Is it possible to escape an impossible situation without digging yourself into a deeper hole? Can you continue to lie to avoid getting caught or learn to accept the consequences? That's part of the premise behind FX's new show "Fargo," which took its cue from the classic movie of the same name. Somehow, the show still managed to deliver a uniquely funny spin on some familiar material that should be interesting to see unfold over the course of the season.
"Fargo" followed a meek small town insurance salesman named Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) who spent many years getting picked on by everyone in his life from his brother and even his seemigly devoted wife Pearl. She constantly expressed her resentment of marrying the wrong man, because he couldn't stand up for himself no matter how hard he tried. Poor Lester was still getting bullied by an old high school classmate to the point where he plotted jokingly to kill him. An action that set off a chain of events that changed Lester's life forever. After getting beat up again, Lester ended up crossing paths with a unique hit man named Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) as they bonded over their circumstances. In a moment of being theoretical, Lorne and Lester plot to kill Lester's old bully while they waited in the hospital. The only difference was that Lorne actually carried out the hit, while Lester was stuck answering questions from police. He was also stuck with dealing with the consequences of killing his wife after she nagged him one too many times. With Lorne's help, Lester covered up his part in Pearl's death in a way that ended up getting a local Minnesota police chief killed as well. After the crimes were committed, Lorne and Lester went their separate ways for the time being. Unfortunately, two smart police officers were on to them without even knowing it. Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) had a chilling encounter with Lorne that he'll never forget as he wondered whether he could risk his life one day without paying the ultimate price. Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) was honing her detective skills that allowed her to zero in on Lester as a prime suspect, but she doesn't have the proof yet to arrest him. Will Lester and Lorne be able to get away with their crimes or will they have to face the music?
In terms of questions, the show has seemed to surpass being tied in with the original movie by jumping into some very different stories while focusing in on the elements that made the film work. The first few episodes made good on mixing violence and some very dark humor to balance things out. The show also balanced pairing reasonably good characters with darker counterparts to showcase how they can be easily corrupted when pushed the right way. A prime example would be the pairing between Freeman's Lester and Thornton's Lorne as they turned out to have a lot more in common than they cared to admit. Freeman's Lester was a quiet man who had kept his need for violence under wraps after years of being pushed too far, while Thornton's Lorne was an unpredictable man who used to any type of violence to keep people who bothered him quiet. The show also made excellent use of its guest stars who sometimes came and went just as quickly, but they were always utilized with a purpose in mind. Bob Odenkirk played a charmingly gruff Deputy who was more about pleasing potential suspects than doing his actual job. He had a strong rapport with most of the cast, especially Tollman as their characters seemed to clash when it came to investigating Lester based on suspicion alone. Another standout was Kate Walsh's Gina Hess who drew laughs as a boozy widow that seemed to be more about drinking than focusing on any possible grief she might have for her husband's murder. Let's hope that Walsh's character gets a chance to earn a larger part in the story, or at the very least the chance to interact with either one or both of Freeman and Thornton's characters. Only time will tell if that's the case.
As for breakout performances, Freeman and Thornton led the pack as their leading characters were the driving force behind the first few episodes of the season. Each story seemed to be based in response to Lester and Lorne's first meeting followed by the aftermath of casualties. Freeman's Lester was a huge departure from his usual role as the nice guy who always had a sunny outlook on life even against the worst possible circumstances. He embodied Lester as someone deadly than Lorne ever could be. He was an unexpected killer driven by anger, while Lorne was driven by his need for money rather than loyalty. Freeman made this character trait of Lester's much more disturbing to watch than any of the show's most overt acts of violence. His strongest scene came from when Lester realized he killed his wife and started to come completely unglued. The look of genuine panic that washed over his face was genuine, but it was his ability to make viewers laugh after he almost spilled everything to a motel receptionist. Thornton, on the other hand, had the riskier role of playing the unpredictable live wire character who lit a metaphorical match to every story that he was involved in. He managed to make an unlikable character a lot more entertaining than he should be, which was no small feat. He drew decent enough laughs from even the smallest of scenes and turned them into dark comedic gold. Thornton's strongest scene came when he delivered a chilling threat to Hanks' naive police officer in a way that could make the toughest law man run in the opposite direction. Let's hope that Hanks and Thornton get to cross paths again sooner rather than later, because it would be interesting to see what happens next.
"Fargo" premiered on April 15th and airs Tuesdays at 10:00 PM on FX.
Verdict: Despite a risky premise of being based on the classic movie, the show has managed to deliver its own dark spin to life in a midwestern town.
TV Score: 4 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)