Good people doing bad things: ‘Fargo’ is a must-see
| Jay Benedict writer |
“Your problem is, you’ve spent your whole life thinking there are rules…there aren’t.”
Thus begins one of the most fantastic short monologues in recent television history.
Billy Bob Thorton brings chaos to a small Minnesota town and a bunch of tragically funny characters get caught up in the mix.
This is the recipe that FX has implemented in its new and wonderful dark comedy/drama. It borrows pieces of its blueprint from the Coen brothers’ 1996 film by the same name, but the series is neither a sequel or prequel; it’s more of spiritual re-imagination.
The original “Fargo” won more than 60 awards, including two Oscars, so taking a page from the Coens’ book sounds like a good idea on paper.
Movies like “Fargo” rarely, if ever, translate well to television. It’s difficult to translate plots that are so condensed and naturally seem like one-offs to the small screen.
However, FX and FOX have seen success with shows that initially seem like they’d be better suited as a miniseries at most. Series like “The Following” and “Sleepy Hollow” have held up well over time. Now “Fargo” is poised to join the previous two shows, “Justified” and “The Americans” in the studios’ stable of great TV series.
Most premieres spend a lot of time on exposition, and can risk boring the audience it’s trying to intrigue. “Fargo” forgoes the majority of the typical exposition. The writers may have hoped that the audience knows the basic idea from the film or they plan on letting action and the actors draw people in to this character-driven dramedy.
Any reservations about Thorton need to be thrown out the window. His previous work has been questionable, but he shines here. Thorton’s Lorne Malvo is a motivational sociopath whose hit-man exploits accidentally bring him to Lester Nygaard’s (Martin Freeman) small Minnesota town.
Freeman takes William H. Macy’s place as the not-that-lovable, constantly-down-on-his-luck loser. Freeman has come a long way since playing a minor part in “Love Actually” in 2003. He’s now world-famous for portraying Bilbo Baggins in the “The Hobbit” movies and John Watson in the BBC phenomenon “Sherlock.”
After a chance meeting in an ER, Malvo brutally solves a problem that Nygaard didn’t really even think he had. We get zero backstory for Thorton’s character, but he’s obviously a bad dude. For some reason, he takes Nygaard under his wing and attempts to liberate him from his bullies, emasculating wife and oppressive job.
It would be easy to root for Malvo if he weren’t so damn dark. His monologues are fantastic and the ideas behind them are reasonable, but, in exercise, they are brutal.
There are several contentious aspects, but a little perspective can explain them away. Should Nygaard have cracked so easily after meeting Malvo? A stable person would not, but Freeman conveys a man who has been bullied his whole life. He finally sees an absolute way to rid himself of his problems, and he takes it.
There’s no good reason that a psychopath like Malvo would take Nygaard under his wing, but, again, we don’t know his story. Maybe it’s as simple as he feels bad for the guy, maybe he had a traumatic past, or he’s nuts, maybe he’s just in a good mood.
Whatever the case is, this show is equal parts fascinating and fantastic. It sets up a plot that doesn’t seem viable for a full season or multiple seasons if it gets picked up again, but it’s been done before.
The movie “Fargo” got a bit slow in the middle. This premiere started with a bang and just kept going. If the writers can pull it off, there’s a good chance that this could be one of the best Spring premieres and an outstanding series going forward.
FX’s new series takes its Oscar-winning source material and improves on it. Buckle up. It’s going to be a hell of ride.