Culture & Criticism Since 2003
The crossover between big screen and little screen is pretty much a one-way street. Very few television shows do well as feature movies, but quite often movies can easily transition to the small screen, even when major changes are required. M*A*S*H is a prime of example of how well this can work.
Nonetheless, when I heard a small screen adaptation of Fargo was in the works, I was skeptical. The three main actors in that flick were absolutely iconic in their roles (Francis McDermott, William H. Macy, and Steve Buscemi). How could you replace them? Then there was the pitch-black humor of the movie that only Joel and Ethan could manage. How could anyone establish the right Coen-tone in a TV series?
But the premiere of the ten-part series (FX and Netflix) does not disappoint. The ever-versatile Martin Freeman takes a break from hob-nobbing with hobbits and deranged detectives, and becomes archetypal small-town nebbish Lester Nygaard – insurance salesman and walking time-bomb. Billy Bob Thornton channels Spock and Loki to become Lorne Malvo (yes, Malvo), an assassin-for-hire who decides he’s going to be helpful to Nygaard in a Leland Gaunt sort of way. Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) is not pregnant and does not have a duck-stamp designing husband, but seems destined to play the Francis McDermott role. Solverson is likely at some point to utter the immortal words, “Ya, you betcha!”
As with the movie, the landscape becomes central to the ambiance, and the frigid plains of eastern Alberta are quite serviceable as a substitute for eastern Minnesota or anywhere in North Dakota.
Is it black? Is it funny? Does it make you cringe and laugh simultaneously? Is it worthy of Joel and Ethan Coen?
Yes on all counts.
The Coens serve as the executive producers of the show, and the duo also have partial writing credits in three episodes. Noah Hawley (Bones, The Unusuals) is credited for six episodes.
Directoral duties are split among Matt Shakman, Scott Winant, Adam Bernstein, and Randall Einhorn. Executive producers include Steve Blackman (consulting), John Cameron (co-executive) and Peter Chomsky (co-producer), along with the Coens.
Ten weeks on FX, Tuesday nights.
Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.