October 13, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Fargo”


FARGO:  Monday 10PM on FX

Despite all the pressures of launching a new storyline and cast–not to mention living up to its brilliant first season–Noah Hawley’s reincarnation of the Coen Brothers’ FARGO gave no sign of missing a step in its Season 2 premiere (unlike, say, a certain anthologized HBO detective series one could name).  Just as the initial season of Fargo suggested the voice and style of the Coens while creating a work thoroughly Hawley’s own, Season 2’s premiere fit beautifully into the series template he’d established even as it moved in new directions.

The seasons of Hawley’s saga are tangentially related:  this year, we’ll learn the story of what happened in Sioux City in 1979, which Season 1’s retired cop Lou Solverson (played by Keith Carradine) said was the worst thing he’d ever seen.  Lou is one of the characters in Season 2, now played by Patrick Wilson (who wisely doesn’t attempt an imitation of Carradine), and his young daughter Molly will, we know, grow up to become Allison Tolman’s character.  The scenes of her youth are colored by the presence of her mother Betsy (a marvelously tart Cristin Milioti), already diagnosed with the cancer that will claim her.

We are, once again, in the world of darkly comic mobsters and the innocents who cross their path.  The premiere, written by Hawley and directed by Randall Einhorn and Michael Uppendahl, was mostly a table-setting hour, introducing us to central characters of the tale.  The North Dakota crime family of the Gerhardts (patriarch Michael Hogan, mother Jean Smart, bickering sons Jeffrey Donovan, Kieran Culkin and Angus Sampson) will be stalked by a rival mob from Kansas City headed by Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett).  The catalyst of the episode was Culkin’s character Rye, who tried (badly) to intimidate a local judge into freeing up the bank accounts of a typewriter store’s owner who’d offered Rye a share of the business.  That led to Rye killing the judge in a local cafe, along with the cook and waitress–and almost instantly being hit by a car driven by housewife Peggy Blomquist (Kirsten Dunst), who insanely tried to hide the not-quite-dead body from her butcher husband Ed (Jesse Plemons).  Lou, meanwhile, and his father-in-law Hank Larsson (Ted Danson), investigated the cafe shootings.

Hawley has a master’s sense of timing–that cafe confrontation was a thing of beauty–and a great feel for making period detail seem like more than an accumulation of Wikipedia facts.  (When Betsy dryly responds to Lou asking if Molly had gotten off to sleep all right by noting that “She’s not Pol Pot, you know” it felt like exactly the right quip for her smart-aleck character circa 1979.)  The 70s vibe extends to a use of split screens that felt natural rather than fetishistic.  The photography by Dana Gonzales is gorgeously atmospheric without drawing attention to itself, and the music is a mix of a pulsating score by Jeff Russo and some well-chosen period cuts that avoid the Top 40 syndrome.

As in Season 1, the actors are all droll but dangerous, with Danson, Garrett and a guest turn by Nick Offerman (as a conspiracy theorist who seems inspired by John Goodman’s Big Lebowski character) as early standouts.  Hawley’s given them all sharply distinctive characters to play.

Fargo was a jackpot for FX last season, not only chalking up solid ratings, but also winning major awards for the network.  Pulling off such a trick twice in a row seemed unlikely (hell, just successfully inhabiting the Coens once was against all the odds), but Season 2 is off to a start that suggests lightning could well strike again.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."