I had no idea what to expect from the FX miniseries Fargo. It came out of nowhere, with a stellar cast attached, but no real explanation as to what it is– Are we looking at an adaptation of the Coen Brothers movie? A sequel? A re-telling? As of tonight’s “Eating the Blame,” we are four hours in (almost to the halfway mark) and I am just now figuring out exactly how to define what this show is– thanks to a brilliant call-back this week– but I’ll be damned if I haven’t been entertained.
The new series actually doesn’t share much with the film that came before it, but the few things it does have in common are what makes it work so well. Obviously, both of these have the same setting– hard boiled crime stories unfolding within down-home upper Midwest towns outside the titular Fargo. Both of these have a pitch black streak lurking just under the surface of both the townsfolk who serve as our players, and the comedy that comes from their various plots, schemes and interactions. And both of these feel very, very true to the Coens.
And that’s what makes this work. Many people have tried to emulate the eccentric, dark and enigmatic tone of the Coens in the past, and I can’t think of many who have been more successful than show runner Noah Hawley. The show, like the movie, does a killer job at mixing an eclectic cast of oddball characters with a fairly gritty and ever-worsening streak of blackmail, extortion and murder, and while I honestly have no idea where all of these double crosses and crimes and people will wind up, I’m certainly invested in the lot of them.
As you might expect, the cast is fantastic, drawing from archetypes we saw in the Fargo film (Martin Freeman’s Lester Nygaard is a hangdog loser very much cut from the same cloth as William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard), but from other Coen movies as well. There’s definite echoes of Brad Pitt’s Chad from Burn After Reading in Glenn Howerton’s dim-witted personal trainer Don Chumph, and Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo is menacing and aloof enough to threaten going into full-on Anton Chigurh mode at any given moment.
But the real stand out so far has been Allison Tolman’s Molly Solverson. Her ambitious deputy is rare among Coen-esque heroes, in that she’s incredibly proactive, and ready to keep turning up stones and connecting strange puzzle pieces when everyone else is perfectly content leaving them rest where they are. Tolman is perfect as this misfit, even among oddballs, and we get to really understand who she is thanks to some wonderful smaller scenes with the likes of Bob Odenkirk as her boss, and Colin Hanks, as the fellow cop who let the bad guy get away.
None of the hefty amount of quirk on display is for its own sake– the world and these characters all come across as lived-in, as opposed to cartoony, and I can’t wait to see how this large casts progresses as they circle each other closer and closer. I’ll say this for the acing and writing talent on display– if you could never imagine Adam Goldberg as a genuinely frightening screen presence, you need to watch this show. As Mr. Wrench, Goldberg is half of a duo of killers in the vein of Carl and Gaear from the movie, and their ice fishing drill has already been established as a practical device that conveys the same sense of dread and horror as the movie’s infamous wood chipper.
So Fargo (the show) isn’t a straight re-telling of the movie, although it shares some similar archetypes, locales and overtones. After this week’s episode, we have our first connective tissue with the movie, so I guess it actually is a full fledged sequel?… But I’m content settling on the term “sequel in spirit,” and thankfully, that spirit is just as offbeat, funny and pitch black as the Coens’ very best.
Fargo airs on FX Tuesdays at 10pm.