different characters and stories that will ultimately make up an anthology.
I will say this: refresh your memory of the Fargo movie before setting out to watch the series. It’s 100% not necessary to enjoy the show, but if you’re a fan of the movie, the show got a lot more interesting to me once I sat down with the film again and was able to pick up on more common denominators between the two. It’s currently available to stream on Netflix.