Joel and Ethan Coen are a hard act to follow, and while Fargo (1996) may not quite have the cult status of Big Lebowski (1998), its characters and cinematic language are indelibly imprinted on the cinematic consciousness. It would be impossible to make another Fargo. Perhaps that in itself is the temptation.
How does it play out? The elegiac epic music, the long lonely road through the snow covered flat land, the simple announcement on black – This is a true story ; all these remain the same, out of respect for their origins, but Fargo, the FX television drama penned by Noah Hawley, forges its own path. The ten episode series is scheduled to premiere in Israel on HOT on April 19, 2014, with “The Crocodile’s Dilemma,” directed by Adam Bernstein.
The series is not a remake of Fargo, it’s a new story with new characters that emerges from the Fargo world created by the Coen brothers. Some might consider it a sacrilege to take a film like Fargo and do anything with it but watch and revere, much less create a television version. Yet as technology offers such a diversity of options for visual consumption and as the lines blur between film, television, and digital media, such a pure and pristine perspective feels more and more unnecessarily limiting, and less relevant. Just like the cover of a song, or remix for that matter, the only relevant question is: is it any good?
At first glance, it might seem as though elements of the film have been shuffled around for this remix. The parallel to Frances MacDormand’s smart, seven month pregnant cop Marge Gunderson, is the young and inexperienced Molly Solverson. Whereas Marge gently, yet firmly, redirects her partner (I’m not sure that I agree 100% with your police work there Lou), the roles are reversed here, with Molly momentarily reduced to a big blue-eyed “huh” when Chief of Police, Vern Thurman (Shawn Doyle) points out her oversight. Molly (Allison Tollman) is apparently single and not at all pregnant, but in a nice chiasmic structure, Vern goes home to domestic bliss reminiscent of Marge and Norm, complete with pregnant wife Ida (Julie Ann Emery). Transpose car salesman with insurance salesman and you’ve got Fargo for TV. Not quite.
The film made its reputation not so much on the story (which is, after all, the rather common plot of back page crime stories) but on the unique and rather bizarre atmosphere at once brutal, mundane, comic and thrilling, with unforgettable characters. Hawley has nailed the feel of this world and its juxtaposition of jello salad and machine guns. The strength of the Hawley-penned series is that it is just as character-driven as the film, and he has created some awesomely messed up characters that invite empathy and repulsion in the same breath.
But ultimately, it is the cast that makes Fargo an addiction waiting to happen. Allison Tollman is immensely likeable as the intelligent though untried Molly, and I’m looking forward to getting to know her as the series progresses. Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton, however, are divine, each in his own perverse way. Freeman is no William H. Macy wanna be – whatever initial instinct there may be to equate the two characters, is sure to melt like snow on a sunny Spring morning. Freeman’s Lester Nygaard is accustomed to disappointment and uncomfortably resigned to his fate as a mild-mannered loser, “heck” is the strongest epithet he hurls at life. Wonderfully complex as subtle shadings of emotion surge beneath his placid surface, Nygaard makes ordinary fascinating. Billy Bob, on the other hand, is the devil himself, as Lorne Malvo, a physically unprepossessing criminal philosopher with menacing allure. Together, they go far.
Fargo will be shown on Saturdays (beginning April 19th) at 22:10, on HOT 3 and HOT VOD.