Menace, broad Midwestern accents, kooky characters and murder -- "Fargo" has them all.
In a novel spin, "Fargo" the TV show (airing Tuesday at 10 p.m. on FX) echoes the mood and approach of the Coen brothers' Oscar-winning film of the same name but offers up a different, more sprawling story. Part of the suddenly popular "limited series" movement in TV, it, too, follows a true crime that takes place in Minnesota but branches out in other directions. And, as with the original, it offers humor both black and broad, characters silly and strong, and bursts of sudden, often surprising violence.
Two characters stand central. First there's the mysterious Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton, his best role in years), a man who just loves to shake things up. Within a few days of his passing through a small town, the frozen body of a man in his underwear has been found in a snowy forest and the local murder rate has skyrocketed. Partly this has to do with Lorne's employers, but a lot of it's just plain mischief. Lorne likes making messes.
On the flip side of the coin, there's Officer Molly Solverson (newcomer Alison Tolman, kicking off what should be a long career), right-hand gal to the town's current police chief (Shawn Doyle) and daughter of its former chief (Keith Carradine). Solverson only seems to be sneaking into the picture in the first episode, but before long this inquisitive, resilient woman becomes the show's soul.
Also strong in the mix is ineffectual insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman, better known as the hobbit Bilbo Baggins), a milquetoast who is bullied by his wife, brother and just about everybody he meets. His encounter with Lorne in a hospital emergency room sets all sorts of wheels in motion.
As the story rolls on, talent keeps rolling in. Oliver Platt plays a rich grocery chain owner, Kate Walsh is a newly minted widow, Bob Odenkirk ("Breaking Bad") is a gasbag of a cop, Adam Goldberg is a threatening thug. Along the way, a deputy (Colin Hanks) from another town with a teen daughter (Joey King) to protect gets drawn into Lorne's scary shenanigans as well.
The tone wavers here and there -- a pair of teen brothers are too broadly drawn -- but holds true for the most part. The original "Fargo" loved its common-man characters even as it had fun with them, and that's the case here as well. And if this really is a true story -- the opening credits stress it -- it's some story.
But the show thrives on the dissonance between Lorne and Molly -- that this world could produce humans so essentially different is a thing of wonder. Let's hope the Mollys outnumber the Lornes.
Email Tom Long at email@example.com.