If you have not yet screened FX’s new series Fargo, see it. Now. Then place it firmly on your appointment TV calendar. Starring Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock), Fargo is based on the characters in Joel and Ethan Coen‘s strange and quirky 1996 black comedy of the same name. The names have changed, and the case is completely different, but the strange quirkiness remains as the bodies pile up in the small town of Bemidji, Minnesota. The opening credits inform us that although the names are changed, all events actually happened: a “true crime” feel mashed up with friendliness of Northern Minnesota and the arid-dry black humor, especially as it comes from the mouth of Thornton’s Lorne Malvo, a manipulative assassin who seems to take delight in studying the macabre chaos effect of his erudite and very persuasive words.
Freeman plays insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, a quiet, long-suffering perpetual victim–or as his wife calls him a “loser.” And maybe he is. Lester is one of those guys who keeps his emotions bottled up in a passive soul. Beaten down and overshadowed by his older brother and bully of a high school classmate, you just know that Lester is a ticking time bomb. And when Lorne happens into the Bemidji in the middle of a “job” gone awry, he pulls a trigger that erupts in a series of homicides, and sends Lester down a path he never would have imagined three days earlier. As in the film, a savvy, ambitious, but very homespun female police deputy Molly Soverson (Allison Tolman) gets on the case (Frances McDormand played police officer Marge Gunderson in the film), and, I assume, will be relentless in pursuit of the killer or killers in the three homicides.
Thornton is brilliant. His naturally dry delivery imbues the sociopathic assassin Lorne with depth, even as he metaphorically pulls the wings off butterflies just so he can see if they still fly, reminding me of Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction. Freeman is perfect as the guileless Lester, the sort of part that he does so well: quiet, unassuming, and thrown in a situation that gets completely out of hand and out of his control.
The series also stars a full slate of acclaimed film and television actors as townsfolk, criminals, and cops, all populating the Minnesota Northwoods in the middle of a frigid winter. New episodes of Fargo air Tuesdays at 10:00 p.m. on FX.
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