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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Fargo Review: It's pretty good, don-cha-know?

Breaking Bad ended quite a few months ago and I felt I was let down gently. I'm not exactly dying to fill a Walter White shaped hole in my heart. But I'm always on the look out for quality, and the buzz around the new mini series was good. I think it was because I hadn't been looking so hard for the next big thing (which is Hannibal) that Fargo got to me. It's good. Really, really, good. It feels like the work of budding talent that aren't just parroting Fargo, but have taken apart and reassembled it into something just as interesting.

I've been to Minnesota many times in my life, my mother grew up in Edina, but I can't say I remember much about it. I was 10 the last time I was there, it was always in the summer, and nobody had a particularly thick accent. So the Coen brother's Fargo was just as foreign to me as it must have been to most of you.

"No, I was the English Jim from the other offi- ...You know what? I'm sick of explaining this to you yanks."

Familiar beats from the inaugural film remain. There's a brow beaten man turning to a life of violence, mysterious vagrants stirring up more violence, and a strong female lead in law enforcement. But it's obvious from the get go that this is a format that can work for a lot of stories... hence the fact this is now an anthology series.

We open on Lester Nygard (Martin Freeman who's also nailing the accent) sharing a massive bowl of tomato soup with his wife, who nonchalantly (and oh so politely) calls him half the man his younger brother is. Well that's not true, we actually open on something much stranger, but I'll let you see that for yourself.

Does this feel ominous to you? I was going for ominous...
From what I know of Minnesotans (my mother) they are aggressively positive and polite to a fault. This politeness in my mother's case is, more often than not, slathered in mean spirited sarcasm. Everyone's dismissal of  Lester's machismo hit much closer to home than I expected. The casual racism Lester endures from his old high school bully later on, also rang bitterly true. But I'm not going into any personal anecdotes on that count.

I haven't even brought up Billy Bob Thornton yet, and he's having a grand old time playing what is essentially the devil. I'm not exaggerating. The man is cartoonishly conniving and violent. Thornton is clearly having a ball with the material, incredulous though it can be at times, and it's just as much fun to watch him wind all these people up.

It's the relatively unknown Allison Tolman who grounds the series as a rational woman surrounded by contented sheep. She's the only one in the sheriff's department who sees the connection between Nygard's evasive panicking and Thornton's trail of blood. I'm only three episodes in and the chase already has me hooked. Lester is much more sympathetic than William H. Macy's character, but he's still guilty as sin. I'd explain why, but trust me, you'd rather be surprised.

This all struck me as more interesting than the movie ever was, but for a 13 part mini-series I guess it had to be. Sure, a lot of what Thornton's character does seems to be violently creepy for creepy violence's sake... and there's a sub human set of teenage twins that are as boring as characters as they are bad at acting. But to be honest, the Coens did that sort of thing all the time too. Remember John Polito's son in Miller's Crossing? It was like he stumbled out of a completely different movie.

Quibbles aside, it's a damn good serial thriller regardless of the fact it's bobbing in the wake of Breaking Bad. That fact alone should be enough if you were worried about it. It's certainly enough for me.

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