TV Recap: Fargo, Series Premiere

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Plot: Fargo is an anthology series based on the 1996 film of the same name written and directed by The Coen Brothers. This chapter of the anthology (which is “based on a true story”) is set in Bemidji, Minnesota where a driver named Lorne Malvo arrives and turns the entire town inside out. He encounters loserly local insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) who is completely beaten down by the world within he exists. Malvo takes an interest in Lester and a bloody trail of greed, crime and deception begins.

Okay folks, let’s clear a few things about Fargo.

1. This is not a small screen adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ famed mid-90s crime drama.

2. The series is, however, set in the same region the film took place in. It also maintains the film’s dark sense of humor and its penchant for outbursts of bloody violence. The characters are also cut from the same cloth — from their “Minnesota Nice” persona to the clothes they wear.

Photo Credit:  Matthias Clamer/FX
Photo Credit: Matthias Clamer/FX

Fargo is the latest entry into the trendy television fad of the anthology series. Luckily for us, Fargo’s quality, based solely on its 90-minute premiere, is on par with its ‘thology-predecessors True Detective and American Horror Story.

Yet, we say this with a warning. If you have no prior experience with the unorthodoxly hilarious film the series is loosely based on or if you are not versed in the Coens’ cinematic canon, this series might frustrate the hell out of you. It moves methodically, subtly and surely, building up to climaxes of violence. The humor is dry and random and the straightforward “oh heck” Minnesota Nice is almost jarring to watch if you have no experience with it.

Simply put, just because it’s on FX don’t expect a foul-mouthed, sex-laden, plasma soaked, non-stop shock and awe fest. In fact, you’re not going to find a dramatic series like this on television right now. So, you might be a bit taken back by the premiere, you might not like it on first go around, but give this series time to marinate, because knowing the Coens and their work, the pay-off is always worth the wait.

Now, if that warning doesn’t apply to you and you actually enjoy Fargo and celebrate the Coens’ entire cinematic collection, then you are going to love yourself some Fargo. From a storytelling standpoint the series captures the heart and soul of the film. From the stark landscape to the thick parkas to the frigid film noir atmosphere, Fargo, the series does its cinematic inspiration justice.

Photo CreditL Matthias Clamer/FX
Photo CreditL Matthias Clamer/FX

Yet, like a good Coens film, it’s the casting that makes this series work. The choice of Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton was genius. Freeman is perfect as Lester Nygaard, who could easily be the long lost brother of William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard. Freeman brilliantly fills out the role of the brow beaten man in a mid-life crisis, who has been bullied by everyone in his life for his entire life.

His foil is perfectly portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton in what may be his best role in years. While seemingly as mild-mannered as Freeman’s insurance salesman, Thornton’s Lorne Malvo is reminiscent of the classic trickster character you’d read in texts written in Ye Old English. Instead, he’s here, soaked in Minnesota Nice, playing people against each other, exacting his own brand of justice and being a horrible human being…all with a reserved, almost hushed tone and a maniacally sincere twinkle in his eye.

The rest of the cast is just as robust, even though we didn’t see as much of them in the premiere. Allison Tolman stands out the most as the Marge Gunderson-esque local cop Molly Solverson. Her character has this knack for police work that she hides under her townie exterior and this character might end up becoming one of the most important ones on the show by season’s end. Keith Carradine stops by for a few scenes as her dad while Breaking Bad’s Bob Odenkirk steals the show as her always queasy at a crime scene fellow officer. And then we get a glimpse of Colin Hanks at episode’s end. He’ll also be a major part of the series and his brief encounter with Thornton was fantastic. We’ve also been promised an appearance by the always underrated Adam Goldberg as a local hitman/thug, which should be great.

Photo Credit: Matthias Clamer/FX
Photo Credit: Matthias Clamer/FX

Fargo’s premiere was an extremely promising one — well-acted, beautifully shot and it was honest and faithful to its source material without being a straight rip-off. One has to hope that with the Coens at the production helm and with such a brilliant cast that this series will avoid the missteps of its FX brethern, The Bridge and The Americans, and actually hold the audience’s attention past a very good premiere. Here’s hoping folks.

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Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites

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