Not Far Enough

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Once you’ve racked up four episodes of a TV show, it’s hard to say goodbye, but I’m calling it quits with Fargo, the month-old FX series inspired by the Coen brothers’ 1996 film of the same name. This decision hurts a bit: I loved the movie and was so hoping the FX series would live up to its cinematic predecessor. It doesn’t.

One problem is that the show’s characters are dull, with the exception of Lorne Malvo, the archest of the series’ several villains, played by Billy Bob Thornton in a manner marrying the aw-shucks and the satanic. Malvo is the only character who escapes one-dimensionality, and it’s irritating to see actors as talented as Oliver Platt (as a vain supermarket tycoon who’s one of Malvo’s victims) and Bob Odenkirk (amazing as Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad but stuck, here, in a one-note role as a dimwitted police chief) so underutilized.

Worse is the tepidness, at least so far, of the series’ central good-guy characters—two police officers played by Allison Tolman and Colin Hanks. Both are disrespected underlings who are nervous about losing their jobs, but Fargo’s writers are hemming them in, defining them by an anxiety too weakly offset by their intelligence and sense of duty. What really made the movie Fargo hum was the performance by Frances McDormand as a pregnant, small-town police chief who’s as fundamentally puzzled by the criminals she pursues as she is doggedly intent on catching them. Never has Midwestern blandness been so nuanced, and McDormand was justly rewarded with an Oscar. To say that Tolman and Hanks’s acting doesn’t come close to McDormand’s isn’t to fault them; they’re simply given too little, script-wise, to work with.

Fargo’s landscape is flat, but the writing shouldn’t be. After just four episodes, the plot seems to have settled into a repetitive pattern, and the comedy—so shockingly violent and existentially bleak in the Coen brothers’ movie—amounts to little more than snide mockery of the characters’ foibles. Though the movie, except for one brief scene, isn’t set in the city of Fargo but in Minnesota, I thought the geographically misleading title apt, since the name Fargo conveys not just remoteness (far to go to) but also a lawless brutality (going too far). But the TV series—also set in Minnesota—doesn’t earn the title. It doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Photo courtesy of Everett

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