RECAPTURING THE COEN BROTHERS’ ESSENCE, DON’T CHA KNOW
The series picks up 10 years after the incidents of the 1996 Coen Brothers film. After crashing his car outside of Bemidji, MN, Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) watches as a naked man pops out of the trunk and runs into the woods. In town, the meek Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) gets pushed around by an old high school bully and gets injured. At the hospital, Lester meets Lorne in which he relays the story of how he ended up there. Lorne has a shady proposal for Lester and there begins the twisted tale of unlikely alliance amongst the strangers.
I didn’t know what to make of this series when I first heard about it. What more could they say about the incidents surrounding the town of Fargo in the original movie? Although the Coen Brothers are Executive Producers, they play a limited role in the TV series but it really captures the essence of the Coen Brothers film, complete with each episode opening with the same “true story” text that opened the movie though the story is completely fictional.
Certainly there are clear parallels in the roles of Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman), Lester Nygaard, and Lorne Malvo with the characters from the movie. Perhaps, because it’s been such a long time since I’ve seen the original film, I didn’t mind the similarities. The roles felt familiar but the actors were able to take the characters to another level.
A lot of the casting choices in the series surprised me but Martin Freeman by far exceeded those expectations. As Lester, he not only convincingly donned a Midwestern accent but he was truly an underdog that I loved to hate. Episodes after episode, he gets himself deeper and deeper into this dark and shady world but conniving enough to get away with his crimes. It’s such a far cry from his role as Sherlock’s partner John Watson that I wondered what Watson would think of Lester. Don’t think he would have been able to stand Lester either.
As for Billy Bob Thornton, I didn’t blink twice with his casting because the Coen Brothers oeuvre seems fit him like a glove. In fact, the surprising thing is that I mistakenly believed he was in the original Fargo movie, proving just how old the movie really is. He’s only done one Coen Brothers’ movie, The Man Who Wasn’t There. (Maybe two, if you count Bad Santa.) But his character is an amalgam of both Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare’s characters from the movie. He’s steely and terrifying and yet I wouldn’t have been too broken up about it if Malvo took out Lester.
Trying to bring these two criminals down is Molly Solverson, an updated version of Frances McDormand’s character. I loved Allison Tolman’s chemistry with Colin Hanks, who plays Gus Grimly, because of the subdued nature of their dialogue in contrast with what’s happening on the show. However, Solverson takes the credit for solving the case and sticking to her gut despite the naysayers. She’s the relatable and strong, female character that the viewers are rooting for; something we don’t see too often on TV and in movies. It was so frustrating to watch Police Chief Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) put her down, in that polite Midwestern goshdarnit tone, even though she’s laid out the evidence for him and completely satisfying when she gets her “man”, personally and professionally.
The series has a slew of characters that get entwined in this tightly, interwoven tale and it’s enhanced by diverse performances from the large cast but the main plotline surrounds these two criminals and the deputy aiming to bring them down. I’m happy to say that the conclusion is very satisfying. Fans of the original movie may finally get the answer to the mystery of what happened to the case full money that was buried in the snow. It just took 20 years to answer it, that’s all.