My thoughts on Noah Hawley’s love letter to Coen black comedy and crime.
“Heck of a lotta bullets for a fender bender.”
Oh geez. How am I supposed to do this show justice? FX’s Fargo is a masterful tale of villainy, cowardice and catastrophe, where black comedy and crime walk hand-in-hand. It’s a formula that Joel & Ethan Coen perfected almost two decades prior with their darkly comical cult classic of the same name. Naturally, most people were at least a little sceptical going into this longform companion series. I continued to be, refusing to dive into it even after all the widespread critical acclaim. Could anyone possibly recapture the film’s zany blend of surreal horror and snug emotional warmth in amongst all the Minnesotan madness? Noah Hawley could, oh you betcha, yah…
2006 Bemidji doesn’t stray too far from the hallmarks of 1996 Brainerd – revelling in the same small town charms and humour. The exaggerated simple Minnesotan life is as amusingly endearing as ever, and the show populates its meticulously designed snow-capped setting with a familiar, quirky ensemble. Martin Freeman’s slimy Lester Nygaard is an overt yet effective homage to William H. Macy’s equally-hapless-yet-probably-more-redeemable Jerry Lundegaard. Allison Tolman’s resilient Deputy Molly Solverson grows more and more into Frances McDormand’s iconic Marge Gunderson with each passing episode. Adam Goldberg & Russell Harvard’s deadly duo conjures images of Steve Buscemi & Peter Stormare’s rogue hitmen on-the-run.
And then there’s the show’s masterstroke: Billy Bob Thornton’s disquieting turn as Lorne Malvo – a character who draws more inspiration from No Country For Old Men‘s sociopathic Anton Chigurh than any mere wretch from Fargo. His inclusion injects the show with a powerful sense of urgency and threat, helping it maintain momentum throughout its extended narrative. Thornton’s fantastic performance creeps under your skin and into your nightmares – you only have to peer into those foreboding pupils to see why.
Ordinarily, one might accuse these writers of superficially ripping off the Coen’s back catalogue, but in the hands of Hawley & co, it actually adds some real weight to the series – imbuing it with the flair and character of a Coen production while taking their tropes to darker, funnier heights. It’s a love letter to two of the finest filmmakers of the last twenty years, marrying bold themes and genres like only they would. It’s hard to settle on which iteration I prefer (the series’ longform format has its lows too, occasionally dragging during the season’s second quarter), but its hardly necessary to compare when they both complement each other so perfectly. Oh heck, I loved this.
Highlights: A Fox, A Rabbit, And A Cabbage | Buridan’s Ass | Morton’s Fork | The Heap | The Crocodile’s Dilemma
I’m sure Minnesotans have come to absolutely loath the stereotypes triggered by both the movie and series in question, but I live for that accent. Oh yah.
Teaser image art by Matt Taylor.