Monday, April 21, 2014

You Betcha

Have you seen the Coen brothers movie, Fargo? Like many of their films, it's dark, intense, genius, riveting, horrifying, funny, and in equal shares real and fantasy. It was released almost 20 years ago (in 1996), earned seven Academy Award nominations, and was inducted into the United States National Film Registry in 2006.

What I'm saying is, it's a pretty good movie.

So I cannot believe someone thought it would be a good idea to make a television show out of it. This seems to happen a lot and let's be honest, it's usually a disaster. Buffy the Vampire Slayer excluded, of course. But FX has decided to give it a go and last week the new television show Fargo premiered.

And it was brilliant. I know! I couldn't believe it either!

From the FX show website:
An original adaptation of the Academy Award®-winning feature film, Fargo features an all-new “true crime” story and follows a new case and new characters, all entrenched in the trademark humor, murder and “Minnesota nice” that made the film an enduring classic. Oscar® winner Billy Bob Thornton stars as “Lorne Malvo,” a rootless, manipulative man who meets and forever changes the life of small town insurance salesman “Lester Nygaard,” played by BAFTA Award® winner and Emmy®-nominated Martin Freeman.
I expected it to be dull and dumb, a pale imitation of its big screen predecessor. But instead it fits in perfectly with the movie, existing as a new story within the same universe without feeling derivative.

"You know, Lester, you should just kill all the people who bother you. It's the simplest way."

The creators of the show have made some very smart decisions. First, Fargo the tv show tells a different story with different characters than Fargo the movie. Sure, it still takes place in Minnesota and it still effortlessly blends the bleak winter landscape, the pleasantness of Midwesterners, and the sudden horror and violence of our darkest urges. And while the plot and characters feel familiar, the story and action are different.

Second, the casting is spot-on. Billy Bob Thornton is crazy on a good day and he just effortlessly slips into the role of the sociopathic Lorne Malvo, a man whose entire motivation thus far seems to be a love of chaos. He certainly has his own code (not a moral one though) and strives to break the bonds that hold people together. Is there a larger purpose to his madness? Who knows. But I will definitely stick around to find out.

As for Martin Freeman, he plays a sad-sack insurance salesman constantly beat down by those around him. He does his typical stammering twitchy shtick...but somehow manages to make a new character without reminding me constantly of Bilbo, Watson, or Arthur Dent. When I watching him, I'm not thinking "oh, there's Martin Freeman," but am instead thinking "this Lester guy is pathetic."

I could also go on about the supporting characters (Bob Odenkirk as the town sheriff and Allison Tolman as his clever and dedicated deputy), but I'll leave you to discover their charms on your own.

They're basically the best people ever. So I am sure something horrible will happen to them.

In case you couldn't already tell, I was pretty much blown away by the Fargo pilot. I would go as far as to say I was riveted which honestly doesn't happen a lot. Be warned though: it's a dark story that follows the Coen brothers style of scenes punctuated with sudden, shocking violence and/or intensity. It's not for the faint of heart. But if you give it a try, I think you'll find yourself captivated.

Fargo is a 10 episode limited run series that airs Tuesday evenings at 10:00 EST on FX. You can watch the first episode, "The Crocodile's Dilemma" on the FX website.

Final thought: the main action thus far takes place in the small Minnesota town of Bemidgi...where my Grandmother was born and we used to visit every summer as kids. There's not much there...

...except giant statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Dontcha know.

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