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Klavan On The Culture

Don’t Miss FX’s TV-Version of Fargo

July 11th, 2014 - 12:31 pm

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I’ve had so much to say about so many things that I haven’t had a chance to put up a quick review of the TV version of Fargo recently on FX.  I’m afraid a lot of people who would have loved this show might have missed it on the first go-round. The problem was, the first episode was delightfully complex and murderous, a really good imitation of the tone and content of the original (great) Coen Brothers movie of the same name. But there was so much in the pilot that, almost by necessity, the second and third episodes felt as if they fell off a little. I know a few people who stopped watching at this point. A mistake, it turns out. The show climbed right back to the level of the first episode and then continued to get better and better until it was absolutely spectacular.

The show really managed to capture the Fargo tone of foul crime in the good-natured heartland. Great plotting, great dialogue, great characters played by great actors. Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton were absolutely wonderful — their characters both so villainous in such different ways that their interaction became kind of a running meditation on the nature of evil. Not as much flash and dazzle as True Detective but far, far better on the crime story fundamentals. A really gripping ride. 

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All Comments   (12)
All Comments   (12)
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I actually think the show went haywire when Thornton's character Lorne Malvo went on a spree and killed EVERYBODY. By the end of the show, I think he had killed about 30 people. His character seemed so evil and otherworldly as to be uninteresting, it lost the 'noir' feel of the original. Malvo seemed like a more unleashed version of Anton Chigurh.

And what the hell was the subplot involving the Greek grocer and his blackmailer? Three episodes of 'totally irrelevant', that's what.

Freeman was great though, and I enjoyed how the writers flirted between sympathy and contempt for the character.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the show is quite funny…albeit, pitch-black funny. It’s really better described as a dramatic dark comedy (while Breaking Bad, for example, was an often comedic dark drama)…I think the show’s creator refers to it as a comedy.

Tolman is simply wonderful and is really the main character although she gets billing as a supporting actor behind Freeman and Thornton.

Thornton’s Lorne Malvo is one of the most fascinating villains to appear on screen in some time…he’s a malevolent and murderous trickster god…I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Fargo was wonderful. Totally agree with your comments, Andrew. The evil characters were fun to watch, and the good guys and gals were satisfying because they were not treated as morons, as Hollywood so often does, but as intelligent, resourceful, and determined. Alison Tolman's character in particular, and even her somewhat feckless love interest, "Gus Grimley" as played by Colin Hanks (who was one of the actors in "Band of Brothers"), and the even more feckess but still well-meaning Chief Oswalt played by the wonderful actor Bob Odenkirk ("better call Saul!" from Breaking Bad).

Grew up in Iowa and knew a lot of Minnesotans, and the Coen Brothers, themselves raised in the Twin Cities, obviously know their cultural subject matter of "Minnesota nice" and not-so-nice.

I understand that the Coens plan another mini-series based on the Fargo template, but with an entirely different cast than used in this version. I think that's terrific - the most memorable television characters are sometimes best left to a single season's outing, lest the writing and acting eventually become stale. As definitely happened with "Justified" - the first three seasons of which were great, and then it all went way downhill with seasons four and five.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Noah Hawley is the creator, writer and showrunner. The Coens have executive producer credits because of the source material, but are otherwise not much involved creatively.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
I should clarify my second sentence above ... Hollywood tends to treat good people either as hopelessly moronic victims, or as fantasy superheroes who look like they just stepped off the cover of Vogue or GQ, or who wield kung fu superbadass martial arts powers. The good folks in "Fargo" were neither.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yeah. I grew up in the Midwest and by golly there was not one false note, culturally, over the entire 10 episodes. So this Noah Hawley fellow, is he Jewish? I asked myself. Yes, yes, he is- as are the Coen bros. I saw an article on Ynet about this sort of thing, referencing both the screen and TV versions of Fargo, attributing the success of Jews in the arts to the Bible and its brilliant use of story: "Mordechai (Max) Shatner, the author of "The Success of the Storytellers"...is convinced that the Jewish culture has developed and improved the ancient art of creating stories, and is the real and direct cause of Jews' phenomenal success in the world."

So there you go. What a poor place this world would be without the Tribe.

BTW, I agree with the comment about True Crime by Hayabusa. How Klavan got into the mind of that condemned guy so effectively is something I'm still trying to figure out.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Agree, agree, and agree. I thought Billy Bob was a shoo-in for some kind of award until I saw True Detectives with Woody and Matthew. But I still think Billy Bob was mesmerizing. The female cop was excellently good, and no one mentions Carradine as her father, the ex-cop. I thought he brought gravitas and decency to his part, too.

One small caveat is I hated the end. Hated both the set up as being un-American and a cheat, and hated that it means if the show does come back for another round it will necessarily have a different vibe.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
POSSIBLE SPOILER -- I don't know that I would call it a cheat, but it was that all-too-typical Hollywood ending of where certain characters act one way throughout the entire story and then do something uncharacteristic in the last chapter that is key to the resolution.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
To each their own, but I liked the ending very much - I thought it was perfect, though I won't give any spoilers here. Let's just say that justice was done. As for the characters, I understand that the Coens are planning another miniseries but with a different cast. That is one of the good things about a "mini-series" vs. a "series" is that there is no compulsion to make characters survive for no oher reasn than to keep the series going.

Carradine was very good - he was the port in the storm for Alison's character, Officer Molly. One could see that the apple didn't fall very far from the tree.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
High praise, coming from the guy who wrote my all-time favorite thriller novel, True Crime. I've been looking for something decent to follow on TV ever since Breaking Bad ended. I'll have to check Fargo out.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
Nailed it! Great mini-series. My wife and I are watching Tyrant now...nowhere near the same caliber of series as there are adult situations and somewhat nauseating, but if it's anywhere near as good in the end as other FX shows, I'll roll with it.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
There were a few "adult" scenes in Fargo too ... not overwhelming, and germane to the story line.

Tyrant is a pretty good show too - but it didn't get up to speed until the third episode. Looking forward to the rest of the season to see how it all plays out.
15 weeks ago
15 weeks ago Link To Comment
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