In 1984 the Coen Brothers burst onto the cinematic scene with the brilliantly dark noir thriller Blood Simple, four films later, the brother’s made the black comedy Fargo which became an instant cult classic and its now been scaled down for TV. The Coen’s specialize in quirky, The Big Lebowski; bloody, Blood Simple; classic, True Grit and No Country for Old Men; and outside the box, Fargo, Raising Arizona, and pretty much have knocked everything else they’ve made right out of the metaphorical park.
The Coen Brothers specialize in telling unique and fascinating stories that follow no template, with the exception of True Grit and The Ladykillers which were remakes, and contain characters which are outside the scale of “normal” people. Or in the case of Frances McDormand’s role in Fargo, her Police Chief Marge Gunderson wore her “normality” like a disguise while she solved puzzles that made up the film version of the Coen Brothers’ classic movie.
The decision to remake the blackly comic crime thriller into a weekly series seems an odd one. Looking at the FX network website and its description of the show and the characters in it, it seems to be following the Coen’s “true crime” premise that was, admittedly, a very tongue-in-cheek red herring. The network touts it as an “original” adaptation of the Academy Award winning film. It will follow new characters and follow a new case.
Billy Bob Thornton plays Lorne Malvo who is described as being a “rootless” and manipulative fellow who seems to devote himself to changing the life of Martin Freeman’s character Lester Nygaard who is an insurance salesman. Colin Hanks is the Marge Gunderson in this adaptation of Fargo, he plays Police Deputy Gus Grimly. The rest of the cast for this new show is equally impressive. Breaking Bad‘s Bob Odenkirk is Deputy Bill Oswalt and other top notch actors include Oliver Platt, Kate Walsh and Glenn Howerton, among others who will feature in this Coen Brothers’ downsizing exercise. The idea of scaling down this cult favorite black comedy thriller for television may be a good idea, but it will be hard to perform and please at the same level that Fargo did in cinemas.
The 1996 film had a perfect combination of quirky plot, brilliant actors and holding everything together were the Coens who used heavily pregnant police chief Marge like a lumbering female Minnesota version of television’s Lt. Columbo. The easily rattled William H. Macy character, the Peter Stormare/Steve Buscemi double act and the original “true story” made this film one of a kind. Attempting to recapture this lightening in a bottle on TV may prove to be elusive.
Looking at IMDb, there is very little information about the new series that, according to teaser trailers on television will premiere on April 15 on FX. Watching the clips, it looks as though the entire show may take place in the winter, apparently because that background worked so well for the film. Whether or not this will work out on a weekly show remains to be seen. This small screen version of the cult black comedy that was the Coen Brothers’ Fargo may not work well scaled down and remade into a weekly TV format. It does deserve a chance, however, and if it takes off may offer the same brilliantly quirky and original content that the Coens do so well.
By Michael Smith