Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons in FX’s “Fargo.”
We should start off with this: We didn’t watch the first season of Fargo. Now, before all you Fargophiles start espousing its wonders and imploring us to watch, know that we will do so, eventually. Some day. It’s just that there’s so much goddamn TV on right now that it’s impossible for any two pop-culture obsessed bloggers to keep up with all of it. We mention this at the start of this review because we want to make it clear to anyone who’s wavering about watching this series that you do not have to watch season one to enjoy or understand this season. You don’t even have to watch the film with the same name that inspired this series. And we’re telling you this because we think you should probably just go ahead and start watching Fargo this season because this first episode was really, really good.
Now, there is, as we may have mentioned, too goddamn much TV on the TV right now and these two noble, heroic, smooth-skinned pop-culture bloggers can only recap and review so much before their fingers fall off and they start wailing high-pitched shrieks and begging for relief. And we promise that we will, as the season unfolds, spend more time examining the themes, performances and art direction of this tale. But for now, we can only hit the highlights and implore you to give it a shot.
First, the performances are not only first-rate, they make for a pleasant surprise as one recognizable face after another parades in front of the screen and acts its, well … face off, to make a really bad turn of phrase even worse. Our point is, half the fun of this first episode was watching Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Jean Smart, Ted Danson, Kieran Culkin, Nick Offerman, Brad Garrett and Jeffrey Donovan disappear inside their characters. It was like an old-timey all-star episode of The Love Boat, except with way more blood and everyone has a Minnesota accent. There wasn’t a weak person in the considerably sized cast and it was a pleasure to watch so many actors bring their A game right out of the gate. Special cosideration must be paid to Kirsten Dunst, for her fidgety, manipulative and clearly unhappy Peggy, and to Jean Smart for her imposing – hell, downright frightening – Floyd, a characterization she managed to burn through our TV screen even though she had only a handful of lines.
Secondly, OMG WE ARE GOING TO HAVE EYEGASMS WATCHING THIS SHOW. Our poor beautiful brains have been bereft of truly pleasure-center-stroking art direction since Mad Men left our lives, but we could’ve spend a full hour just wandering the paneling-clad living rooms, flickering fluorescent waffle houses, and avocado green kitchens of this world. It’s very easy to take late mid-Century styles and turn them into nothing but over-the-top parody, but every space looked believably lived-in or worked-in.
Third, if you are put off by watching a crime story that is likely to go to some very dark places, you should know that there’s a lightness and even sense of whimsy that’s both pleasantly surprising and serves to deepen that sense of darkness by giving it some light to play off of. From an opening scene on the set of a mythical Ronald Reagan film to the sudden and totally unexpected arrival of – well. Let’s just say there’s a moment when this story stops being a crime story and suddenly finds itself plunged into a wholly different and totally unexpected genre of tale. And while you’re sitting there WTFing all over your couch, the story rockets past these moments and just keeps on going.
Which reminds us of yet another reason you should watch: It’s rare to come across a first-episode-of-the-season script with so much confidence and with such perfect pacing. Every character and story beat unfolded naturally, smoothly and in a way that never made it hard to keep up or figure out what’s happening. That may sound like faint praise, but in this age of How To Get Away from Scandalous Quantico, Which is an American Horror -style shows, which seem to be all about taking insanely attractive people, putting them in absurd situations, and watching them act like no human being you’ve ever encountered as one ridiculous plot twist and shock after another explodes in their faces. What we’re trying to say here is that in this time of twitter-baiting television, it’s a true joy to watch craftspeople and artists simply work their asses off to tell a good story. We’re on board. And you should be too.
Picture Credit: FX
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