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While Game of Thrones has annexed our television screens, and series like Breaking Bad and True Detective remain fresh in our memories, the revival of the long-narrative television drama appears to be gaining continued momentum with Channel 4’s recent acquisition of the TV adaptation ‘Fargo’ – another drama worthy of acclaim.
The ten episode series serves as a continuation from the original film of the same name, which also began with the four sentences which mark the start of each of the new episodes: “THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted took place in Minnesota in 2006. At the request of the survivors the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.” Intriguing, no?
The similarities don’t end there either; the quirky accents – “aw jeez”, hired hit men, incompetent police, chilling violence, ransom money and more all provide salient nods to the Academy Award winning 1996 film. Created and written by Noah Hawley the TV adaptation, set 19 years after the film, draws inspiration rather than being entirely based on the Coen Brother classic. Hawley holds subtle comedy in tandem with dark violence, cleverly threading multiple plot lines within to assemble a gripping story.
Located in the same Minnesota/South Dakota sub-zero snow-scape, the plot centres around individuals of polar opposites who meet through a chance encounter at a hospital. Martin Freeman portrays Lester Nygaard, the bumbling local who’s frightened of his own shadow, while Billy Bob Thornton plays Lorne Malvo, the manipulative, mysterious nomad with a penchant for terror, who turns the former’s life upside down following an unexpected proposal.
Two days and three murders later, there begins a shift in the narrative of a ‘small, quiet, town’ on the border of Minnesota, as the area’s police force chase their tails trying to work out what happened. Only the inquisitive, but often overlooked officer Molly Solversen, played exceptionally by Allison Tolman, begins to link the dots together before the events snowball into further chaos.
Without giving too much away, Lester’s personality gradually breaks away from the bland, overly-nervous insurance salesman who had become engulfed by his monotonous life. “All things truly wicked start from innocence” – Ernest Hemingway provides the quote which perfectly depicts the change in Lester, as slowly his inner evil starts to bubble to the surface…
With storyline and plot devices thrown at us left, right and centre, at times it can be difficult to keep up with. But Thornton’s character alone is a joy to behold; shades of Javier Bardem’s psychotic character in ‘No Country for Old Men’ adjoined with expertly delivered comedic one-liners, make Malvo an alluring character. Both leads signal the rise of TV as strong competition to Hollywood. The experienced Thornton makes his television début while Freeman turns back to the format which saw his rise to fame (The Office) significantly delving back into a genre often abandoned by those who find comfort in feature films.
Fargo in itself is an obscure entity. A blend of both innocence and evil, the programme takes a few episodes to really get to grips with. The adaptation does remarkably well to garner the right distance from its successful film counterpart with new characters and an alternative storyline. Crucially however, Hawley abides by the Coens’ blueprint of darkness and unpredictability which provides a brilliantly written, well-cast piece of television which is undoubtedly one of, if not the best programme currently on the box.