'Fargo' delightfully serves up a hot dish of violence and humor for Season 2
Okay, then. Let's not dilly-dally and get straight to the point. You betcha, FX's second season of Fargo is a real winner, all right.
Inspired by Joel and Ethan Coen's hilariously dark and Oscar-winning movie, FX's limited series about small-town crime turned out to be a successful bloody riot. The first season earned 15 Emmy nominations, winning three of them, including outstanding miniseries. Its second season, airing Monday night at 10 p.m., has a lot to live up to, especially after HBO's limited crime series True Detective followed an acclaimed first season with a rocky second one that drowned in a sea of hate tweets and bad reviews.
But where season two of True Detective failed, Fargo's second helping succeeds. Showrunner Noah Hawley beautifully layers a trio of plots that mixes pleasant and mundane everyday life with heinous acts and dark humor. And even though the cast is also cluttered with many recognizable faces, the characters easily link together as the story quickly develops.
You don't need to watch the first season to understand the second (just like you didn't have to watch the movie to get the first season). But if you did, this new premise comes from Lou Solverson (Keith Carradine), who politely mentions a bloody incident back in the 1970s in Minnesota. And now we get to find out what he's talking about.
St. Petersburg's own Patrick Wilson plays the young Detective Solverson, a Vietnam veteran living and working in Luverne, Minn., in 1979. His ailing wife, Betsy, played by Cristin Milioti (How I Met Your Mother) and young daughter Molly (the cop from the first season) make the perfect little Midwestern family. Betsy is also the daughter of Luverne Sheriff Hank Larsson, played by Ted Danson. Luverne is a small town, where many idyllically believe outside evils don't exist inside it. But when happy outward appearances are too hard to keep up, this prequel reveals that evil has been there long before Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) came to town in the first season.
But to rewind a bit, the first episode actually opens with the Gerhardt family of Sioux Falls, S.D., running a successful mom-and-pop trucking and distribution company that a Kansas City Mafia wants to take over. Funnyman Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond), much more convincing at playing evil than Vince Vaughn in True Detective, and an intense Bokeem Woodbine head this KC clan. The Gerhardt patriarch suffers a stroke, and his wife, Floyd, played by Jean Smart, wants to take over, but her oldest son, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan), doesn't think his mom, or any woman, is capable of anything other than feeding him.
Another of the Gerhardt boys is Rye (Kieran Culkin), whose shady business in Luverne sets the series in motion. In addition to Rye and those Solversons, Luverne is home to the Blomquists: Ed (a puffy Jesse Plemons from Breaking Bad) works for the local butcher and sweet Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) is a hairdresser with big dreams. But after an unfortunate run-in with Rye, the two of them land right in the middle of a crime. And like we learned last season, it's most often the cover-up, not the crime, that lead to even worse consequences.
What this season offers differently, and does extremely well, is the new scenery. The costuming and sets proudly showcase the groovy 1970s vibe. Slick split screens help us keep up to date with our characters' whereabouts. The only downside is Fargo tries too hard to weave factual history from the era (Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter), something FX's other critically-acclaimed series The Americans does much better. But Fargo shows that these criminal masterminds in the heartland — and their "midwest nice" counterpoints — can be as dark and cunning as KGB spies. Fargo illuminates what people will do in the face of evil and madness to keep it all pleasant.
A resourceful public servant, Detective Solverson is the show's best example of decency in the wake of chaos. He's got to piece together the Gerhardt-Kansas City Mafia-Blomquist connection. And woven into the investigation are asides and flashbacks that give depth to the characters and provide the impressive list of cast members strong Emmy submissions. The most exciting casting is a mustache-less Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) as a conspiracy-theorist lawyer, showing us that some small town crazies can be pretty smart.
Fargo is jam-packed with nuances that many who have lived in the Midwest will especially cherish. From the snowy Main Street buildings and Northern dialect to cheerful demeanor and homemade snacks, the show brings to life the homey heartland. And it manages to perfectly juxtapose that with superb violence — and a UFO? The camera likes to slowly pan in or out to let us gather every bit of the scene. Characters take their time conversing, trying to talk around their true feelings and motivations. No one wants to upset anyone, even when they're chopping up a body. There's a bit of humor in that, even though the themes get pretty dark.
It's an ambitious tone, and Hawley achieves it, showing us that not everything is as it seems, even in the most charming places.
Fargo airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on FX. I'll be recapping the show right here on Tuesdays following each episode. Okay, then.