I watch very little in the way of TV 1-hour dramas. I could care less about CSI, SUV, NCIS, XYZQ, or whatever acronym-based legal/crime-fighting re-tread shows are out there. Of all these shows, the only one I like is an occasional Law & Order: Criminal Intent, but only because of Vincent D’Onofrio. When HDTV programming first arrived, I did marvel at CSI: Miami as a showcase of HDTV and the curiously odd façade put on by David Caruso. The only currently-airing drama I watch is my guilty pleasure, Parenthood. But now it’s time to add a second one.
As a huge fan of Fargo (1996), one of the greatest films ever made, you might think I wouldn’t be interested in its TV “original adaptation”, but the advance marketing piqued my interest, so I made sure to watch the pilot episode last night. I went in skeptical, and at first was a little put off by obvious configurations of characters from the movie: Jerry Lundegaard is mapped into Lester Nygaard; Marge Gunderson to Molly Solverson, and the mostly-mute Gaear Grimsrud is more greatly transformed into Lorne Malvo, a don’t-mess-with-me bad guy played by the only true star of the show, Billy Bob Thornton. Indeed, his character is much more like the villain of No Country for Old Men than anyone in Fargo.
It occurs to me now that the similarity in characters is very much intended — their names make that obvious. Quickly enough, and happily so, we learn the plot won’t share any similarities to that of the movie, and that story becomes engaging in no time at all. Although there are moments of incredulity here and there, they are quickly forgotten as the story hurries along. Billy Bob Thornton’s character goes a long way to drive the story — besides being a dead-serious killer, he’s got lots of fun pranks up his sleeve. This is the type of character, and performance, that can anchor big movies — and it sure works here.
The Times article on the series, “Jell-O Salad, Snow and Savage Murders” ends:
“Fargo” isn’t the movie; it’s a television adaptation that lives up to the spirit of the original by straying.
I loved it. Count me in for the rest of the series.