“Fargo” on FX
There’s one thing that FX’s hit-film-turned-weekly-series “Fargo” doesn’t do that El Rey’s hit-film-turned-weekly-series “From Dusk Till Dawn” does in spades—it does not slavishly recreate the movie on which it’s based. Entertaining as it might be, “From Dusk Till Dawn” plays like a stretched-out remake of Robert Rodriquez’ 1996 movie. The fans that it has attracted pretty much know where it’s going. “Fargo,” on the other hand, uses the same icy, upper midwest setting and blackly comic tone as its source material but spins off in an entirely different narrative direction.
Though it’s unequivocally inspired by the Coen brothers film of the same name, “Fargo” is the work of writer-creator Noah Hawley (best known as the writer-producer of “Bones”). The show takes us to snowy Bemidji, Minnesota. Stuck in town after nearly botching a job, frosty assassin Lorne Malvo (A Simple Plan’s Billy Bob Thornton) crosses paths with the town’s whipping boy, put-upon insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman from “Sherlock” and The Hobbit). Against the mousey insurance man’s wishes (kind of), Lorne kindly agrees to eliminate Lester’s number one enemy, a loudmouthed trucking company owner who’s been bullying Lester since high school. Lorne’s doing it partially because he loves screwing with people and partially because he’s trying to goad Lester into sticking up for himself and becoming a man.
Unsurprisingly Lorne’s actions end up pushing poor Lester a bit too far and waking a sleeping dragon. Before the pilot is over, we’ve got multiple dead bodies and a Gordian knot of intertwined storylines.
Like HBO’s “True Detective” and FX’s “American Horror Story,” “Fargo” is described as an anthology. This season’s narrative is set to run for 10 episodes. If it makes it to a second season (and there’s ample evidence it should), different characters and a different storyline will take over. This appears to be cable TV’s new model, and it’s a good one. It ensures plots don’t get ground into the dirt and allows networks to lure some high-dollar talent. In addition to the two fantastic leads, we get cameos by Colin Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Kate Walsh, Adam Goldberg, Oliver Platt, Keith Carradine and comedians Key & Peele. Obviously the casting folks had fun.
Like the cinematic original, there’s plenty of bloody hijinks and deadpan humor to go around. Pay attention and you may even notice a few in-joke shout-outs to other Coen brothers films. (The filmmakers are on board as executive producers.) Like Fargo the movie, “Fargo” the series may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s doubtful those in small-town Minnesota will take the exaggerated “Yah, betcha!” caricatures in stride. And the cable-worthy levels of matter-of-fact sex and violence will be a bit much for anyone raised on tamer network procedurals. Those interested in nutty characters, odd situations and pitch-black humor, however, have a new series to obsess over.