Fargo”, Kinda Funny Film, Very Promising TV Series.

Fargo the series.

Far­go” the series.

Fargo’s an odd film. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Basi­cal­ly, it’s half of two films sta­pled together.

The first two thirds is foot per­fect, flaw­less sto­ry telling. Whose sto­ry is it? William H Macy’s. What does he want? To become a man, to give his life direc­tion, to escape. But most imme­di­ate­ly; the mon­ey. And what’s stop­ping him? Every­thing! His wife, the in-laws, the snow, lady luck, every sin­gle thing he does to solve his prob­lems, they all come back to bite him. But prin­ci­pal­ly, him­self. It’s brilliant.

But then, just after the hour mark, he’s about to take the mon­ey to the kid­nap­pers. But his father-in-law grabs the case and he goes instead. And for the final third of the film, we fol­low the mon­ey á la The Yel­low Rolls-Royce, as it pass­es from hand to hand. From the father-in-law, to the nice thug, the real thug and final­ly the police.

Which should have been real­ly annoy­ing. But the film gets away with it because the sec­ondary char­ac­ters are so well drawn and so fan­tas­ti­cal­ly act­ed that you’re swept along.

So what’s the prob­lem? So what if it breaks the laws of dra­ma, if we’re all agreed that the film works?

The Bog Lebowski, 60 scenes in search of an ending.

The Big Lebows­ki, 60 scenes in search of an ending.

Well the prob­lem is, it con­vinced the Coen broth­ers that they didn’t have to wor­ry about con­ven­tion­al­ly struc­tur­ing their scripts with any­thing as bur­den­some as a begin­ning, mid­dle and end. So every­thing they’ve made since has been pants.

Far­go (’96) was fol­lowed by The Big Lebows­ki (’98), which is a series of won­der­ful scenes, but just stops. It has no end­ing – try ask­ing any of its fans what hap­pens at the end, and see how long they take to remember.

After which, we’ve had a series of increas­ing­ly for­get­table films with no end of sec­ondary char­ac­ters, but sto­ries which have just become thin­ner and thin­ner. O Broth­er Where are Thou? (’00), Intol­er­a­ble Cru­el­ty (’03), the Ladykillers (’04), Burn After Read­ing (’08) and True Grit (’10).

The hon­ourable excep­tion, No Coun­try For Old Men (’07), was, sig­nif­i­cant­ly, based on some­one else’s story.

So turn­ing Far­go into a TV series could have gone either way. Half way through the pilot episode, it looked as if it might have bit­ten off more than it could chew. As yet anoth­er body was added to the pile in what was a sur­pris­ing­ly gory open­er. But they man­aged to tie up the many loose ends with impres­sive con­fi­dence by its close.

Billy BobThornton.

Bil­ly Bob Thornton.

Hap­pi­ly, the prob­lems that bedev­il their fea­ture films are assets in a TV series. Those bril­liant­ly drawn sec­ondary char­ac­ters that they get dis­tract­ed by will have time to devel­op here. And for­ev­er post­pon­ing an end­ing is what all tele­vi­sion series are based on. And impres­sive­ly, they’ve man­aged to trans­late that very dis­tinc­tive mood they so often suc­ceed in evok­ing, at once threat­en­ing­ly eerie yet appeal­ing­ly quirky.

And then of course there’s Bil­ly Bob Thorn­ton. As, what? A sort of mod­ern day and mar­vel­lous­ly mis­chie­vous reverse image Jiminy Crick­et. Prowl­ing the town, qui­et­ly encour­ag­ing every­one he meets to fol­low their worst instincts.

It’s on on Sun­days on Chan­nel 4. You can see the Far­go trail­er here.

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