“This is a true story,” Fargo begins, just as its 1996 movie counterpart began. “The events depicted took place in Minnesota…At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”
There’s something about a true story that grabs at the attention, that somehow transforms an already interesting tale into something else entirely, something absorbing, thrilling. The Coen Brothers, the award-winning film-makers of the original Fargo movie, know this, which is why they chose to begin their film with this falsehood.
Fargo is not a true story, though the on-screen message mentioned above has certainly fooled many, proving a successful stylistic choice on the Coens’ part, who are known for their playfulness and inclusion of certain “personal touches” to their films. Writer and showrunner of the new Fargo TV series, Noah Hawley—with the Coen brother’s acting as executive producers—takes the same steps towards producing the thrill of the “true story,” complete with all the dark humor and “Minnesota nice” of its predecessor.
However, this is not Fargo 2.0; the characters and plot lines are different. The Coens’ film serves more as an inspiration for the 10-part show than as a blueprint; it is far from a remake, possessing its own uniqueness. That being said, there are, of course, similarities. The atmosphere—that strange, terrific feel—is the same, the dark hilarity still present. And though the characters are slightly altered, they remain familiar, troubled by the same themes of human nature, violence and fallibility (It helps, too, that they’re played by great actors).
Martin Freeman (Sherlock and The Hobbit) and Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade), two very different but equally talented actors, star in the series. Freeman, who’s Minnesota accent is just a little too over the top, plays struggling insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, who’s very much unhappily married to a demeaning wife and is still tormented, years later, by his high school bully, Sam Hess (Kevin O’Grady). Thornton, in turn, plays Lorne Malvo, a cool, soft-spoken, manipulative hitman with a taste for mischief. Malvo possesses a strange charisma that, after a chance meeting in a hospital, compels Nygaard to do something monstrous, setting in motion a dangerous chain of events.
“Your problem,” he tells Nygaard, “is you spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren’t. We used to be gorillas. All we had was what we could take and defend.”
Along with Freeman and Thornton is a full store of acting excellence, including Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad), Brian Markinson (Mad Men) and breakout star, Allison Tolman, who plays deputy sheriff Molly Solverson. Despite being a relative newcomer, Tolman is on par with her far more experienced co-stars.
So if you’ve been thirsting to revisit the dark humor and satisfaction that you got from the Fargo film, or have simply been looking for a new crime drama since Breaking Bad and True Detective ended, then the new Fargo series is worth checking out.