The cast is as solid as one can find on TV: Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, with appearances by Bob Odenkirk and Keith Carradine.
The story revolves around four characters: beta-male insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Freeman), instinctual-yet-polite police deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman, in her first starring role), single father police officer Gus Grimly (Hanks), and personification of chaos Lorne Malvo (Thornton). It takes place in several towns across Minnesota. The plot begins when Lorne kills someone on behalf of Lester, despite the fact that Lester didn’t actually ask him to do so. This leads to a chain of events that involves Lorne causing chaos around several small towns in Minnesota, both on behalf of a mysterious employer and his own likely-sociopathic motivations.
While the city of Fargo itself has seldom been seen, it’s clear that it will play a major role as the series progresses.Though my money is still on McConaughey or Cranston, Fargo is proving that the Best Actor category at this year’s Emmys is going to be a stacked one (unless it manages to get nominated as a comedy–not impossible). Martin Freeman proves that Hugh Laurie isn’t the only Brit who can perfect an American accent, affecting Minnesota Nice seamlessly. Billy Bob Thornton is his own force, impossible to predict, and always threatening. Colin Hanks definitely has some of his father’s timid charisma, enough that bringing up his father almost seems like a disservice to Colin’s own acting skills. It’s a bit early to fully judge Tolman, who is set up to be the heart and soul of the show, but she seems ready to meet that expectation. If nothing else, this show is set to provide some of the more compelling characters and performances of 2014.
Even though it’s steeped in dark humor and often plays for laughs, the show can and does get violent. The first episode alone has a body count of at least four, and they aren’t all anonymous, seemingly expendable characters. I’m normally loathe to reveal such a thing, but in episode three a dog dies and that is likely to be upsetting to most. If you’re looking for a feel good, happy show, you might want to stay away from Fargo…maybe FX in general, while you’re at it.
The show is cinematic, often coming across more as a movie than a TV show. It has a beautiful sweeping score, some ambitious camerawork, and deliberate pacing. And while there are thematic and aesthetic similarities to the original movie–every episode begins with a variation of the “this is a true story” text from the film–the show is decidedly not a direct adaptation of the movie. An event in episode four connects the film directly to the series, but the show itself takes place about two decades after the events of the film. The show has also yet to feature any actors or characters from the film itself. Though some characters are similar (it’s hard not to compare Lester Nygaard to Jerry Gundarson), the story is completely original.
That said, they haven’t been too shy about giving winks to other Coen films. The Coens may not have direct creative involvement, but they are both executive producers, and their influence shows. A restaurant advertising white Russians – an obvious nod to The Big Lebowski – and Lorne has some undeniable parallels to Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men.Fargo’s biggest weakness right now is simple growing pains – while it’s looking more and more like the story arcs are going to intertwine into one large narrative, balancing four casually intersecting stories in one show have proves a heavy burden for 48-minute episodes. While the camera work is usually impressive, there have been a couple jarring exceptions–including a few blatant violations of the 180 degree rule. This may not sound like a big deal, but believe me, you notice.
That said, the show still has a ton of upside. It’s not exactly a Coen film for TV, but it doesn’t have to be–and it shouldn’t. Fargo’s already carving out an identity for itself, and as long as they keep plowing forward, they should be playing upwards. If this show reaches its potential, we’re in for quite a tour de force. Yah? Oh yah.