starring Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, and Martin Freeman
directed by Randall Einhorn, Adam Bernstein, Colin Bucksey, Matt Shakman, and Scott Winant
written by Noah Hawley
5 stars - every bit as good as the movie
ALR Green - despite brief scene (see spoiler at end of review)
First off, let's get one thing clear. Neither the movie nor the television show is based on a true story. That's just some humor from the original that was carried over.
As with many fans of the movie Fargo, I was reluctant to watch the television adaptation. How, I wondered, could anything ever stack up to the original? Particularly in light of the American television show inclination to dumb down stuff.
Boy was I wrong.
The television series captures all of the elements that made the movie exceptional.
Rather than depend on quick camera shots, manipulative music, and characters who are one dimensional, Fargo gives the viewer lingering scenes, characters who do ordinary things, and, wait for it.... silence. Yes, silence. Silence during which some very gifted actors and actresses allow the viewer time to figure out for themselves what is going on. Characters don't need to voice their thoughts, their struggles are apparent on their features. No more so than with two of the leads, played by Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman. Was there ever a presence as menacing as Bill Bob Thornton's Lorne Malvo? Ish. I got weirded out just looking at his eyes.
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard does an equally good job. He oozes insecurity and the personality of a man on the edge. He's just as creepy.
The cinematography is wonderful. Lingering scenes of frozen highways and farmland to lend a sense of isolation. No CGI here. It appears to me that even scenes in houses and diners were shot with the benefit of extras actually milling about outside the windows.
There are many unexpected twists and turns, but somehow all in keeping with the surprises of everyday, rather than the somewhat predictable "twists" that one can smell coming in many series just based on what characters get introduced and when.
Oh, and the characters. As with other series that I rate high, Fargo shows characters doing everyday activities. Even bad guys and nutters have to eat, sleep, go to the store, whatever. For example, one minor character is first seen at his water aerobics class. We don't need anything to happen there (and nothing does), just an acknowledgement that shady characters of a certain age need to stay in shape. Why not? Reminds me of Tony Soprano brushing his teeth. Just brushing his teeth because that's what people do. Bad guys care about dental hygiene too, right?
No character is one dimensional and not every move they make is explained. That's life, right?
Yes, there is murder (and quite a bit of it), but the camera doesn't linger over the blood and suffering in the near pornographic way that we've grown accustomed to. Not even all the violence is shown, sometimes, just implied (which can be even more scary than a close-up).
I'm giving this TV series a huge thumbs up. Can't wait for season 2 to come out on DVD.
Oh, wait, I almost forgot, here's the brief plot synopsis from iMDb
A drifter named Lorne Malvo arrives in small-town Minnesota and influences the population with his malice and violence, including put-upon insurance salesman Lester Nygaard.
That's all you need to know.
****** WARNING - SPOILER ******
A dog is killed off screen and his body is shown briefly. Sad, but there is no indication that the dog suffered and it does not present a scene that will haunt most animal lovers