Well, this is a deal. – Hank Larsson
Noah Hawley, above all else, seems to “get” his material and the manner in which to present it to his audience. The show that arises in my own brain when I think of Fargo is True Detective, as both premiered within around six months of one another and both exist as rather off-book crime dramas, one always going the hard route and the other going the eccentric direction. While I enjoyed the latter quite a bit in Round One, not so much in Round Two, Fargo was my number one show in 2014. That’s a double-edged sword, especially for anthological content. Whereas the Lorne Malvo character jumped off the screen and took our collective breath away, his arc also ended. Everything the audience came to understand about Molly Solverson and her life as an officer of the law faded away. While anthology is smart for many shows, among them American Horror Story, it does require intelligence and an understanding of how to make what’s new both the same and entirely different.
From the moment “Waiting for Dutch” began, Fargo had it nailed. Hawley and his writing staff gave us 20 minutes of criminals, chicanery, and bloody, sloppy homicide. The characters had motivations and they showed signs of brains and bumbling buffoonery. Along with the serious came solid humor, particularly from Jeffrey Donovan’s one-liners as Dodd Gerhardt and his excellent facial expressions. The off-kilter, screwy younger Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin), stole the opening sequence, which was a good thing, considering outside of flashbacks, it would be one of his last two moments on screen.
So where are we? We’re in 1979 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We’re in 1979 and we’re in Luverne, Minnesota. The color palette, the soundtrack, the scenery, everything is right for the time period. The dialogue, the accents, the pacing, everything is right for Fargo as a property. Much of the first hour of the season is spent putting many of the important players on the chessboard and giving us just enough to comprehend what’s happened and how much deeper and darker it’s all headed, mixed with the black comedy that helped launch the Coen Brothers’ career and certainly aided Noah Hawley’s ascendance into mainstream creative relevance.
We know the Gerhardt family is the antagonists, with officials attempting to infiltrate and break down their criminal empire. We know the Blomquist family (Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons) are troubled to some extent, but have turned what could have been an excusable situation into a cover-up at LEAST for manslaughter. The issue with hiding the truth is the lies don’t generally stop at one. Once they compound, the reality becomes infinitely worse. And, of course, neither Peggy nor Ed realizes exactly whom it is they’ve killed in their garage.
Last season, Hawley and Fargo gave us Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele as just some of the comic highlights. This season, enter Nick Offerman and Brad Garrett right off the top. Also, in addition to Michael Westen, we’ve also got Sam Axe to add to the Burn Notice flavor once Bruce Campbell appears on screen. And he’s playing Ronald Reagan. This is going to be awesome. During interviews this summer, several on the show said that in Season One, casting members approached big-time names and got a “wait and see” style of response. No one was sure Fargo would work or whether it was worth the time. But, once everyone took that first trip into the snow, it was easy to acquire the kind of cast of which one dreams. In many cases, the talent came willingly or even inquired about the openings. In addition to the aforementioned names, we’ve seen or will see the likes of Bokeem Woodbine, Angus Sampson, Cristin Milioti, Adam Arkin, and a Ted Danson who has to be happy he has more to do with his days than CSI: Cyber.
One more to mention: Patrick Wilson. Here’s where the two seasons come together, as Lou Solverson is the young upstart trooper. His daughter, Molly, is a child. Alison Tolman’s questioning eyes and bright smile are far in the future. Wilson and Keith Carradine look enough like one another that it almost works immediately, but it’s not difficult at all to make the jump once the audience knows for sure that Lou is Lou, just back in time a bit. His wife, Betsy (Milioti), has cancer, which is similar to the role she played on How I Met Your Mother. What we know is this: mom didn’t exist in season one, so we may watch some very sad things happen to her over the next nine weeks. It depends on how long the arc is from the start to the finish respective to elapsed time.
Tons more to come from the series, but it’s clear from just the first hour that Fargo is still going to be near the top of most lists. Not everyone will agree, but it started in knockout fashion and owned that screen with a quickness. The entire scene at the Waffle Hut, from timing to patience to cinematography to teleplay, is among the most effective of the year on any drama. It’s absolutely gorgeous and inviting, and completely terrifying and desolate simultaneously. Whereas many dramas move too quickly or throw too much at the viewer, Hawley keeps it simple, but keeps it moving. It isn’t in slow motion, but it’s not in fast forward. It’s at a real pace. The words are written and executed with care and attention to detail, rather than for shock or awe. True Detective found itself mired in far too many lines with far too little appreciation for the soliloquys themselves. Fargo gives off one lasting impression. It did in 2014 and it does in 2015 and it’s why the show is so good, so early.
It exudes pure confidence. It knows it’s good, and it’s not afraid to take its time getting there. It wasn’t constant action. It was constant suspense, with enough other emotion thrown in to keep the audience’s collective mind off balance. To call it tonally accurate would be a massive understatement. Noah Hawley is writing what he would want to watch. It comes through so clearly when a showrunner and his team comprehends that regardless of whatever brilliance they may believe resides within themselves, none of it matters if the audience is not entertained.
In its first hour, Fargo looked like a slick movie with a sick soundtrack and a spectacular cast all melded together by the most sublime of storytelling. It’s an absolute joy. How will it conclude? We’ll find out. I’ll be reviewing the series weekly and we’ll be talking about the intricacies of the story much more going further, but I wanted to make sure the spoilers were at a minimum in the first installment because the show has so much to offer to a blissfully ignorant audience.
This is going to be a fun few months guys and gals. You betcha.
I’m on Twitter @GuyNamedJason. Okay then.