Sleepy, snow-covered small towns have a dark side, and the FX show “Fargo” invites you to watch the trainwreck people make of their lives when their bad choices spiral out of control. If you haven’t been watching “Fargo,” the best show on FX and arguably television in general right now, you need to drop everything and start binge-watching this instead.
The show is loosely based on the fantastic 1996 movie by the same name, and just as dark, funny, and engaging. “Fargo” has a little something for everyone, especially fans of the Coen brothers and crime dramas. Season three just started, so now is the perfect time to get caught up and jump in.
You might expect a show named after a North Dakota town to actually take place in that town, or at least North Dakota. Instead, much of the storylines revolve around places and people in northern Minnesota, dipping down occasionally into Sioux Falls. The show’s writers weave true stories into their witty and realistic show to create a new and irresistible fictional world.
Each season does stand alone, with storylines and characters you’ll love — and love to hate. On the surface, the show is about solving crimes in the frozen far north, but it takes only a few moments of watching to see that “Fargo” is about far more than a typical procedural drama. It’s about families, and the quirky, often dysfunctional relationships that keep people together and push them apart. Fargo shows how normal people in boring, safe, and unhappy lives can slide into crime and mayhem.
Now for the Best Characters
Of all of the characters in “Fargo,” three stand out with lives you can’t pull yourself away from.
Lester Nygaard, a mousey and downtrodden insurance salesman as unfulfilled in his work as he is in his personal life, takes a radical turn after a chance meeting with a killer, Lorne Malvo. Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton, the respective actors in these roles, are both utterly detestable and yet fascinating. Murder and violence are the vehicles for examining what motivates people.
Nygaard is, without doubt, Freeman’s best role. His transformation from mouse to man to monster is believable and feels inevitable, and is an uncomfortable warning about the evil and darkness that lurks inside of everyone, even those who don’t seem to have malignancy inside.
Mike Milligan might not be the main character of season two, but as far as I’m concerned he should be. Bokeem Woodbine is chilling and frightening as a sociopathic mastermind sent to resolve the differences between two large crime families, with his solutions igniting an ever-increasing body count. Milligan’s lines are some of the best in the season, with his outside opinions about Minnesotan life providing a comic foil in otherwise dark situations. Capable of unexpected violence and ruthless in pursuing his goals, Milligan is the kind of villain you find yourself rooting for, even as you hope he comes to justice.
Molly Solverson ties together seasons one and two. In season one, she’s an adult, a principled deputy trying desperately to solve a string of murders across the state of Minnesota. As important as her role is in restoring law and order to the lives of the people in Fargo, her relationship with her father, a former police officer and main character in season two, is even more compelling. Solverson is unexpectedly likeable and sympathetic, and her struggle against all the unusual intrigue in her normally placid community is an important look at how difficult the work of law enforcement is. She’s always one step behind, yet never gives up. Season two introduces Molly as a small child, and makes you fall in love with her character even more.
Fargo is fresh and unexpected. It’s watchable and worth the time, and the rich stories and character-driven drama provide some of the best TV right now.