'Fargo' on TV both like and unlike the movie

allison-tolman-fargo-tv
Allison Tolman as daffy deputy Molly Solverson in "Fargo."

Well, it is and it isn't. Fargo, that is. The new FX series borrows considerably more than the title from the Coen Brothers' canny 1996 film about crime and punishment, all wrapped up in Arctic parkas.

FX's Fargo (Tuesday at 10 p.m.) uses the same snowy Minnesota setting and basic premise: A guy spectacularly unsuited to a life of crime stumbles deeper and deeper into a felonious quagmire.

Only the series, like American Horror Story and True Detective, is designed as an anthology, with a fresh story playing out each season.

These first 10 episodes, purportedly based on actual events, revolve around Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), a meek insurance salesman in the town of Bemidji.

A chance meeting with a ruthless stranger, Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), pulls Lester into a spiral of homicides that attracts the devoted attention of police and mobsters alike.

The TV show borrows the film's remarkable comic conceit: scheming criminals operating amid the deferential politeness of small-town Minnesotans. Uff da, it's almost too easy to take advantage of these folks.

Newcomer Allison Tolman plays Molly Solverson, a daffy deputy who is a lot smarter than she sounds, don't ya know? A similar role in the movie won Frances McDormand an Academy Award.

For the most part, the casting in Fargo the series tends to be distracting. Why put a British actor in the lead when it demands one of America's trickiest regional dialects? Then again, Bob Odenkirk, Keith Carradine, Oliver Platt, Colin Hanks, Adam Goldberg - none of them really seem to fit here.

And Thornton, as charismatic as he can be, is nowhere near as menacing as this role requires him to be.

The singular quality of the Coen Brothers' Fargo was the breathtaking, almost palpable tone it created by threading violence and wit through a staggeringly vapid Midwestern milieu.

Fargo the series cannot recapture that fission, but it is enjoyable, funny, and, something TV rarely is, weird.

It's also cinematic, atmospheric, and deliberate, and for those reasons probably better suited to binge-viewing than spaced out in weekly installments. My suggestion: Watch the pilot and then start stockpiling episodes.

 


TV REVIEW

Fargo

10 p.m. Tuesday on FX


dhiltbrand@phillynews.com

215-854-4552 @daveondemand_tv