The first season of a new show based on a film could go one of two ways… obviously. In that it could sink like a soggy souffle or it could surprise and delight both fans of the original film – directed by the Coen brothers – and bring in new fans alike.
Largely this show has, pleasingly, done the latter. Following in the footsteps of the Coen brothers is no easy task, yet show creator and writer, Noah Hawley, has done just that, delivering a dark, witty and suspenseful tale, one that’s already meant the show has scooped a slew of awards and been renewed for a second season. It’s also followed the theme of a single story arc per season. The same format that the recent – also quite brilliant – True Detective has done in its first season.
Whilst the mighty script played a large part of Fargo’s success, good writing alone isn’t enough, the cast were, simply put, rather darn good. It helps to have A-list film actors from which to draw of course. And yes, I think we can safely say that now, after the body of work he’s built up, Martin Freeman is indeed A-list.
His performance drove the story along yet… rooting for him as your main protagonist was always going to be a tall order. Freeman’s ability to come across as likeable yet unsure of himself, determined yet afraid, a man with a moral compass yet, at times, completely immoral in terms of his actions, meant that, throughout the season you feel compelled to watch him to see how he will react in any given situation.
Fans of Breaking Bad will recognise a great deal of Walter White in Freeman’s Lester Nygaard. Both are characters that, in trying to change the course of their lives, end up doing despicable things… Yet you find yourself rooting for them. In a way.
Then you have the straight up bad guy, Billy Bob Thornton’s elusive hitman Lorne Malvo. A man that seems to have a soft spot for Lester. The two cross paths only a few times throughout the season, yet their actions ripple out to affect most other characters in the show in fairly profound ways. Thornton’s performance was loaded with charisma to the point that it reminded me of George Clooney’s in Dusk Till Dawn. Both violent men with a dark side, but allow them to turn on the charm and then sit back and watch the way they hold a room – and, by extension, the audience – in the palm of their hand.
Honorable mentions should also go to some key players in the supporting cast including: Allison Tolman as Deputy Molly Solverson (the only person smart enough to figure out the various crimes committed and doggedly pursue them to the bitter end. Our real protagonist, if ever there was one); Bob Odenkirk as kindly Police Chief Oswalt (slippery lawyer Saul from Breaking Bad if you didn’t realise); and Colin Hanks as spineless Officer Gus Grimley (another who gets a surprising and satisfying character arc come the season finale).
Whilst show creator, Noah Hawley, has said that season two will have entirely new characters and a new story, some must surely remain? You can see stalwarts like Molly Solverson and Gus Grimley surfacing from time to time. But maybe it will play out a bit like The Wire, where the show focuses on other towns and goings on in neighbouring parts of America, occasionally revisiting old characters so they keep their hand in and thus the Fargo world expands.
Either way, this show was a nice surprise, in that I came to it with little knowledge or expectation, but was drawn in regardless. To repeat the trick for a second season will be tough, but there’s still a lot of this world for the show’s creators to explore, so we can but hope they’ll deliver.