This is shaping up to be a very different Fargo…
Fargo, FX’s reimagining of the Coen Brothers’ 1996 masterpiece film, is one of the strangest shows on TV, and one that’s always been way more successful than it has any right to be.
The Fargo show, long run by Noah Hawley and with no involvement from the Coens aside from an executive producer credit and their permission, isn’t really a sequel or remake of the movie, but rather an extended homage to the original film. It’s set in the same “universe,” with the same general visual style, and even with some of the same continuity, including the bag of money, Steve Buscemi buried in the movie turning up on the show. The latter seasons have included various homages to other Coen movies.
But none of the characters from the movie are in the show, and there’s also an all-new cast every season. The series is also set mostly in Minnesota and other parts of the Upper Midwest in winter, just as the film was, although the first three seasons were filmed in Canada. And the Fargo series has also been produced very slowly, with two years passing between the second and third seasons and three going by between the third and fourth.
Season four debuted Sunday night, with two episodes on FX, with the season debuting on FX on Hulu on Monday. The 11-episode season was originally scheduled to debut in the spring but was delayed due to COVID-19; the production was able to regroup and finish filming the season’s final episodes.
Based on the first two hours, it’s a very different Fargo. But still a pretty good one.
The new season is set in 1950, decades earlier than we’ve ever seen before in this universe (the second season was set in the ’70s, the movie in 1991, and the other two seasons in 2006 and 2010.) It eschews Minnesota while setting the action in Kansas City.
The other big difference is that while the Fargo movie, like most Coen projects, was a mostly white affair, which was also the case with the show – other than Bokeem Woodbine’s performance in season 2 as gangster Mike Milligan – the fourth season is much more multicultural. It features a pair of warring crime syndicates, one of them led by Loy Cannon (Chris Rock.)
In the first two episodes – both written and directed by Hawley himself – set the stakes for the show’s K.C. gangster war, and it’s playing with some very ambitious ideas, even if they feel disconnected from the Fargo we know. Hawley was last seen directing the nearly universally reviled 2019 movie Lucy in the Sky, which if anything could have used a bit more Coen influence. His return to the show, demonstrates that he’s perhaps much more comfortable in a TV milieu.
We’re first clued in about decades of history. First, the Jewish gangsters ruled Kansas City, and then the Irish, and eventually the Italians. The main plot of the series has the Italian crew known as the Fadda Family squaring off against the Black gangsters (led by Rock’s Loy Cannon.) The show also depicts the custom of the different factions trading their sons for each other, in order to encourage peace.
There are numerous echoes of the political calamities of today. Rock, at one point, gives a speech about how important it is to “seem rich,” in an episode that ironically aired the same night The New York Times released its expose about the president’s tax returns.
Beyond that, the show looks great, and the soundtrack is fantastic. Everyone wears amazing suits. There’s a strong cast full of familiar faces, which in addition to Rock – authoritative, in a rare dramatic acting role – includes Jason Schwartzman, Ben Whishaw, singer Andrew Bird, Jack Huston, Glynn Thurman, and Jessie Buckley. Buckley, the Irish actress last seen in Charlie Kaufman’s recent Netflix movie I’m Thinking of Ending Things, plays a Minnesota transplant who brings both the accent and passive aggression very much familiar to most Fargo fans.
The other standout in the cast is the young actress Emyri Crutchfield as Ethelrida Pearl Smutney, a biracial teenaged girl who narrates the first episode in the form of a school report. She’s one of several characters with heritage in more than one of the city’s cultures.
The other tradition Season 4 continues from the previous seasons is the great names. “Ebal Violante.” “Constant Calamita.” “Josto Fadda.’ “Dick Wickware.” “Oraetta Mayflower,” and “Doctor Senator” (not a doctor; “Doctor” is his first name.) It might be the best collection of character names since Inherent Vice. Even the criminal organizations have fun monikers like The Moskowitz Syndicate, The Milligan Concern, and Cannon Limited.
How much does it matter that the show doesn’t feel especially like Fargo? That will be determined, most likely, as the season goes on.