TV commissioners have learnt that for their talent to produce the hits they need to survive in such a competitive market, they need to leave well alone. They need their writers and showrunners to create compelling, thought provoking content that demands your loyalty and attention. They have to stop squeezing every popularist element they can out of their programming, making each show more derivative and disposable than the last.
Noah Hawley shares a story every time he talks about his production meetings with Fox. Before they gave him the green light, they said to him “Can you make it darker and more morally ambiguous?” So it seems these days, instead of repressing their writers most outlandish instincts, the networks are encouraging them, hoping to make their content as original and distinct as possible. But somehow, even this kind of interference, is ruining good programmes.
The first series of Fargo was too dark, too morally ambiguous. It could have been a darkly comic and intriguing crime drama. Instead, it was hampered by the infuriating amount of parables, allegories and brain teasers that were left unexplained and only served to confuse the viewer. They were these bombs being dropped on the plot to keep the audience guessing and thinking. It’s almost as if Hawley believed we would need something to keep us awake. But no matter how hard you thought, you couldn’t figure out what connection these flights of fancy had to the plot or themes of the show. They left you scratching your head and wondering what is the point or purpose of all this flowery dialogue if you can’t even cobble together a half-baked theory as to what it all means.
It was the ruination of a programme with some standout performances and solid foundations. Series two quickly lets you know that what became the first series’ annoying catchphrase, will most likely not be continuing here. A judge sitting in a small town diner tells her aggressor the story of Job. While Job is a far simpler parable than the nonsense the last season subjected us to, the person the story is being told to is just as confused as we used to be. Hawley has a bit of a dig at us for not understanding his genius monologues, but nevertheless, this scene (god-willing) serves as a funeral for that most annoying of tropes. It’s an optimistic beginning for a fresh start.
The opening scene shows a poor assistant director keeping a Native American actor amused while he waits for Ronald Reagan to come back from make-up, having dozens of arrows stuck to his back. It’s a funny, smart, original scene that tackles racism, ignorance, colonialism and sets up the future plotline of Regan’s visit to the titular town. The rest of the plot concerns the business of crime from both sides of the fence, just like in last season. The good guys are Patrick Wilson and Ted Danson, family men and cops investigating a triple homicide at a diner. The bad guys are the Gerhardt clan. A criminal family in mourning for its patriarch, and the brothers vying for position to take his place. The youngest of whom, was the killer in the diner. There’s also the Blumquists. Not sure where they stand yet. I’m intrigued, but if they turn out to be just another couple of Lester Nygaards I’ll be disappointed.
I wouldn’t put it past them though. We also have the familiar sights that made the other 99% of the first series so watchable. Gritty crime in an unfamiliar location, quirky characters and intelligent dialogue. The setting and tone of Fargo is rich and distinct; loyal to the movie, yet unsatisfied to merely be a rehash of a great piece of cinema. It demands its own attention.
Almost all of the time I’ve ever spent in Fargo I’ve enjoyed. It would be a damned near perfect series if it wasn’t for the afore mentioned problems. And while this new series has plenty to get excited about (great cast, quality acting, noiresque visuals) it manages to create a new batch of problems all of its own.
Firstly there’s nothing like Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo. His central role served as the lynchpin holding series one together. There’s nothing in the first episode that immediately screams “I am why you are here, I am the reason you will keep watching for another nine hours.” The second troubling thing is its confusing foray into genre. Upon committing the already discussed triple homicide, young Rye Gerhardt is stopped in his tracks by a UFO sighting in the middle of the road. While standing there, gawking, he is run over, presumed dead. Then he comes back as a 28-Days-Later style zombie. These elements only serve to confuse the plot and add unnecessary convolutions. I’m also fairly certain neither one of these phenomena will ever be addressed again, let alone explained.
Fargo is infuriating in that I want to love it, but it doesn’t seem to want me to. Small town crime has never been this stylish or sinister and noir never looked better in winter. But it’s insistence that it can stick out from the crowd with these empty gestures of ambiguity and allegory, leaves a bad, bitter taste in the mouth.