Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox; a red ice scrapper standing watch over nearly a million dollars in cold, hard cash; a pathetic salesman caught up in his own web of lies, and the pregnant police officer determined to catch him. If you want to boil down a classic like Fargo to a couple bullet points, then yes, FX’s TV adaptation of the Coen brothers’ masterpiece checks all the right boxes. That writer-creator Noah Hawley was able to preserve so much of the film’s soul in its transfer to TV, and successfully extend its runtime roughly 500%, is the real reason that Fargo the TV show can be called 2014’s most unexpected success story.
More a reimagining and expansion of the source material than an outright remake, Fargo had to make some concessions in jumping from the big screen to the small: there’s no time for charmingly repetitive dialogue on cable, and the much larger world of the show had more than a few loose ends left dangling when all was said and done. But like True Detective before it, Fargo’s anthology format gave viewers something few other shows could offer: a definitive end point, one that infused every twist and turn of the crime fable with a sense of urgency that most shows don’t get until their final season.
Possessing a nasty whimsy that its HBO counterpart lacked, Fargo always walked on thin ice separating its action-thriller story from its black comedy sensibilities. It was a balance embodied by Billy Bob Thornton’s sinisterly charming Lorne Malvo, an almost supernatural hitman made more reprehensible by the evil he inspired in Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), the pathetic insurance salesman turned pathological. Were it not for the lovely Allison Tolman’s Officer Solverson leading the charge for decency in the face of violence and bloodshed, Fargo could have fallen down the well of self-serious nihilism that swallows way too many cable dramas these days. Instead, the show saved its mercilessness for the plotting, packing every hour with suspense, humour, and every variation of a Minnesotan accent you could possibly imagine.