Few films have ever matched the absolute irrational realism that Joel and Ethan Coen’s film “Fargo” reached in 1996. The off-kilter Academy Award-winning film so delicately treaded the line between absurd comedy and honest human interaction to create one of the greatest films of all time. So, to take this world and humor the Coens so adeptly put together and transfer it to television was an exciting prospect.
Not only does the TV version deliver, it absolutely matches the charm and grit of the original film, partially thanks to the Coens’ involvement in the development of the television series.
Similarly to the film, the television version starts with the familiar note and warning: “This is a true story.” Then, we see the familiar snowfall that introduces the mood of isolation and desolation. A car crashes through the snowfall to set off the deconstruction of this seemingly pleasant scene.
Stylistically and thematically, the television series doesn’t mimic the film, but rather utilizes the style. That is probably the series’ biggest success in terms of its adaptation. So often adaptations to television either try too hard to mimic the source material or do too much to differentiate it. “Fargo” found the golden ratio. However, other factors play into its absolute success.
The series follows Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), a down-on-his-luck, bumbling insurance salesman whose life takes an odd turn when he meets a mysterious drifter, Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thorton), who comes through town.
Martin Freeman, in the role equivalent to William H. Macy’s in the film, is a delight to watch. He balances comedy so well with the complexity of his completely awkward yet endearing character.
Throughout the episode, he has to deal with his overbearing and condescending wife, successful younger brother and an old classmate who used to bully him in high school. What makes the episode so compelling is the arc Lester goes through. The development kicks off with what is looking to be a fantastic season of television.
Billy Bob Thorton is equally as good, and the character is sure to be a hit with the audiences. His role in the grand scheme of things is going to be an interesting one, but the writers seem to have a clear vision and are definitely leading toward it.
Allison Tolman portrays Molly Solverson, a young and eager deputy in the small town. The set-up of her storyline and character showed us that she is going to be a major character and possibly be taking the role made famous by Frances McDormand.
It is hard to talk about the episode without ruining what ends up being a game-changing plot development, but what can be talked about is the writers’ ability to balance the dark humor with an incredible forward momentum that will carry the series through its conclusion.
There is something so charming about it. Maybe it’s the simplicity, the characters or maybe even the Minnesota nice accents, but what is certain is that this is an adaptation done right. By the end of the first episode, you will be grasping for more and that is what good television should do. “Fargo” will have you laughing, crying and everything in between, but more importantly, it will keep you entertained to the very end.