Once upon a time in the distant past (let’s call it 1996) there was a dark little comedy called “Fargo”. This quirky little film presented it’s self as being entirely true in nature even as people died in increasingly unlikely ways. At least that much has remained the same in this new series set in Bemidji, Minnesota. But it’s what has changed that makes this must see television. Between the nods to Coen films and the bone dry humor (colored the deepest black) this show is a beguiling mash up of a dozen different genres ranging from True Crime to Parody.
That said one of the best parts of any Coen film has been the devils that populate them. Be it Anton Chigurh or Leonard Smalls or a certain “shepherd” from Pulp Fiction – seeing these individuals blaze through their worlds with neither care nor mercy has been a magnetic draw. The one great difference here is that Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo is more a trickster then a simple psychopath. It might be said that he’s akin to Health Lecter’s edition of the Joker – if only because he seems to want to watch the world burn. Another way of looking at it is that Lorne is like the proprietor of a certain shop from Stephen King’s Needful Things; he doesn’t directly cause harm so much as he gives people the right push.
Watching him push the buttons on various characters is as entertaining as watching the cops race about trying to stem the damage. Although that brings up one of the other great things about this series – a star-studded cast. For example, the character of Lester Nygarrd is played by Martin Freeman whose best known roles include being the Watson to Sherlock Holmes and Bilbo Baggins. Or “Breaking Bad’s” Bob Odenkirk as one of the kookier characters on the show. The ability to breathe life into characters who would otherwise run the risk of becoming cardboard caricatures is one of the stronger strengths of an incredible show.
Perhaps the only show I could hold up to this one is Hannibal. Not because of the darkness – although it can be very dark (the pilot saw over five character bite it in quick succession) – but because they both have a sort of dream-like quality. The red of the many, rather graphic (if sometimes creative) murders against the bright, white snow is one aspect of this. The absurdity of meeting a hit man in the emergency room after being beaten up by your high school bully… and his kids. Watching a deaf assassin use something that doesn’t even begin to approach sign language with all the seriousness in the world. And of course, the constant lack of color in the scenes – many of the shots are those of characters in dark winter clothes against a background of snow or white walls or the dark interior of a car.
But I mentioned dark comedy, right? The fact of the matter is that it’s a very dry humor born of a deep cynicism. Well that and awkward accents – because accents make many things funny. Seriously though the comedy where it presents it’s self is so sharp you wonder how nobody cut themselves. The part I most enjoyed was how a lot of the best bits of humor are associated with some of the worst characters like Lorne or the Brothers. If you want a good example think of the scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma’s character overdose or the other scene where Bruce Willis leaves his tormentors and their gimp to the “mercy” of his old enemy.
Long story short – I cannot recommend this series more – tune in every Tuesday and pray it comes back next season. If only it wasn’t just 10 episodes long.