Fargo – The New TV Series on FX

Lorne Malvo: Your problem is that you spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren’t.

So says Billy Bob Thornton as the latest version of a killing machine, unlike The Terminator, this one is human and not only answers to the name of Lorne Malvo, but also answers questions in the same way we all do. He is a character you won’t admire, yet he’s one that you can’t help but love. I’m talking about the brand spanking new TV series called Fargo that premiered on the FX channel last night.

In case you are wondering, this series, which will run 10 episodes, is an adoption of the famed Coen Brothers film from 1996 called Fargo. In fact, the actual Coen Brothers, Ethan and Joel, are on board as Executive Producers of this series. They’ve adopted the same format as we’ve seen in True Detective – a one and done season with new characters or cases next year.

But while the TV series has definite reminders as well as something of the style of the film, this is more of a filtered reflection than any thing else. The characters are not the same – though the weather is. For example, the pregnant Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand in the film) is now the not pregnant Molly Solverson (played by Allison Tolman). And the manic car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) in the film, is now an insurance salesman, Lester Nygaard (played by Martin Freeman).

The aforementioned Lorne Malvo is on hand to do some of the wet-work for the series.

Fargo may be the title but the show is set in Bemidji, MN – with Calgary and environs serving as the location of the production.

Like Fargo, the film, Fargo the TV Series. has its assortment of peculiar people, some as dumb as door knobs, and others not too far above that. We are also ‘treated’ to some unusual violence.

Why just in the first episode, a man was frozen to death while fleeing a captor, another was stabbed in the back of head while enjoying the services of a hooker,

yet another was bludgeoned to death with a hammer,

and lest I forget, a sheriff was shot down with a double-barrelled shotgun.

The violence occurs quickly, and is usually delivered without warnings. A major plus is that while we won’t always see the violence coming, we do spend a good amount of time watching the police looking over the remains as they try to work out the WHY of what happened. The WHAT is always SELF EVIDENT. They’ve even made one of the Sheriff’s Deputies a guy with penchant for getting ill at the scene of the crime.

So based upon the opening episode we will be watching the dynamic duo of Lester and Lorne doing their thing. Molly will be in pursuit, running down clues, as the trail remains cold – this is Minnesota after all. I am sure we shall see more of the Hess progeny (aka dumb and dumber) again as Dad had some connections with a Fargo Crime Syndicate,

and that means more of the Hess widow (Kate Walsh as Gina Hess). Certainly we will see more of the Duluth police trooper Gus Grimley (played by Colin Hanks) again.

Waiting in the wings are Oliver Pratt and Adam Goldberg (both below) among others involved specifically with them.

While this is a tale of the dark doings that go on in the Upper Midwest it seems that most folks thereabouts are polite and kindly. Writer Noah Hawley and the Coens have injected a lot of humor which is going to not always come in the way of one liners. Like watch for Molly going to tell the gunned-downed Sheriff’s wife that her husband has departed this earth. The scene is not intrinsically funny (it even plays wordlessly) but seeing Molly carrying the couple of paint gallons that the Sheriff had bought that very day was funny.

Watching Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the hospital as he chats with Lorne Malvo did not have any laugh out loud one liners –

but watching Lester squirming about in his chair as he struggled with how to tell this complete stranger some of the more sordid details behind his nose-break was very funny.

I expect that Fargo the series will be straddling the line between violence and some darker, black humor all season. The FX network gave us the fine 10 episode series called The Bridge last summer. That series was very well done but there might be a problem in stretching this series out to 10 episodes. Of course that ‘s just me thinking out loud based on just the one episode which screened last night. Time will tell.

As will I, as I expect to write again about Fargo.

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15 thoughts on “Fargo – The New TV Series on FX

  1. I liked Fargo, the movie, because it seemed to be a one of a kind experience, offbeat, and outrageous, with great performances by Macy and McDormand. It felt exactly like the kind of movie that would not survive a sequel, let alone a television series. Adding more unusual characters and more horrific ways to tamper with evidence probably won’t strengthen Fargo’s original bite. But, since you say you’ll write about it again, please let us know a little more about the premise. Is it a clue-driven mystery story about law officials trying to solve a murder case, like True Detective, or a character-driven dramedy about life in a isolated cold venue like Northern Exposure?

    • Actually it s both a clue driven mystery for the police to solve. But there’s no mystery for us. We know who killed each of the 4 victims. At the same time, while we witness the murders, the humor is dark and bloody, and of course, understated.There’s no reason to compare the film to the TV series with a purpose of seeing how they match up. This series will be at least 10 hours and the film was just a 2 hour film. So the stories told will not be the same.

      Same kind of setting, similar circumstances involving similar characters and situations. But the TV show is strong enough to be worth seeing even if one has no connection to the film from 1996. Whether or not one is able to separate the two and make a evaluation of the TV series as a free standing work is up to the individual viewer.

      I was not a person who watched Northern Exposure so I can’t make any comparison between Fargo and N/E other than they both are set in similar places. For the record – Grumpy Old Men, and Grumpier Old Men both were set in the cold lakes of a small Minnesota town – but habve little resemblance to the film Fargo or Fargo the TV Series.

  2. I’m very interested in seeing what they have in store for us next with this. From what it seems like, the story continues to get more and more twisted, with plenty more familiar-faces popping-up for the hell of it. Good review Mike.

    • Thanks Dan.

      Twisted. Nice word.
      Even the worst of us, can serve as a horrible example.
      It should be fun to watch, that is, if one or two murderers, in league, is something of interest to some viewers.
      I think I shall enjoy this show.

  3. OK, since it’s getting a lot of buzz, I tried to watch the first episode, but in less than thirty minutes, I turned it off. Think about this. If these Fargo characters were real folks, would you honestly want to spend much time with them? Although it’s supposed to be a true story, there’s not a sign of real life emotion. My rating is NG (not for grownups).

    • Fair enough.

      Then again, I don’t expect that Sarah Linden, and Stephen Holder, the detectives from The Killing, or that couple from The Americans, are folks that I’d like to hang out with either. Then again, I don’t recall seeing anyone describing Fargo, as reality TV.

  4. My comments had nothing to do with Reality TV. I’m asking why spend time with TV characters who you’d find too uninteresting to spend time with in real life? I find the detectives pairs on True Detective and The Killing and the spies on The Americans to be interesting people I’d love to hang out with. In contrast, except for Thorton’s off -the-wall killer, I didn’t find any of the Fargo characters either believable or interesting. I’d like to know what you found interesting about the Nygaards or the Hess family. It seems to me that the Coens are deliberately creating and simultaneously mocking mid-westerners, portraying people who most of us would flee from like the young couple who took off as soon as they could get away from Lester Nygaard. In Fargo, the characters are cardboard stereotypes who don’t reflect the complexity of real people. I guess I feel like the skeptic in The Emperor’s Clothes, but, for me, Fargo is just shock treatment with a corny laugh track. We have plenty of senseless violence on TV. Making fun of the Fargo townsfolk doesn’t make this show’s violence any more palatable.

    • I echo my previous reply. Fair enough. This was the first episode, and the characters are introduced. You made a judgement.
      I also made judgements – to see at least some more episodes before tossing this one onto the not interested stack.
      And when you referred to the characters on Fargo as not being the kind of folks you’d want to spend time with, that’s also a judgement.
      Who said all killers have to be interesting people. And for what it is worth, both Linden and Holder were both morose, troubled people. I was happy enough to watch them work their case, but I wouldn’t want to spend time with them.

      Also, I never said that either the Nygaards or the Hess family were interesting or that I want to see more of them. I only said we would see more of them.

  5. Detective work (whether or not it’s done by flawed characters) is more interesting to me than selling insurance. Ditto for KGB spies versus the owners of small trucking concerns. Fargo has a pretty interesting killer, so I hope the case is solved later rather than sooner. Hopefully, some other interesting characters will be introduced in the next episode.

  6. Taking a chance, I watched the second episode of Fargo on FX last night. Full disclosure. I was almost bored to death by the buffoon characters introduced in the premiere episode.

    I had a slightly more elevated impression this week than I had for the previous episode, which featured a man who deliberately ran headfirst into a cement wall in his basement to cover evidence of a homicide (but with none of the dramatic impact that Rooney Mara delivered in the car crash scene in Side Effects).

    Apart from Billy Bob Thorton’s quietly menacing performance, there’s little to admire in this emotionally cold farce. I know Fargo got good initial reviews, but does anyone believe that they’re really watching “a true story in which everything is portrayed exactly as it happened.”

    Sorry, but I don’t. I’m completely puzzled by why the writers are attempting to fool us in this manner. Unlike them, most adults know the difference between a true story and a tall tale. I think the opening credits and all the clowning around that follows come from their overactive childish imagination. Fargo doesn’t work for many of us. Because most of the time, it’s just silly. Or stupidly and violently offensive.

    This show aims low and still misses the mass audience denominator. Viewers aren’t as dumb as these writers assume. And real people in Fargo (or elsewhere)are way beyond their imaginative powers.

    • I too watched Episode Two – and am still struggling to write a review. So much of the show was just silly – like the Police Captain continually frustrating Solverson with his absolute disinterest, despite the fact of Hess and Nygaard’s history, of even considering Lester as even a person of interest.

      Second – the two muscle guys from Fargo with the sign language. To me that showed just a way of eating up more time with out advancing the story. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just have both of them speak.

      And finally – Szemenko – a stock character. Why is it that so many characters like him, hired to provide security, never do. Szemenko says to Malvo (billy Bob Thornton) – You’ve been warned. Ooooh, Lorne Malvo must be shaking in his boots.

      On the other hand, I am interested in seeing how Malvo takes out Szemenko.

  7. Some of these television shows are much better than any Hollywood movie, and this Fargo show is another example of this. When the pilot ended I knew I had seen something special. Its like a season three of Twin Peaks suddenly aired. Wow.

  8. Have just seen the episode when Nyborg end up in a cell with the brothers. The hand injury seems to be becoming more significant, but I missed how Nyborg got it? Can anyone enlighten me?

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