Words: James Ekron
“What if you’re right and they’re wrong? Yah?”
Martin Freeman reminds one of the eager-to-please Headboy who wins so many prizes at Valedictory it’s embarrassing for the Deputy. To date, he has played Bilbo Baggins, Dr John Watson, Arthur Dent and Ali G’s beatboxing partner in crime. Even more impressive is that he wasn’t even asked to audition for Fargo – they just gave him the role (high praise considering that the British are not well known for their on screen Minnesotan accents).
In 1996, the Coen brothers (No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski) directed the cult classic Fargo as an investigation into what happens when a drifter meets a small-time salesman in the American Mid-West. Whilst the brothers are credited as executive producers, its sole writer Noah Hawley has drawn on their use of whimsical dialogue and violent murder to deliver this year’s best newcomer on the criminal drama block.
Lester Nygaard (Freeman) meets drifter Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) and his soup bowl haircut in a hospital emergency room one day, leading to small town murder and some truly ingenious use of bear traps. For Hawley, Lester is “a man who’s henpecked by his wife and he’s belittled at his job and he’s bullied on the street, and he meets a guy who tells him there are no rules and pushes him to the point where he snaps.” And snap he does.
Newcomer Alison Tolman plays Detective Molly Solverson (echoing the Marge Gunderson role played by Frances McDormand in the film) as someone whose ambition is larger than the town of Bemidji, Minnesota. She’s too smart to be fooled by Lester’s Canadian-level politeness and together with her suitor Gus (Tom Hanks’ son Colin) she attempts to explain the carnage. Her Chief of Police (Bob Odenkirk from Breaking Bad), however, only ever wanted pancakes and shows how good he is at playing characters who are bad at their jobs.
Uniquely, Fargo is a ‘limited edition’ series with each season comprising of a 10-episode arc. Unlike other 10 episoder’s – such as Game of Thrones or Veep – the cast is shuffled out like a failing governmental Cabinet and replaced with new characters each season. Freeman has said that filming “felt like a sprint” as they rushed to finish a season which, even Thornton admits, he wasn’t looking to last for “six or seven years”.
Writer Noah Hawley jokingly refers to the show as ‘No Country For Old Fargo’ as he combines the “suspense and tension” of No Country for Old Men with an examination of the “regional humour” and “polite society” of the original film. The series more than adequately does so with Thornton – who makes his first ever TV appearance – claiming that it was more like filming 10 independent movies than a linear series with a re-occurring cast of actors.
Fargo has received 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, 87% on Metacritic and was recently the darling of the Critics Choice Awards in nabbing Best Actor (Thornton), Best Supporting Actress (Tolman) and Best Miniseries for 2014. Fargo, much like the series, settled uneasily in the mind – like almost all the Coen brother’s work does – to leave an uneasy feeling regarding the rest of humanity. Malvo’s riddle about why the human eye distinguish between more shades of green than any other animal is not just some television puff philosophy that explains away our ability to distinguish predators in the jungle. Human beings are the only species observed to haved killed needlessly and Fargo, if anything, is an examination of that.