Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Coen Brothers really don’t need much more flattery at this point. They’ve got awards and critical accolades that could line all of Bemidji’s deserted roads. Imitation can really go one of two ways; it can pale in comparison and sour its source material, or it can hit the right marks and expand upon what made the source great. Fargo, the television show, somehow manages to do both.
“Sour” may be a little harsh, because I don’t find anything taking place on FX’s new adaptation to be true heresy or tarnishing the classic picture, but some scenes on tonight’s episode just feel like pointless retooling, particularly Lester’s storyline. I guess it isn’t much of a problem if you haven’t seen the film, but then again, by naming the show Fargo it sort of seems like creators are hoping that you have. Anyway, we’ve just seen this general storyline play out in the movie; man is involved in the killing of his wife and then bumbles and poorly lies his way through questioning.
Martin Freeman stammers and takes advantage of the same dramatic pauses that William H. Macy does in the original, he even echoes that same cheery but facetious “I want to help.” The only thing that the Lester storyline really has going for it is the power clash between Molly and new sheriff Bill. The two really have an interesting dynamic, especially when the job was promised to Molly before Vern’s passing. Bob Odenkirk is possibly doing the most acting of his career here, not just coasting by on his smarminess like in Breaking Bad. But as far as Lester himself goes, it just feels like I’ve seen this all before, and I’d much rather be spending time with the other characters.
Like Malvo. Billy Bob Thornton continues to make this quirky, unsettling, id-fueled schemer a complete joy to watch. Thornton couldn’t have picked a better character to make the leap to TV for, and his performance here is likely going to get Hollywood interested again. Malvo, after intimidating a mail clerk, receives a package alerting him of his next job, which sends him to the door of Stravos Milos (Oliver Pratt), a supermarket king who’s got a blackmailing problem. Pratt’s the sort of character actor that can make anyone interesting, and he makes the big shot Stravos a little more nuanced then this show’s typical bully.
Stravos is being extorted and he instantly suspects his soon to be ex-wife. When Malvo checks her out, he meets her fitness instructor/lover (an almost unrecognizable Glenn Howerton, Dennis from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia) whose bronzer rubs off on Malvo’s hand and also seems to be present on the blackmail note. Before he can report his discoveries, Malvo gets a visit from Stravos’ bodyguard, telling him to hand the case over to him. Malvo doesn’t take the threat seriously, and decides to drop a deuce in the middle of the conversation.
Though that deuce might hit the fan sooner than later for Malvo. Two peculiar fellows from Fargo meet with Sam Hess’ buddy Max Gold. They’ve been hired to investigate Hess’ murder, and they’re just as colorful as Malvo. One of the guys is deaf and the talker of the bunch nails the Coen-esque delivery and offbeat comedy. The sign language interactions just make this feel completely set in the Coen universe, as if the beautifully framed shots (Gus’ neighbors windows in the foreground of his dinner scene with his daughter, Gordo in front of the TV as Lester and his brother talk) and overhead angles weren’t enough. The two guys go to the strip club and are given a description that fits one of the bar’s regulars, Lenny. Needless to say, Lenny doesn’t react well to their line of questioning, and to make a long story short, ends up in a frozen lake.
Every time Fargo creates it’s own material, not just riffing on material from the film, the show is at it’s best. Lester’s material really needs to take some sort of divergence if it isn’t going to feel like the stale story thread in comparison to the others. Fargo is still an imitation, but it can be a pretty darn fun one at times.