Posts Tagged ‘fargo’

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Two: “The Principle of Restricted Choice”

April 27, 2017

We live in a world run by racist monsters who would gladly murder your children in front of you if it meant an extra zero for their net worth, so you have to take your pleasure where you can get it, and I get it from Shea Whigham. Best known to fans of excellent crime dramas for his role as Eli Thompson on Boardwalk Empire — the Ray Stussy to Steve Buscemi’s Emmit-like Nucky Thompson, basically — he slowly but surely became one of my favorite things about that show: a character so consumed by his own failures that you could hear it in his voice like a speech impediment and watch it seep out of his face like five o’clock shadow. He’s only in “The Principle of Restricted Choice,” this week’s episode of Fargo, briefly. And he’s delivering the sort of angry-police-chief comic relief familiar to anyone who’s ever watched a cop show, chewing out recently demoted Gloria Burgle and her deputy for operating their podunk department (now absorbed into the county’s police force) from a meeting room in the public library, using a storeroom for a prison cell and eschewing computers entirely. We live in the future, he insists, and she’d better get with the program. If the future includes more of this gravelly voiced actor with a face like a stern Renaissance aristocrat, I’m fucking in.

Don’t believe the anti-prestige-TV hype part 3: I reviewed this week’s marvelous Fargo for Decider.

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Three, Episode One: “The Law of Vacant Places”

April 20, 2017

Fargo Season Three has arrived, and Noah Hawley is back on his bullshit.

After the weightless sci-fi psychedelia of Legion — a seemingly sincere but ultimately empty exercise in the superhero genre — the writer/director/showrunner has returned to the moral snowdrifts of the Upper Midwest for the third season of Fargo. The sudden chill has done him good. Legion did all sorts of rad tricks with lighting, editing, cinematography, narrative structure, and found-music pop-rock soundtracking, but for all its freneticism the end result was inert; tied to a hoary X-Men x-tended-universe story about a crazy telepathic mutant and his not-as-creepy-as-it-could-have-been psychic parasite, it felt like stagecraft rather than communication.

But as an East German interrogator puts it in the flashback (?) prologue to “The Law of Vacant Places,” Fargo S3’s season premiere, “We are not here to tell stories. We are here to tell the truth. Understand?” This is followed by the show’s usual “THIS IS A TRUE STORY” chyron — but Hawley, directing from his own script, then fades out the word “TRUE,” and eventually leaves nothing behind but “STORY.” This is already a far more effective disquisition on the difference between “true” and “real” than a season’s worth of Legion astral-plane hallucinations, because it’s rooted (literally — the words are overlaid across a shot of bare winter trees) in places and people rather than in an ersatz examination of The Mind or what have you. No matter how much Fargo owes to the Coen Brothers’ quirk-noir classic and the rest of their black-comedy crime films (some more black than comedy, some more comedy than black), it comes down to murder — the story of human bodies and what they’re capable of doing to one another. Here, heads are far more likely to get smashed by a falling air conditioner than explored like a memory palace.

I reviewed the season premiere of Fargo, which I enjoyed a great deal, for Decider. I’ll be covering the show there all season. Please do not believe a word of the backlash you may have seen to the show this season, which when compared to the freakout for Legion provides the clearest illustration I’ve ever seen of how TV critics overreact to novelty over quality. The stars of Trainspotting, Naked, A Serious Man, and The Leftovers are now all on the same show. If you suspect it’ll be good, congrats, you win.

The 25 Most Anticipated TV Shows of 2017

January 19, 2017


Showtime, May 21

“I’ll see you again in 25 years”: Ok, so the ghost of Laura Palmer may have wound up being off by a year or so when she uttered these immortal words to Agent Dale Cooper. But hey, better late than never. As it stands, the return of David Lynch and Mark Frosts’s seminal small-town–noir series – arguably the most influential show for TV’s New Golden Age – will pick up with much of the original cast, including Kyle MacLachlan as Coop and Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne, in tow; everyone from Laura Dern to Trent Reznor and Eddie Vedder are slated for cameos. The original Peaks was both heartbreakingly empathetic and pants-pissingly scary; there’s no reason to expect the Lynch-directed Season Three won’t follow suit. STC

I wrote about Twin Peaks, Game of Thrones, Fargo, The Handmaid’s Tale, Iron Fist and more for Rolling Stone’s list of the 25 Most Anticipated TV Shows of 2017.

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Ten: “Palindrome”

December 15, 2015

When it comes to television soundtracks, there are good music cues, and there are great music cues, and Fargo Season Two has had plenty of both. And then, my friends, there’s “War Pigs.” Black Sabbath’s orgiastic antiwar anthem enters “Palindrome,” the show’s stunning season finale, as a literal nightmare—an accompaniment to Betsy Solverson’s vision of a glorious future of Costcos and Game Boys and family dinners, shattered by the hatred and violence that runs so deep in this land’s veins it’s unlikely to ever be pumped clean. It’s a fucking mighty moment, a sign that showrunner Noah Hawley, director Adam Arkin, and company have an unshakeable grasp of the themes of their show and the period pop-culture they’ve used to advance them. And it’s a prophetic moment as well. The song foretells the day of judgment when the rulers responsible for the slaughter are made to answer for their crimes, as all their plans and strategies come to naught. If you want a picture of the future for the characters we’ve spent the season following, from kings and conquerors to victims and vanquished, you’ve got one.

I reviewed the Fargo Season 2 finale for the New York Observer. This was really some season.

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Nine: “The Castle”

December 8, 2015


“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.”

—H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

Four things put me in mind of this passage, one of the most famous and evocative in the history of science fiction, while watching tonight’s episode of Fargo, which I think it’s safe to say contains one of the finest action sequences in the history of the medium. The first should be obvious enough. When the UFO that has hovered just above the events of this season swung low for a close-up look at the Massacre at Sioux Falls, it did more than save Lou Solverson’s life, and most likely Ed and Peggy Bomquist’s as well, at the expense of Bear Gerhardt’s. It marked the moment at which the moral catastrophe of the violence that has dogged these characters from the start finally overflowed the banks of normalcy, of reality, and needed to conjure something supernatural into existence just to find an image commensurate with its enormity. This is the function of the fantastic in fiction, when used well: to express in visceral, visual terms emotions too intense for the vocabulary of the everyday to articulate. The mute spaceship, the baleful gaze of its spotlights draped over combatants and corpses alike, a liquid discharge dripping down upon them like so much blood, appearing out of nowhere and then disappearing with no more explanation than when it arrived…If this show, to say nothing of this year in real life, has taught us anything, is it not that this is exactly how the eruption of violence in our lives feels—instantaneous, inexplicable, and overwhelming?

I reviewed last night’s Fargo for the New York Observer.

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Eight: “Loplop”

December 2, 2015

But the real tragedy, it seems to me, is Hanzee Dent, Dodd’s right-hand man turned murderer. He’s killed people for a living twice, first as a highly decorated soldier in Vietnam, then as an enforcer for the Gerhardt family. Now, as he seamlessly transitions from hitman to spree killer, he’s killing on his own, for his own reasons. (Maybe he always was.) Given the ease and skill with which he’s been shown to pull the trigger, the scene in which he’s taunted by racists at a Sioux Falls bar (complete with vomit-soaked plaque commemorating the hanging of 22 Sioux in the alley out back) is soaked in schadenfreude. I mean, you just know these assholes are gonna get what’s coming to them. But it’s still somehow very, very sad to watch Hanzee snap—to see him humiliated for being who he is despite the sacrifices he made for the country that despises him, to see the rearguard struggle of his people against centuries of genocide reduced to wisecracks about Wounded Knee, to watch him wearily decide to shoot two people and murder three others, including two cops who arrive on the scene and call him “Cochise” immediately, out of sheer fatigue with being treated like garbage, by everyone, all the time. He puts it best himself later, when he tries to get a haircut from Peggy, whom he’s finally tracked down. “‘Professional,’ you said?” she asks regarding his preferred style. “Yeah,” he replies. “Tired of this life.” His exhaustion is so total he doesn’t even include himself as the subject of the sentence.

I reviewed this week’s Fargo for the New York Observer. This show is just tremendous.

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Seven: “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!”

November 25, 2015


It’s been nearly a week since I first watched last night’s Fargo. Like I’ve said, I rush to watch each new advance-screener episode the moment the network sends them to me, like a kid running headlong to unwrap the biggest present under the tree on Christmas morning. A lot has stuck with me since then: the opening massacre montage set to Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” (window washers!); Floyd Gerhardt’s smile in the interrogation room when she realizes she’s used the cops to win her war; the use of a ‘70s-style cover of “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” a Big Lebowski soundtrack standout; the Undertaker; the appearance of the title in the cold air above the Gerhardt farmstead. You could easily list two or three times as many memorable moments without breaking a sweat.

But I’ll tell you the bit that got to me the most. It’s a line from Simone Gerhardt, the ill-fated double-agent heiress to the empire. Barely surviving her confrontation with Mike Milligan over the hit on her grandma’s home (which took out Grandpa Otto, not her hated father Dodd), she’s escorted out by Ben Schmidt, one of Fargo’s Finest. He falls for her blunt come-ons like the supporting-character dupe he is, then gets kneed in the balls for it so that she can effect her escape. “If I’m goin’ to the noose,” she tells him, “I’m goin’. But I’m done lyin’ down for men.”

Then she walks out to the parking lot, where she is waylaid by her uncle Bear, who drives her out to the middle of nowhere, marches her deep into the woods, and kills her for sleeping with the enemy while she begs for her life. She was done lying down for men, yes. She was not done kneeling for them.

I reviewed this week’s Fargo for the New York Observer. Good God, this show.

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Six: “Rhinoceros”

November 18, 2015

Let’s talk about war. We might as well; this week, everybody’s doing it.

I reviewed this week’s Fargo for the New York Observer.

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Five: “The Gift of the Magi”

November 16, 2015

When I talk to people about Fargo—an event which has taken place with increasing regularity as the show’s magnificent second season progresses—the concept that recurs most frequently is that the series is a world unto itself. “If they could sustain this magic in this wonderful world they’ve created for six seasons,” one friend said to me, “I’d be so, so, so happy.” Perhaps the best testament to creator Noah Hawley and company’s creation of a fully functioning universe up there in the blood-stained snow is that it’s governed by a system of moral physics all its own. “The Gift of the Magi,” this week’s episode, makes one of those laws clear: Optimism is for the homicidal or the suicidal alone.

Doing a bit of catch-up here: I reviewed last week’s Fargo for the New York Observer.

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Four: “Fear and Trembling”

November 3, 2015

There are better shows than Fargo on TV right now, but I’m so anxious to watch each new hour of Minnesota noir every week that I almost forget what they are. Nearly halfway through its second season, it’s clear that showrunner Noah Hawley has once again put together a preposterously compelling crime series, one that leaves you fiending for the next episode the way Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos, True Detective, and Game of Thrones have at their peaks. Simply put: Fargo is fucking riveting.

I reviewed last night’s episode of Fargo, TV’s most compulsively watchable show, for the New York Observer.

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Three: “The Myth of Sisyphus”

October 27, 2015

#TVCriticProblems: Quite often a network will send reviewers multiple episodes of a show’s new season in advance. The temptation to binge—especially if the show is good, and Fargo is very, very good—is overwhelming. But I’ve always thought it does a disservice to readers to write about a given week’s episode with knowledge of what’s to come fresh in my brain. Much as it pains me, I almost always* hold off and pace myself, mirroring the average audience member’s experience by watching and writing about one ep at a time.

But here’s how absorbing Fargo is: The moment I finished writing up last week’s episode, I popped this one, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” in the DVD player. What’s the harm, I figured—I’ll just file my review early. But time passed, life and other assignments intervened, and before I knew it another week was upon me. And what does another week mean but another episode of Fargo? So I watched the fourth installment, wrote my review, sent it to my editor…and only then did I realize I’d missed a step. I’m so into this show that I forgot to write about this week’s ep, because all I could think about when the time came was watching next week’s. Fargo is so good it will make you forget your place in the spacetime continuum. How’s that for a pull quote?

I reviewed last night’s Fargo for the New York Observer.

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Two: “Before the Law”

October 20, 2015

In the mood for grim pronouncements about the nature of power, the legacy of family, and the fate of empires? Chances are Fargo is not where you’d normally look. Sure, Lorne Malvo had some heavy shit, man to say about living life in predator mode, but his deranged outlook was a sort of solo semi-fascism, a view in which life is nothing but struggle between the weak and the strong and no alliance has value beyond temporary exploitation. Beyond that, the show’s take on morality has been pointedly small-bore, demonstrated through the selfless or squalid behavior of individuals. In that respect, showrunner Noah Hawley has much in common with his inspirations, Joel and Ethan Coen, or  with the more surreal and supernatural work of their spiritual cousin David Lynch, who like them tends to split his narrative time between Small Town U.S.A. and the City of Angels. They examine violence for its place in human nature, not its potential as a force of nature.

But the stuff we heard from Floyd Gerhardt, the matriarch of this season’s German-American gangster heavies, in “Before the Law,” this week’s episode? You could just as easily have heard it in Tywin Lannister’s Red Keep, Lucious Lyon’s boardroom, or Frank Semyon’s Vinci casino, if not for the Minnesota accents.

I reviewed last night’s Fargo for the New York Observer.

“Fargo” thoughts, Season Two, Episode One: “Waiting for Dutch”

October 13, 2015

How did they ever make a TV show of Fargo? The answer: Quite well indeed, surprisingly. At first, second, and even third glance, novelist Noah Hawley’s attempt to translate Joel & Ethan Coen’s Oscar-nominated Minnesota murder-comedy into an anthology series seemed like a frozen folly to rival Seward’s, no matter what the smash Season One success of Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective augured for another author-helmed cable crime series with a fresh cast and story ever season. Even if Fargowasn’t a straightforward adaptation/expansion of the original, the unique Coen Brothers blend of small-town dorkiness, splatstick comedy, and unsparing despair could perhaps be imitated, but never duplicated, no?

Oh, yeah. Hawley wisely took the Rumsfeldian approach to the seemingly impossible task, solving the problem by making it bigger. Yes, his all-new story borrowed all the familiar elements from the original: the snowy setting, the North Central accents, the pregnant policewoman, the milquetoast murderer, the Mutt-and-Jeff hitmen, the escalating calamities, even little details like an awkward reunion over dinner, a chase over thin ice, and (in the show’s one true link to the movie) a hidden suitcase of loot marked with an ice scraper. But it also made a magpie-like raid on the Coens’ entire oeuvre: a hotel corridor from Barton Fink here, a parable-dispensing rabbi from A Serious Man there, and, in the form of Billy Bob Thornton’s hellaciously awful contract killer Lorne Malvo, a living embodiment of predatory evil out of No Country for Old Men everywhere. (Even composer Jeff Russo’s extraordinary score paid homage to a variety of Carter Burwell’s Coen-movie musical contributions.) The result was less a riff on the Brothers’ 1996 classic and more “Songs in the Key of Coen”—a tribute to the writer-directors’ unflagging ability to playfully puncture the thin ice of human decency and find the deadly cold beneath that may well have surpassed the original.*

All of which makes the show’s Emmy Award–winning first season (technically miniseries, but only the network and the Academy care) a tough act to follow. Not only does the show have to maintain that level of care and quality, it must do so with no Billy Bob, no Bilbo Baggins, and no out-of-nowhere star turn from Allison Tolman as an underappreciated master investigator with a bun in the oven. The sad fate that can befall an anthology series’ sophomore season is as plain as the mustache on Ray Velcoro’s face.

Fortunately, “Waiting for Dutch,” Fargo’s Season Two premiere, is no Redux Detective.

I reviewed the season premiere of Fargo, and talked a lot about its excellent first season too, for the New York Observer, where I’ll be covering the show this season.