TV review: “Fargo” is original and yet feels familiar

From the April 10, 2014 edition

FX has long been one of the smartest, most progressive television networks in terms of its original series, offering some of the best comedies and dramas currently on TV and embracing original premises and new concepts regularly. Adapting the Coen Brothers’ award-winning 1996 film “Fargo” into a 10-episode “limited series” is the latest intelligent creative endeavor.

FX’s “Fargo” is more than a retelling of the original story, instead offering an all-new “true crime” tale ensconced with similar gallows humor, oddball characters and quirky accents. The major difference between the movie and the mini-series is the latter’s more plentiful violence and menacing sensibility.

The main reason the “Fargo” series is darker and more intense is Billy Bob Thorton’s performance as Lorne Malvo, a drifter who rolls into Bemidji, Minnesota, and immediately starts wreaking havoc, mainly on Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman).

Thorton’s Lorne is basically a wittier and more loquacious version of another iconic Coen Brothers character, Anton Chigurh from “No Country for Old Men.” On the polar opposite of the charisma scale is Freeman’s Lester, who’ll immediately remind viewers of William H. Macy’s character in the original film.

Besides the two leads, there’s a whole world of characters rambling around: Bob Odenkirk as a Bemidji cop, Oliver Platt as the Supermarket King (of Minnesota), Glenn Howerton as an uber-tanned moron and Kate Walsh as a stripper-turned-trophy-wife.

Other characters are, like Lester, clearly inspired by folks from the film; Colin Hanks and Allison Tolman filling in as Frances McDormand’s indelible Marge Gunderson, and Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard are essentially Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare’s partners-in-crime.

“Fargo” features serious violence and machinations in the first four episodes, but writer Noah Hawley also infuses some great eccentric humor. Hawley really has done an admirable job in mirroring the film’s tone.

If you’ve seen (and surely enjoyed) the original film, this “Fargo” will be quite entertaining, especially in its sly references. If you’ve never seen it, you’ll find “Fargo” weird, darkly comic and still quite entertaining.

Photo courtesy FX