TV Review - Fargo (2014)

Martin Freeman (left) and
Billy Bob Thornton in "Fargo"
This is black comedy. No, it's not like The Cosby Show. It's a comedy where its punchlines are murder and torture. It actually wants us to laugh at those things. This is at its core what the films by Joel and Ethan Coen do. Many of them do this, most specifically the original Fargo (1996) on which this TV series was inspired. We're meant to laugh at the crimes committed by these criminals. We're meant to laugh at the corruption and the incompetence of the police. Of course, there are characters that fight against this, but their inability to succeed immediately is also the source of comedy here. While this works for a movie or a brief affair, I can't sustain the interest in this morbid and depraved humor and I couldn't find it funny after the premiere episode.

Martin Freeman (The Office and Sherlock) stars as Lester Nygaard, a nebbish insurance salesman in Minnesota whose life changes dramatically in 2006 when he meets a man who goes by several aliases but who seems to be a quirky but seriously confident hit-man, mainly identified as Lorne Malvo, played by Billy Bob Thornton who has worked with the Coen brothers twice before: The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) and Intolerable Cruelty (2003).

Lester is bullied, despite being a man in his late thirties or early forties. He's bullied and doesn't stand up for himself and just swallows humiliation. Lorne offers to kill the bully, a pig of a man named Sam Hess. Much like the moment in Strangers on a Train (1951), Lester is launched into a situation, which he wants but never really asked for.

Allison Tolman stars as Molly Solverson, a deputy in the Bemidji Police Department where Lester lives. She unknowingly starts to investigate the crimes of the hitman who is not just there to help Lester. Colin Hanks (Roswell and Dexter) co-stars as Gus Grimly, a deputy in the Duluth Police Department who teams up with Molly to stop Lorne Malvo.

If you consider Lester and Lorne to be a duo, it's interesting that there is a comparison to be made between them and Molly and Gus. The series, created and written by Noah Hawley, does similar things with the duos. A line can be drawn between Molly and Lorne. A line can also be drawn between Lester and Gus.

Molly and Lorne are the smartest and stronger ones of the duos. Lester and Gus are the more passive ones. Yet, the show delves more into the home lives of Lester and Gus, whereas Molly and Lorne are more loners in the narrative. Molly does have a family, but the first four episodes really depict Molly and Lorne being more about their work than anything else.

It seems obvious that with all the diversions, machinations and twists, eventually the final conflict comes down to Molly versus Lorne. There might be a showdown between Lester and Gus, but the real conflict is building between Molly and Lorne. If it isn't, this setup would have been a waste.

Some of the diversions, machinations and twists include Oliver Platt playing Stavros Milos, a shady business guy who's being blackmailed. There's also Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard as enforcers who do sign language. Scenes with these characters are quirky and funny, but they only work when they're engaging with the main characters like Lester. The purpose of Stavros still is unknown but whatever it is, if it doesn't mesh with what I see as the main conflict, Molly vs. Lorne, then it will too be a waste.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-MA-LSV.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Tuesdays at 10Pm on FX.


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