DAVID BIANCULLI: The 1996 Coen Brothers movie Fargo was so good, and so original, that when the FX cable network announced it was making a new version for television, I expected it to be awful — especially since the creator of the adaptation was Noah Hawley, a writer-producer who hadn’t really done much. But Hawley’s Fargo wasn’t a straight remake — it was a sly and fond salute, capturing the mood and spirit of the original movie without borrowing any of its specific plots or characters. Billy Bob Thornton starred as a malevolent hit man and Martin Freeman was the quiet Midwesterner caught in his web. That Fargo miniseries wasn’t just good. It was great.
So when Hawley and FX decided to reboot, start from scratch, and do a second season of Fargo with new actors and characters, once again, I wasn’t expecting much. After all, I’d seen season two of HBO’s True Detective, which proved how hard it was to get lightning to strike twice. But season two of Fargo, with Jean Smart and Ted Danson among its many treats, was just as wonderful — and just as delightfully unpredictable. Then Hawley went off and made another FX series adaptation, of a Marvel Comics character named Legion, and it, too, was a major creative success.
So now, with a third season of Fargo arriving tonight on FX, my expectations are in danger of being too high, rather than too low. But based on the opening hour, Fargo is on track to be three for three. For starters, there’s a death scene worthy of a Road Runner cartoon. Also, there are two instant standout female characters and actors: Carrie Coon, fresh off HBO’s The Leftovers, as small-town police chief Gloria Burgle, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, fresh off CBS’s BrainDead, as ex-con competitive bridge player Nikki Swango.
There are also two breakout male characters: brothers Emmit and Ray Stussy. Both of them are played by Ewan McGregor, and it’s a very impressive acting display. Emmit is sharp-looking and successful. Ray is gone to seed, and out of money — and still resentful of the fact that when their father died and left the brothers an inheritance, Emmit ended up with a valuable stamp collection, while Ray got a little red Corvette. Decades later, as Ray comes to Emmit to ask for money to buy Nikki an engagement ring, the brothers are still fighting about it. The jealousy over the stamps leads, in the opening episode, to a botched theft, which, in turn, leads to murder, and sets another intriguing season of Fargo in motion. The acting here is as good as the writing, and the visuals — built, as with season one, around the isolated snow and ice of the Midwest — are like paintings that move. MORE