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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Is the TV Adaptation of Fargo Worth Watching?

The Crocodile's Dilemma is a studied logical paradox. A crocodile steals a child from his father. The crocodile promises to return the child to the father only if the father can correctly predict what the crocodile will do next. But what does the crocodile do if the father predicts he will not return the child? If the crocodile returns the child, the father's prediction was false and the child should not have been returned. If the crocodile keeps the child, the father's prediction was true and the child should have been returned. 

And thus the crocodile's dilemma: Either way, he can't keep his promise. 

I'm guessing the choice of "The Crocodile's Dilemma" as a title for FX's premiere of Fargo, a television adaptation of the Coen brothers movie of the same name, was intended to portray the difficulty of morality and making correct choices. Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) is an unassuming man living a quiet life in rural Minnesota. He lives with an overbearing, pushy wife who is constantly demanding him to act like a man - someone more like his brother, who stashes automatic machine guns in his garage. But when Lester does finally act like his wife's definition of a man... well, that's not a great choice for him, either. 

I think the Crocodile's Dilemma might more aptly apply to the creation of this show and what the creators are trying to do. The movie Fargo was so good, creating such a perfectly macabre, funny and bleak tone. Like most remakes, hearing it was going to be remade caused me to wonder: What's the point? At its best, it captures and perhaps copies the original - at worst, it falls short?

I don't think Fargo's premiere episode was a staggering success, but it built a foundation that has the potential to turn into an interesting show and transcend the remake label. At its best and most interesting moments, Fargo plays with the concept of chaos vs. order. Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thorton) represents pure chaos; a contract killer passing through town, Malvo inserts himself into other peoples' lives and creates disorder for them throughout the episode, with seemingly little motive. On the other end we have police Officer Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman), an up-and-coming member of the force eager to serve and protect. 

The television version of Fargo uses pieces from the movie and quietly re-arranges them, mixing in more modern influences. The most immediate and easy comparisons to make are shows like Breaking Bad and True Detective; this will join the troop of anti-hero shows that have become so popular recently.

My biggest gripe with the first episode was the show's first 20-30 minutes. Fargo emulated the type of character we see in the Coen brother's A Serious Man, portraying a man who can't seem to get a break. Trying to squeeze so much bad luck into such a short amount of time ends up being over the top, whether Lester's being bullied by someone he knew in high school (this character is basically Biff from Back to the Future), disappointing his unloving wife, or wallowing in his younger brother's shadow of success. It was a little ridiculous and one note, to the point that I wish we could have just started the episode with Lester already beyond his breaking point. 

Those specific encounters and characters aside, where Fargo shows a lot of promise is in the acting and in its tone. The show perfectly captured the odd, unsettling and quirky nature of the film (I didn't even mind the accents). Billy Bob Thorton and Martin Freeman are some of the best actors you'll see gracing television right now, and newcomer Allison Tolman is poised to be the break out success of this show. 

Seeing Thorton and Freeman in these roles is an unusual treat for television, and Fargo is worth watching for them alone. Overall the premiere was solid, and I'm intrigued enough to tune in next week. But I'm not 100% convinced yet. Overall, I give it a B. 


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