June 20, 2014

Fargo: Season 1 Review

            One of the biggest surprises of the 2013-2014 season has to be the critical success of FX’s Fargo.  The film, Fargo, was such a unique film that trying to copy its success seemed impossible. Plus, out of all the Coen brothers films to adapt to TV, Fargo is far from the most culturally relevant today.  Despite all of this Fargo is stunningly good as an adaptation of the film.  The series finds a way to capture the atmosphere of the film while still finding a way to feel fresh.  Yet on its own Fargo is a series that sees its ambitious attitude go away in a tidy good always beats evil ending.  That being said this is a series that is a perfect example that the journey is worth much more than the destination.

            Fargo follows Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), an emasculated resident of Bemidji, Minnesota, as he comes across master killer and criminal Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton).  A chat between the two dramatically changes the life of Lester and gets the attention of an ambitious deputy (Allison Tolman) and a rookie cop (Colin Hanks) just trying to give his daughter (Joey King) a good life.  The series was created and run by Noah Hawley (whose previous two series The Unusuals and My Generation didn’t last long).

            Almost immediately it becomes apparent that Noah Hawley has correctly adapted the dark humor of the Coen brothers film to his series.  Yet he is also able to find some extra depth to add on that gives the show some uniqueness.  Early on, most of that comes from the presence of Billy Bob Thornton as Lorne Malvo.  Malvo feels very similar to another Coen brothers character, Anton Chigurh.  In theory, a Chigurh-like character should not work in a series that doesn’t always feel like it has to take itself seriously, but Hawley and Thornton find a way to not only make Malvo work but make him one of the highlights.  Hawley’s adaptation decisions continue to work in spades throughout the series as certain major plot points in the film worm their way into the series in surprising twists while characters who were already memorable in the film become much more interesting in the series with added depth.  A perfect example of this is Martin Freeman’s Lester Nygaard, who serves the same purpose as the William H. Macy character.  It’s great to see the character get a fully realized arc and Freeman plays it so wonderfully.

            The one mistake this series makes is that it brings so many interesting elements to the table and yet it ends in such generic fashion.  The ending that is used is spelled out in previous episodes so it can’t be called a copout, but as a series that sets darkness up as such a real and serious threat, it’s a shame to see all of the darkness in the series be so quickly and easily defeated without anything interesting being said in the process.  That being said, all that comes before in Fargo is enough to make it a standout of the television season.


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