At the first announcement of a series-length adaptation of the Coen Brothers’ classic crime film, eyebrows were raised. How could somebody create a TV-spin off of one of the Coens’ best-loved works? Fargo is such a self-contained tale that it offers little room for a sequel. The answer, offers the series’ writer Noah Hawley, is to create a new story which still remains true to the essence of the Coens’ vision. Fargo Series 1 has the film’s combination of dark humour and violence in spades, but it also creates its own narrative. It echoes parts of the film’s original story while also offering a tale of its own…and it’s a story not to be missed.
The series concerns Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), a mild-mannered insurance salesman and his encounters with the psychopathic loner Lorne Malvo, a character played to perfection by Billy Bob Thornton. Malvo is essentially Satan, able to entice ordinary people into doing very bad things with his disarmingly sweet demeanour, as well as scare the bejesus out of them with a carefully worded threat. Nygaard commits a very bad crime and Malvo helps him get away with it – that is until two smarter-than-average cops get on their trail.
Thornton is no doubt the best performer in the series, but he is bolstered by the talents of Martin Freeman as Nygaard, as well the two police officers: Colin Hanks and Alison Tolman. In addition there are fine supporting roles by famous faces like David Carradine and Bob Odenkirk (Saul in Breaking Bad).
Another star is the location. Despite the name, Fargo is set firmly in Minnesota, while being filmed in Calgary, Alberta. Regardless of where it was actually filmed, events occur in a beautiful yet trepidatious snow-filled landscape, with the cinematically filmed wintery vistas perfectly complimenting the show’s dark tone. The combination of quirk, humour and violence could have been difficult to keep going throughout ten episodes, but Fargo succeeds by adding an additional ingredient: depth and warmth to its characters. Like many other programmes, Fargo starts out good and becomes spectacular and it’s thanks to the quality of its writing, whether it’s surprising you with a sudden act of brutality, or making you laugh as it gently pokes fun at Midwestern stereotypes.
Fargo stands tall with the finest television from the past decade and years from now I’m sure it will be talked about at the same level as prestigious heavyweights like The Sopranos and The Wire. Whether you’re a fan of its Coen Brothers’ created namesake or you’ve never seen it, it comes highly recommended.
Fargo is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray. Buy it here. Image Rights Owned by Fox.