Pass the Remote – Fargo – Film Dispenser

Television April 24, 2014 Scott Phillips
Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every Fall.

[Over the past year, Film Dispenser has provided recurring in-depth analysis of television series like The Killing, True Detective, Justified, Homeland, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. With so many new platforms offering original content (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu) in addition to the networks we have already come to rely upon for quality programming (HBO, Showtime, AMC, FX), Film Dispenser has created a new column called Pass the Remote that will appear several times a month to provide reviews and analysis of television series that we will not be following on a week-to-week basis. Our goal is to help you make more efficient use of your viewing time. Let us watch the bad shows so that you don’t have to and allow us to pass along some suggestions for content we think you will enjoy.]


Fargo, the new crime series on F/X inspired by the Coen brothers’ film of the same name, is an object lesson in the unexpected. When you think it’s about to zig, it zags instead. Some critics have described the show as “quirky”, but that conjures images of Seinfeld in the snow, a show about nothing populated by eccentric characters whose oddities make them larger than life, but oddly relatable. The creative team behind Fargo is a bit more meta in its approach. Based on actual events that occurred in 2006, the series theorizes that fact is stranger than fiction and sets out to prove this thesis … through a work of episodic fiction.

Despite retaining the name of its motion picture predecessor, Fargo the series features a new cast and an original storyline. The streak of dry humor remains as do the Minne-so-tah accents. The mid-western self-reliance and stoicism is intact and leads to both humor and violence during the first two installments. As you would expect, the pilot briskly introduces the characters and conflicts before the second episode slows down considerably to a much more deliberate pace.

In the opening scenes of this inaugural season, Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) runs into the high school bully who made his adolescence miserable over twenty years ago. The encounter leaves Lester with a broken nose as a result of his own clumsiness, not a blow from his former nemesis. While sitting in the emergency room, Lester meets Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton), an alpha male who views Lester’s plight with a mixture of disdain and pity. Unknown to Lester, his new ER bro was injured in a fender bender with a soon-to-be dead man in the trunk of his car.

As the men wait for medical assistance, Lester fantasizes aloud about his desire that his high school tormentor meet an untimely demise, unaware that his partner in conversation kills people for a living. Lester’s wish is Lorne Malvo’s command, and suddenly, the meek insurance salesman finds himself implicated in a murder. To make matters more interesting, the trucking company owned by the deceased bully is tied to the Minnesota mob, and they want to know who killed their valued associate.

Soon the streets of Fargo are crowded with cops and mobsters as Lester’s life spins farther out of control. Malvo, on the other hand, views the developments with bemusement. He’s an instigator, a self-aware Anton Chigurh, who sets events into motion knowing full well that his actions may have lethal consequences. He fears no one and thrives on the conflict he creates. As Michael Caine’s Alfred the Butler said in The Dark Knight: “Some men just want to watch the world burn”. Lorne Malvo is one of them.

Billy Bob Thornton gives a stand-out performance that dominates the first two episodes. He commands attention even when his character doesn’t utter a word. Lorne Malvo’s eyes flit around the room like a predator assessing his inferiors. The actor can transform from barely-suppressed glee into menace with a single glance. Sometimes less is more, and Thornton proves that in every scene. His brief encounter with Colin Hanks’ state trooper is a masterpiece of generating tension solely with a few well-chosen words. No guns are brandished. No threats are made. Malvo’s hands never leave his steering wheel, but Hanks knows he’s a man to be feared.

At times Fargo’s determination to be unpredictable can itself lead to predictability. When unusual narrative choices abound, then one begins to expect the unexpected. Thusfar, the script has pulled back on the reins enough to avoid having Fargo descend into absurdity. A novel approach can quickly become nothing more than a novelty. Ten episodes is the perfect length to avoid having Fargo wear out its welcome. Let’s see what they do with the next eight.

8 out of 10

(worth watching)


Scott Phillips

The Movie Isle

Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.

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