Published on June 29th, 2014 | by The Editor0
The Feedback Society TV Panel Unpacks Fargo (The TV Series)
As season one ends, The Feedback Society TV panel takes a collective look at the FXX series Fargo, based on the Coen Brother’s film masterpiece.
ROB: Over Fargo’s 10 hours the showrunners juggled a pretty large cast, many of whom were supposed to be important to the plot in some way. However, by the end I thought the show really lost its focus, and let some cast members who seemed central slip away, to the point where I wondered what purpose they had ever served. For instance, take Stavros Milos. He exits the plot a few episodes before the end, in no way impacting the overall arc. In reality, it seems the show used him as a diversion, just to give Thornton’s character something to do while they worked on the real case over in Bemidji. I thought that was very disappointing, and it happened to some other characters too. Dave, what did you think?
DAVE: Agreed. Though I really like this series so far, it did get bogged down with too many story lines to keep them all going. Like Chaz not getting any screen time after getting framed? Heckd’ya mean? Lester could’ve gone to see Chaz in prison to keep up the facade and it would’ve given Martin Freeman — a guy who’s had both good and bad moments in this role — a chance to pull off a game-saving transformational scene from Old Lester to New Lester.
All in all though, this was a fun season, and Fargo is a show I’ll miss watching week-to-week, especially because it meant I got to see Bob Odenkirk pulling funny new faces.
MIKE: I’m with you, Dave. After Breaking Bad ended I wondered where I was going to get my Odenkirk fix, and Fargo delivered. The show is replete with career defining performances. There’s Odenkirk as the bumbling (and particularly expressive) police chief, Allison Tolman as a savvy police officer, Billy Bob Thornton as a barely human maniac, Martin Freeman as an insurance salesman turned murderer — and I could go on. Somebody owes the casting director a beer. However, all praise aside, I think the series made a misstep in bringing in Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele as bumbling FBI agents. To me it felt like they were shoehorned in just to maintain the comedy quotient after the death of Mr. Numbers and the phasing out of Mr. Wrench. That said, they were really funny.
IAN: There’s no denying that the casting was fantastic and the story was, for the most part, solid. That being said, I’m not sure why this had to be a spinoff of Fargo in the first place. While the connections of tone and aesthetic are there, the story would have worked as well as a completely separate project set somewhere else cold. Once you even imply the connection, you’re trapped by the rules of a world already laid out with no real benefit outside of marketing. This series would have been better off as a new project, unburdened by the eye-rolling of anyone tired of even the implication of Hollywood retreading trodden ground. Outside of a few Easter Eggs scattered about for fans, what has truly been gained by turning Fargo into a franchise?
CRAIG: Sounds like we’re mostly on the same page, and Ian, you make an interesting point. While I can’t argue with that notion, I will at least say that they did a good job of stealing from the world and vibe of Fargo the film, without retreading too much. For my two cents, I thought it was one of the best shows of the year, but it was indeed terribly uneven in points. To go back to Rob’s point, the show not only lost some focus, it actually felt like two seasons sewn together at the time jump. Not only had things changed for the characters, but half the characters themselves were gone (or new).
ROB: I thought, too, that the script was uneven in terms of how certain characters were presented. Malvo, for instance, was initially positioned as something of a cosmic joker, and later as a sort of principled moralist who followed an evil path. These are, I would say, non-overlapping ethical roles, but Fargo seemed to want to have it both ways. Did you all see it with any other characters, or would you disagree completely?
DAVE: I saw the same thing with Colin Hanks’ character, Gus Grimly. First he’s a solid guy who’s just not cut out to be a cop once the job gets beyond traffic duty, then he’s the lone tracker of the most dangerous guy on the show – by choice! It makes for good drama, and of course Lester himself is ‘turned’ by his circumstances in similar ways, so maybe Rob and I are just griping because it happened too fast and we felt like we had to get to know New Malvo, New Gus and New Lester too quickly, and as Craig pointed out, the time jump didn’t help. Listen, characters need to change to stay interesting, and we need to understand and relate to their changes if they are to become memorable. Fargo gets the change part right, but misses the skidoo on the reliability front, perhaps because it doesn’t take its time with the ‘slow turn’ like we’ve seen with Walter White or Don Draper. I think we just prefer the rotisserie over the microwave because, ahjeez, it just tastes better, don’chathink?
MIKE: Agreed, many of the character arcs on Fargo felt very rushed, and I’d take a slow-cooked meal over a microwave dinner any day. Yet despite this shortcoming, the show never felt less than compelling for me. The actors always found a way to make it work (more or less), even when the material they were working with wasn’t all that great. And I was happy that with at least with one character, Molly, the writing never felt cheap. No matter what what twisted journey Fargo sent its other lead characters on, you always knew that Molly was out there, slowly inching towards the truth. For me, Molly’s strength and prominence really sets the show apart from the glut of male anti-hero TV dramas that we’ve been inundated with the past couple years.
IAN: The true flaw with Fargo in TV form is that it’s ultimately a miniseries rather than being the first season of a larger story. Much of what’s shoehorned into 10 episodes needed a couple of seasons to flesh out properly. And the potential season two reputedly has nothing to do with season one so there are aspects that may never be tied up. It lacked focus. I’ll always prefer a show with a clear story over something that’s too busy with multiple characters and plots that might never be fully realized. Some stories just need a little more time to play out.
CRAIG: One of my peeves with how they played things out was when characters would do something wholly out of character just to move the plot in another direction. I’m not even sure I bought Lester shining Malvo on at the end in the elevator. Yeah, I get it; he was drunk and wanted to prove he was a changed man. But considering that Malvo was the most awesome cold-blooded killer EVER, having killed over 20 people in the brief time Lester knew him, I just couldn’t buy that Lester would be so stupid. Bumbling, sure. But not stupid. Maybe some would disagree and were able to go with this, but to me it felt less like something the character would do and more like something the writers needed him to do. My wife and I pointed this cheap writing tactic out to each other several times throughout the season.
ROB: I actually had no problem with the Lester/Malvo plot towards the end. I buy that Lester had built a massive ego for himself out of his unpunished crime, and so his ego provoked him into doing something very stupid. That was something else I noticed about this show: everyone, barring Lester, Malvo and Molly, was pretty stupid. While this is in keeping with original, I still found it strange just how clueless just about every character turned out to be. Think Key and Peele in the second to last episode, being shot because, despite being FBI, even if not particularly good FBI, couldn’t figure out a fairly simple ruse. (For that matter, why’d the guy in the car go along with the plot? After Malvo got out of the car he could have just driven away and escaped. But I digress). Was this a problem for you all?
DAVE: We’re all so desensitized to the portrayal of crime on screens. We all feel like experts when we watch a crime drama even though we probably never get close enough to real crime to know what we’re talking about. Fargo puts crime in a very clean, milquetoast environment where the slickness of screen-crime is simply not a factor. Maybe crime stories that involve an element of dumbness have the potential to be more interesting to us than heroism or criminal genius. That’s what the whole Fargo thing means to me; it’s crime in a setting we don’t usually see. Like Harvey Pekar once wrote, “Average is dumb.”
MIKE: I’m watching True Detective right now, and its similarities with Fargo are striking. Both series focus on an investigation into the murder of a woman, both are set in incredibly evocative landscapes, and both explore the nature of good and evil through their protagonists. Yet, where True Detective feels constricted and claustrophobic, never straying far from its two leads, Fargo weaves a sprawling tapestry of compelling characters. With its generally rushed and occasionally baffling plotting, Fargo is the more obviously flawed of the two shows, but I think it’ll stay with me for longer — for better or worse, Malvo, Lester, Gus and Molly are stuck in my psyche.
IAN: The other similarity between the two series is the producers have been clear that season two will have nothing to do with season one. And both are screwed because of it. They’ll either try something new and be chastised for not doing more of the same or they’ll try to do something similar and be chastised for not doing something new. Whether you love or hate what they did on the screen, both shows achieved great success with season one and will have a hell of a time living up to that. For Fargo, a more focused plot and a stronger connection to its heritage will help it be more than a one season wonder in the long run.
CRAIG: I’ll wrap it up here. I think we’ve done a good job pointing out the things that threw the show off focus, but I hope we did a good enough job of talking about how good the show was. You know, compared to 98% of the other crap out there. It may have been sloppy, and it may not have really needed to be even called Fargo, but it took risks and I couldn’t wait to watch each week, which says something. It was funny and quirky and like Mike said, some scenes will stick with me — often small moments unrelated to the main story; Odenkirk with his adopted ‘son’ that had been missing, Molly having coffee with her thick-accented friend, that sort of stuff. The ending of the pilot itself blew me away and had me hooked. But it sounds like for the most part, we’re all in agreement about the show’s strengths and weaknesses. So that’s it, and jeez, thanks for playing along fellas!