tv review – FX’s Fargo, episode 1.1

FX’s Fargo is inspired by Joel and Ethan Coen’s 1996 film of the same name and, aw jeez, does it work well. The series tells its own tale, set in small-town Minnesota, and effortlessly captures the tone of its namesake. It’s a darkly comedic drama with stellar actors portraying all-new characters that remind you of the original film’s cast: Martin Freeman’s insurance salesman Lester Nygaard is much like William H. Macy’s Jerry Lundegaard, Allison Tolman’s deputy Molly Solverson like Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson, but copies they’re definitely not. They’re just characters that would feel right at home in Fargo the movie, and they’re essential to making the show feel as much like the beloved classic as it does. What makes the series arguably better than the film, is its premise and Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo, a cold and malevolent killer that enters the lives of the townsfolk and influences the polite Minnesota people into doing some not so polite things.

‘The Crocodile’s Dilemma’ began with Malvo’s arrival. He drove his car over the long road, between the snowy fields when, suddenly, a deer crossed and the car hit it head-on. After the collision the trunk popped open and a man jumped out, who immediately started running away from vehicle. Malvo touched his bleeding forehead, got out of the car and had a look at the deer before he calmly walked after the fugitive. It’s then that we met Lester, a man loathed by his wife and family. He’s a man who used to get bullied at school and still is. He’s considered a loser, a label that has clearly taken its tole on poor Lester. He desperately wants to be a man, one of the strong virile sort, but the truth is he doesn’t know how. After a run-in with his high-school bully he visited the hospital for a cut in his nose, and there he met Malvo. Both man struck up a conversation and Malvo asked Lester why he didn’t stand up for himself. An awkward conversation ensued, ending with Malvo asking if he should kill the man for Lester. Lester didn’t answer, but later his the bully wound up dead, courtesy of his new acquaintance. When the two men met again later, Malvo told him the following: “Your problem is you spent your whole life thinking there were rules… there aren’t. […] Truth is your more of a man today than you were yesterday.” He tells Lester that if he doesn’t stop doing what everybody tells him to, he will be washed away, and at home Lester followed Malvo’s advice… quite rigorously by killing his wife. Desperate he called Malvo, who came over to help and subsequently shot the local sheriff who showed up following a lead. Malvo then disappeared and left Lester with the mess, so the hapless insurance salesman ran into a wall to fake he was being attacked, his attempt to get away with murder. There were complications though: when Malvo shot the sheriff with a shotgun, Lester’s hand got injured, which will probably lead the police to ask him some hard questions next week.

Fargo‘s first episode offered a fantastic set-up for what’s to come and great writing and acting. Billy Bob Thornton was mesmerizing as the confident and deranged Malvo, while Martin Freeman was both sympathetic, pathetic and unhinged as Lester. While those two men had the meatiest parts, the rest of the cast did an outstanding job as well: Allison Tolman was instantly likeable as the hard-working, warm and mousy Deputy Solverson, Keith Carradine heartwarming as her father, Bob Odenkirk funny as a policeman who can’t seem to keep his meals down while checking out crime scenes. We were also offered a glimpse of Colin Hanks’ Gus Grimly, who pulled over Malvo and suddenly found himself confronted with an evil man. “Maps used to say there be dragons here, now they don’t. But that don’t mean the dragons aren’t there,” Malvo whispered before he drove away, leaving Officer Grimly shocked, scared and confused.

If this first episode is any indication, FX’s Fargo will be one of the best shows airing at the moment: amazing writing, acting, and a wonderful blend of emotion, dark humor and terror. 9/10

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