Fargo TV adaptation can’t compare to original film

Emma Peters

Like many reboots of classic movies these days,  Fargo, FX’s newest television show that premiered on April 15,  leaves its audience disappointed. The show’s premise is initially similarly to the Coen brothers’ 1996 Academy Award-winning crime thriller of the same name, but quickly deviates from its source material.

This would be a good thing, if the new story wasn’t so tediously mundane.

LORN MALVO, Billy Bob Thornton (right), plays a mysterious, soft-spoken asassin in FX’s Fargo, based on the 1996 movie of the same name. Here, he offers to help get revenge on an enemy of Lester Nygaard.
LORN MALVO, Billy Bob Thornton (right), plays a mysterious, soft-spoken asassin in FX’s Fargo, based on the 1996 movie of the same name. Here, he offers to help get revenge on an enemy of Lester Nygaard.

While the movie centers on a failing Minnesota car salesman who hires two criminals to kidnap his wife, leaving a string of subsequent homicides to occur, the 10-episode miniseries focuses on a bumbling life insurance salesman who runs into a mysteriously soft-spoken freelance assassin. It results in an equally disturbing amount of human butchery. Both stories escalate as investigations ensue.

At their core, both productions are witty, filled with grisly comedy, and have high production value. The show even sneaks in imagery and banter reminiscent of the movie for fans.  However, reviewing FX’s show without cinematic bias still reveals the show’s lacks of focus, compelling characters, and captivating pace.

Created by Noah Hawley, the series pilot begins when a mysterious figure, Lorne Malvo (a skinny Billy Bob Thorton with bangs and a briefcase), crashes his car on the way to Bemidji, Minnesota, forcing the trunk of his car pops open and release a bewildered, half-naked man.

In Bemidji, Malvo’s path soon crosses with lead character Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman with a convincing Minnesota accent), a henpecked life insurance salesman, who allows himself to get punched by his high school tormentor, Sam Hess.

Both characters wind up in the emergency room. They strike up a conversation about Nygaard’s bruised face, and Marvo insinuates that he’d kill Hess if Nygaard wanted him to. It’s a slow-burning, tension-filled scene that secures Fargo’s position as a drama not to be taken too seriously.

While this leisurely paced scene was effective at drawing audiences in, the overall arc of the first four episodes transpires at an all too leisurely pace. By the end of the pilot, this event results in four subsequent murders. The following four episodes advance from this sudden surge of bloodshed and Marvo’s consistently sinister conduct.

Tying these seemingly coincidental threads together is the young and enthusiastic police deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman), who passionately investigates the homicides behind the back of her naive boss, deputy Chief Bill Oswalt (a laid-back Bob Odenkirk). Through out the first four episodes she is one of few officers to perform any police work, and one of the few characters we are encouraged to root for in this slow-developing story.

Fargo’s strength lies in its actors, but unfortunately the plot and character development doesn’t do them justice. Aside from Deputy Solverson, we don’t have a vested interest in any of the characters, despite their complexity. Even Bob Thorton’s elusive, soft-spoken big baddie, Lorne Malvo, exhibits little fear, or as Fargo the movie intended with its two savage antagonists, laughs.

With all the violence and sprayed blood, Fargo’s core purpose—whether simply meant as an entertaining character drama or as an insightful look at greed and injustice—is muffled.  The story is desperately slow, to the point where we are unsure whether this is prime television or just a boring, tangential show on the long road to nowhere. This is a show with brave intentions. It’s just missing something, a kicker to drive the story forward.

We’re almost halfway through, and it’s leaving us cold.

Fargo airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX .