Although I’ve never seen the 1996 Coen Brothers film on which Fargo is based, I heard such great things about the show’s debut season that I just had to give it a shot. The ten-episode season isn’t exactly game-changing television, but it’s an engrossing enough black-comedy with one heck of a memorable character.
The story of a drifter who wanders into the small city of Bemidji and wreaks all sorts of havoc, Fargo carves a place for itself with its unique brand of unsettling humor and near cartoonish characters. In addition, the show does an admirable job of investing you in its world. Just like True Blood transports you to the shady town of Bon Temps or Dark Angel brings a post-apocalyptic Seattle to life, Fargo’s setting feels like a living, breathing place. It’s that atmospheric vibe that immerses you completely as a viewer.
Unfortunately, the pace was a bit slow for me. There were long stretches at a time where I got increasingly restless, and was sorely in need of some forward momentum. Had I not binge-watched the season, I doubt I would have continued watching the show on a weekly basis. Perhaps an eight-episode season like Stranger Things could have tightened up the storytelling?
And then there’s the show’s MVP. I can’t remember ever being too impressed by Billy Bob Thornton, but his turn as the hilarious serial killer Lorne Malvo is a sight to behold. His deadpan liners are numerous, his ruthlessness knows no bounds, and he’s just an all-around hoot to watch on every level. Thornton undoubtedly steals the season, and has me wondering how in the world season two could possibly top this debut year without him at the helm (this is an anthology series, so every season has a brand new cast). It’s a shame really, but he overpowers the rest of the cast; Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, and Martin Freeman all deliver stellar performances – but none come close to Thornton’s unstable psychopath.
– Maybe it’s because Martin Freeman is SO good in the role, but I really couldn’t stand Lester Nygaard by the end of the season. His mannerisms, the way his voice changes – they’re all so impeccably irritating.
– Much like Lester, I became less of a fan of our hero Molly Solverson as the season went on. It just felt like the show was starting to recycle the same beats with her questioning Lester every five seconds. The flashforward and the pregnancy certainly didn’t help.
– Kate Walsh was a revelation as Gina Hess. I’ve only seen her on Grey’s Anatomy but she’s epic here.
– Special mention to Keith Carradine as Molly’s extremely likeable dad Lou. Apparently, season two is about his young days in the field. If only they’d bring back Carradine!
– I wish we saw more of Kitty Nygaard – her special brand of villainy was quite amusing… until she got a hammer to the face.
– The snow sequence with Molly getting shot was unforgettable. It’s a bonafide technical achievement (and really the cinematography was exceptional all year long).
– Jawdropper that I actually saw coming: Lorne shooting three people (including his wife) right in front of Lester in the elevator.
– Lester’s ending (crashing beneath the ice) was immensely satisfying. He doesn’t deserve more!
– The finest visual of the year: the steady tracking shot from outside the building of the windows as we hear Malvo slaughtering everyone culminating with one thug flying out the window. Pure perfection!
– A detail I loved: the fact that Bill can’t handle crime scenes and is always throwing up.
– How great is it that Molly will be taking over as Chief of Police?
– The season’s final shot with our family watching TV was a bit of a letdown in my eyes.
Kitty: Smile, for Pete’s sake. Maybe wear a nicer tie.
Lester: You gave me this tie.
Kitty: Well, if you were a better salesman, I’d have bought you a nicer tie.
Sam: Hey, say, Lester, what was the name of that girl you went with in high school? You know, uh… the curvy one.
Lester: It’s Pearl, yeah.
Sam: Yeah. Pearl… what a rack on that girl, huh?
Moe: Dad’s saying she had big titties.
Mickey: Yeah, I know what “rack” means, you fairy…
Sam: You know, she gave me a tug once. Homecoming senior year, with the nice, fat hands. Real soft.
Lester: We’re married now. Going on 18 years.
Bill: Wife made spaghetti for dinner. Seemed a shame to barf it up.
Malvo: Because some roads you shouldn’t go down. Because maps used to say there’d be dragons here. Now they don’t. But that don’t mean the dragons aren’t there.
Malvo: Need a room.
Receptionist: Just you?
Receptionist: Is it just for you, the room?
Malvo: What difference does that make?
Receptionist: It’s a different rate for two. And if you got pets… dog, cat… it’s an extra 10 bucks.
Malvo: What if I got a fish?
Receptionist: ‘Scuse me?
Malvo: Would a fish cost me $10? Or what if I kept spiders or mice? What if I had bacteria?
Receptionist: Sir, bacteria are not pets.
Malvo: Could be.
Receptionist: Sir, perhaps… you’d be happier in a different motel?
Mailman: This is highly irregular.
Malvo: No, highly irregular is the time I found a human foot in a toaster oven. This is just odd.
Stavros: You ever nail a Greek woman? After 40, their pussies grow teeth.
Gina: Now here I am, stuck in The Yukon with my two mongoloid sons.
Lester: Oh, they’re not so bad.
Gina: I’ve taken shits I want to live with more than them.
Seller: I make up these knapsacks for the zombie apocalypse. You know, in case the undead come back to life and the world gets all dog-eat-dog.
Malvo: It’s already dog-eat-dog, friend. Not sure what worse a bunch a zombies could do.
Gina: Don’t Mrs. Hess me. I was picking your pubes out of my teeth 12 hours ago.
It’s not for everyone (and it’s definitely overrated), but quirky characters and a twisted narrative make for a compelling adventure.