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Ryan Johnson, Published March 12 2014

Johnson: ‘Fargo’ series dives into cold world of Coen brothers’ classic

Now that we’re finally through the worst of winter, it seems a little less painful to look at snow-covered landscapes and icy windshields.

My frozen heart warmed to seeing my least favorite season on screen when FX began airing teasers to its upcoming “Fargo” television series – set to premiere on April 15 – and from the looks of it, we’re in store for quite the ride as we follow a colorful cast of characters through a new crime story.

Like the 1996 Coen Brothers’ classic “Fargo,” viewers should expect to see more rural farmsteads and gravel roads than Fargo Theatre marquees and glimpses into daily life in our fair city in this 10-episode limited series.

The show again will center around an ill-fated crime, focusing on small-town insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (played by “The Hobbit” himself, Martin Freeman) and the implications of his fateful choice to team up with sinister con man Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton).

Even the smaller roles were cast full of talent, with Bob Odenkirk, Oliver Platt, Kate Walsh, Glenn Howerton, Joey King, Peter Breitmayer, Tom Musgrave, Josh Close, Russell Harvard and Adam Goldberg rounding out the lineup.

But the most striking thing about the new teasers for this series is part of what made “Fargo” into a cult classic – its icy feel and rural locations that are just as important to the story as any of the characters.

One of the previews, titled “Dryer,” shows Freeman’s character with a bruised face and broken nose sitting on top of a running clothes dryer, wearing an expression on his beaten mug that suggests things aren’t going well for this insurance agent loosely based on William H. Macy’s blundering character from the movie.

Another, simply titled “Scrape,” briefly shows Thornton’s character scraping snow off a windshield – something we’re all too familiar with here. But Thornton packs enough menace into his short camera time to make it clear he’s the real danger in this show, and we’ll watch his exploits unfold over the 10 episodes.

My favorite teaser, “Fishermen,” takes us to a cold, windy day on a frozen lake where two men are struggling to push a body into a small hole they’ve cut in the ice. But the hole is too small, one says, and the body is too fat, so one of them starts up the chainsaw to get to their gruesome work – recalling the infamous woodchipper scene of the movie that has made it into a tourist destination at the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau.

There isn’t much talking in these short ads, though it’s probably a safe bet to expect plenty of “dontchas” and “yah, you betchas” among the characters of these small towns in Minnesota and North Dakota (though the series was actually filmed in and near Calgary, Alberta).

As with the critically acclaimed but locally controversial 1996 film, FX’s “Fargo” likely won’t earn many points around here for fair, accurate depictions of our lives in Fargo.

But if these ads are representative of the series, made with the blessing of the Coen Brothers, we’re in store for 10 episodes of the eccentric characters and dark humor that made “Fargo” among the best movies of the 1990s and got it inducted into the United States National Film Registry for Preservation, deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

By the time the series wraps up its crime story later this year, the unforgiving winter we’re just finishing up will be nothing but a distant memory – and by then, maybe all the scenes of ice and snow will just add to the surreal feeling of watching a show that shares a name, but not much else, with our city.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587