The Bingeworthy Breakdown is an occasional look at new TV shows. An estimated 500 scripted seasons of TV will air in 2017, and to help you sort the wheat from the chaff, we’re going to look at the first few episodes of the most notable of these to help you work out whether it’s worth tuning in every week for them, waiting to binge later, or using the time to finally catch up on Amazon’s “Fortitude” or whatever else you’ve been waiting for. Today, we’re looking at season 3 of the FX anthology series “Fargo.”
So, you’re back permanently then?
We’ll see, but yes, we just did a Bingeworthy Breakdown about Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” from writer/director Tom McCarthy, just two weeks ago.
Oh, yeah. I heard good things.
Didn’t really like it much.
Oh, ok… Uh, so I haven’t really watched “Fargo” what’s it about others than a Coen Brothers spin-off? Why should I tune in?
Well, it’s just that, it’s not a spin-off. It’s essentially a series heavily inspired by the 1996 “Fargo” movie, but it’s not all that connected per se. The series exists in the same fictional universe as the Coen Brothers movie in and around Minnesota and the events that took place in the film, which took place in 1987. There are even some direct references, indirect ones and lots of little homages, visual or otherwise. The biggest inspiration, however, is its tone and spiritual connection more than anything. Down to its nuts and bolts, like “The Fargo” movie, the FX series by creator Noah Hawley — he created FX series “Legion” too — is a true crime narrative set in the Midwest. And in keeping with the spirit of the movie, many of the characters are brainless nitwits, but people you still empathize with.
The genius of the Coen brothers is that they can create buffoon character who make many idiotic mistakes and gaffes, but because of the layers and depths to their storytelling, still humanize them. “Fargo” depicted much detached grotesque and even cartoonish violence in the middle of unassuming, seemingly uneventful and tedious settings. But the Coens were playing with the notions that darkness, strangeness, can occur in the most seemingly normal of places — darkness, perversity and the evils and goodness of human nature can co-exist nearly anywhere. And of course, they threw in a nice soupçon of absurdist humor on top seemingly coming from the omniscient god who laughs at the puny humans and their silly schemes.
All that longwindedness is to say that Hawley has really, truly thought about what made “Fargo” work beyond just “funny true crime stories in the Midwest,” and tried to employ a similar gravitas and deadpan humor about the unpredictability, chaos, and beauty of everyday existence. The shows, like the movie, are tragic, funny, disturbing and of course, fateful. This season has an episode called, “The Law of Inevitability.” If that’s not the driving impulse behind nearly ever Coen Brothers narrative, I don’t know what is. To get back to the earlier point, maybe it is a spin-off — Hawley spinning off Coen Brothers-established ideas.
Geez, is there an exam coming with this breakdown too? I was under the impression there was going to be no math involved in this debate.
That name, Noah Hawley, sounds familiar beyond “Legion” and “Fargo.” What’s his connection to the Coen Brothers?
Yeah, he’s a novelist. He wrote the terrific “Before The Fall” book and was one of the writers on “Bones.” Of course, the Coen Brothers — despite being listed as executive producers on the show — wanted nothing to do with “Fargo” and they still don’t. The adaptation to TV didn’t interest them and to some degree, I think the whole endeavor perturbed and weirded them out on many levels — someone borrowing from their creation that they obviously don’t own (the movie studio did and obviously they sold the rights to FX) and running with that brand without them being a little odd. I think it was even stranger to them especially when they felt that story was done and didn’t need to continue. I’m pretty sure their response was [cue dry Midwestern Coen-esque mien]: “Uhhh, sure [awkward pause]. Go with God.”
So, yeah, trying to adapt “Fargo” for TV seemed like folly, but he pulled it off. I mean, “Fargo” the FX series is not the A, A+ narrative that is the Coens’ movie. But it’s a solid B+ all the time and often rises above that grade too.
Hawley sounds like a busy guy.
Extremely. I’m not sure how he has the time considering he showruns “Legion” too. He not only showruns both series’, he writes and directs episodes of each show too. And I’m talking several episodes, more than just debut and finale.
Showruns is not a verb, but fine. OK, guy, I got it. What’s season three about?
It’s essentially a sibling rivalry story over a family dynasty. In this case, they are twins which make them inseparably linked figuratively and literally. Twins usually have a special bond that no one truly understands outside the twins. I assume and hope this dichotomy is explored throughout the series. Maya Angelou once said, “[Sisterhood and] Brotherhood is a condition people have to work at,” and that appears like it will be a major theme.
I’ll guess I’ll ask again, what’s season three about?
Sigh… it’s another true crime story set in the Midwest with nitwits at the center of it. But sorry, I’m going to elucidate first.
The “Fargo” writing template essentially is a triangle: there is the Midwestern rube at the top of the schema that falls for the temptation of a short cut in life, goes in over their head and then becomes desperate to get out of the situation. They’re not the bad guy, they’re the pushover sap, the tragic figure whose misguided ambitions exceed their pathetic grasp (think William H. Macy as Jerry Lundegaard). The other two points of the triangle are basically the cops (Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson) and the robbers (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare’s characters). The law, the guiding morality of the narrative attempts to steer the clueless everyman away from the head on collision with a danger that is always the antagonist. There are crimes and misdemeanors; the clodhopper commits the misdemeanor, the unholy force is about to commit the true crime and scales of justice are the long arm of the law. That’s “Fargo” in a nutshell.
So you’re saying it’s a formula.
Don’t think I can’t read your sardonic dryness. Presumably trying to be a bit more ambitious, Hawley and writing co. add two points of rubes this time to make their story more compelling and challenging. The suckers are twins.