This Fargo review contains spoilers.
Fargo Season 2 Episode 1
It’s the “Golden Age of Television” but if you looked at the list of shows in development, you wouldn’t know it. Ignore the think-pieces from The New Yorker and The Atlantic and just look at the daily newswire on Variety. In a decade that gave us original, prestige series like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, where massively talented auteurs like Steven Soderbergh have abandoned the confines of the foreign box office to work in a medium that was once viewed as lesser, why on God’s green earth are there 39 (and counting) TV series based on movies in the works? These shows take little creative chances, banking on familiarity to suck viewers in. You’ve never seen gold look this bleak.
And just like you’d be remiss to believe that TV and TV networks are having some renaissance, you’d also be wrong to lump Fargo in with all of these other limp, lifeless movie retools. Don’t get me wrong; if you caught Fargo’s fun first season, you might have enjoyed the inspired performances and the way creator Noah Hawley so effortlessly channelled the tone of the Coen Brother’s baby, but surely it was hard to ignore how indebted the plot beats and characters were to the source material. Deviations were made, but season one never rose above being an enjoyable homage.
But what also makes Fargo interesting is that it isn’t just apart of the movie-to-TV trend, it also shares the distinction of being an anthology series, TV’s other favorite shtick lately. So gone is last year’s cast and modern day setting, and it’s funny, when you inject some post-Nixon disillusion, a little Fleetwood Mac, some goofy facial hair and 70’s kitchiness into Noah Hawley’s ability to craft black, crime comedy out of everyday mundanity and small-town personalities, Fargo Season 2 becomes a truly interesting prospect that has just the right amount of the film’s DNA without being just another copy.
After the black sheep in a small-time crime family gets a little trigger happy in pursuit of a get-rich scheme he can call his own, the dim schmuck Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin) gets struck by the car of Peggy Blumquist, a Midwestern blonde with a shocking lack of empathy played with great comedic timing by Kirsten Dunst. The whole crime scene is just another headache for Officer Lou Solverson, the younger version of Keith Carradine’s character from season one, this time played by Patrick Wilson. Solverson is dealing with an ill wife and young daughter at home. Meanwhile, the death of Rye should also complicate matters for the Gerhardt clan, where patriarch Otto has suffered a stroke just as the family business is being intruded on by an opposing syndicate from the South.
Of course there are some loving nods to the Coens’ movie, like the way Culkin eerily resembles Steve Buscemi right down to the clothes, or that signature brand of Midwestern politeness that everyone possesses, but they’re not as overt references as season one sported, especially in its pilot. I generally enjoyed season one, but its premiere bugged me by how closely it mirrored the film.
Season one had to prove that it deserved to bear the Fargo name, but season two comes in confident, with stylistic split-screen shots and a more bombastic version of that familiar score. With a wide-ranging, eclectic cast featuring the wonderful Jean Smart and Hollywood’s youngest character actor Jesse Plemons, as well welcomed TV vets like Ted Danson, Nick Offerman, and Brad Garrett, Fargo Season 2 comes out of the gate self-assured, further away from familiar, with an energy and wit that’s infectious. This isn’t a sophomore slump; it’s a sophomore soar.