The amount of films making that leap from the silver to the small screen has become ubiquitous of late, and of all those put into development, Fargo initially endured the most ferocity from the public. Following the show’s original announcement, millions of angry Coen Bros fans took to the web and repeated each other’s proclamations that Fargo would be nothing more than a personification of creative bankruptcy. And while such premature criticism isn’t surprising, the finished article proves it to be unwarranted. For though it cannot be denied that the televisual Fargo doesn’t quite emulate the film’s brilliance, it succeeds in paying loyal homage to it.
Its success is in no small part down to the astute creative choices of showrunner Noah Hawley. The world he has built is one imbued with the essence of the Coens’ universe, and within it he has crafted a story that echoes the film without ever copying it.
From the moment it first begins, Fargo feels like an overdue reunion with a very close friend. The snowy backdrop perfectly combines with Jeff Russo’s reconstruction of Carter Burwell’s score, effortlessly evoking memories of the film. Memories that are then garnished with the declaration that each episode is based on true events. The irony, of course, is that the narrative is entirely fictional. But just by juxtaposing those words with that music, while the camera gazes upon an all-encompassing snow-white canvas, Hawley immediately lets us know that this is exactly the same world we found ourselves in before. And it sure is great to be back.
Once again the almost mystical world of Fargo is being overrun by big city crimes normally unheard of in such a small town setting. Hot on the case is inspector Molly Solverson, thrust into the front line following the murder of a highly respected colleague. Her main suspects: the meekly mild Lester Nygaard and shadowy stranger Lorne Malvo.
Hawley and his creative team show no weakness in their approach to the task at hand. The thematics are suffused with the same distinguishable blend of slow-burning tension, blackly comic humour, and bloody brutal violence found in the film, yet the freedom of an extended timeframe has allowed the writers to instil the world of Fargo with further layers of depth and darkness.
The characters, in particular, are given more room to develop. Most are instantly identifiable as they share many of the same characteristics found in the film’s inhabitants. A nice creative blemish that allows the audience to almost immediately be able to engage with the story, and gives both the writer’s and performers a platform on which to build greater character arcs.
The similarities between Martin Freeman’s Lester and William H. Macy’s Jerry are plain to see. But thanks to Freeman’s carefully understated performance, Lester never feels overly familiar, and his journey from weak-willed husband to maniacal murderer is carefully augmented with an ever-growing tautness. Likewise, Allison Tolman’s charmingly sweet-natured Molly shares more than a little DNA with Francis McDormand’s Marge. Yet her determined attitude to solve the mystery laid at her feet gives Molly a different sense of definition, which is richly rewarding to the series as a whole.
Indeed the only character that doesn’t fit the frame of the film is Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne, which is perhaps why he is the show’s greatest asset. Within the perpetually disordered realm of Fargo, he is a gatekeeper of chaos who is calculating in nature and meticulous in his execution. Thornton revels in the role, personifying the traditional traits of a Coenesque villain (just look at his hair). He’s a coldly calculating killer, driven by a strict set of ideals and a deliciously dark wit.
Occasionally the show does falter, mainly in its unnecessary attempts to directly mimic actual scenes from the film; a futile endeavour that momentarily disengages you from the action. But that’s only a marginal gripe for a series that has managed to be far more successful than it has any right to be. A trip back to Fargo may not have sounded great, but the reality certainly is.
Fargo is out on DVD now.