Cold Case

‘Fargo’ on FX

“Some roads you shouldn’t go down,” a creepily self-assured hoodlum says in the pilot for FX’s limited series Fargo. Gazing with almost hypnotic calm at the cop who has pulled his car over on an icy street, the desperado (played by Billy Bob Thornton) goes on, “Maps used to say, ‘There be dragons here.’ Now they don’t. But that doesn’t mean the dragons aren’t there.”

Latter-day Smaugs might not have troubled the creators of Fargo, but that doesn’t mean the path to the show—premiering April 15—wasn’t potentially hazardous. The ten-episode series takes inspiration from the revered 1996 Coen brothers movie of the same title, which won two Academy Awards, including one for original screenplay. FX’s version features a new crime story and new characters—including a hapless insurance agent played by Martin Freeman—but it revels in the same wintry environment, populated by amiable Minnesotans who say “yah” a lot. And it seems to strive to fuse kooky humor and grisly tension as audaciously as the film did.

That tonal balancing act is tough to pull off, and risk-averse TV executives might have thought twice before developing a show that begs to be compared to an acclaimed movie. Some hesitation might have been justified: judging by a version of the pilot episode made available to reviewers, FX’s Fargo has some flaws. The darker plot twists seem hurried and lurching. The gentle mockery of folksy Midwestern speech patterns seems too easy; the...

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About the Author

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.