Consider how long it takes to make a great movie: Years of pre-production where scripts pass through numerous hands before they’re polished enough to be shot; months of casting; location scouting; three months of filming; and another six months to edit it.
That’s for a two-hour movie, and few of them are worth the digital space they take up.
The first season of Fargo ended 15 months ago. It wasn’t renewed for a second season until July. In that short time, Noah Hawley has written, cast, shot and edited what is essentially a ten-hour film.
Based on the pilot, it is perfect.
It’s the complete opposite of the second season of True Detective. Nothing feels rushed. There’s no fat in the episode. Big stars were eschewed in favor of character actors (and Kirsten Dunst, who hasn’t been a Hollywood leading actress since 2007’s Spider-Man 3 ). It’s an amazing, perfectly cast ensemble, and Fargo never feels like one guy’s project. Unlike Nic Pizzolatto on True Detective, Noah Hawley’s name is not the first thing you think of when you think Fargo: Most people probably don’t even know Hawley’s name, though he created the series for television and, like Pizzolatto, has written every episode.
There are no gimmicks. There are no dated conventions. There are no pseudo-intellectual long-winded soliloquies (nor are there any accusations of plagiarism). There’s no ego on this: Fargo is fine storytelling, beautiful cinematography, and excellent acting. There’s nothing showy here. It’s simply good, riveting, darkly comic television.
It’s early yet in the second season, and Fargo — like True Detective — could come undone halfway through, but there are no signs of that in the premiere. It’s a solid, well-told episode that introduces the characters, presents a triple murder, and leads us into the first wave of consequences.
There’s no obfuscation, no clues to figure out, no case to crack or murder to solve. There’s no hidden subtext. It’s serious crime fiction that never feels heavy (or heavy-handed). I can’t stop marveling at the cast, either: They’re all so good it’s impossible to single anyone out: How Jesse Plemons so completely transforms himself for what is possibly his third iconic television role blows my mind. Kirsten Dunst is perfect. Patrick Wilson is subdued and likable, while Ted Danson is dry and almost cuddly. Fuck me, but Jean Smart is out-of-this-world incredible. Jeffrey Donovan is so much more than he ever was in Burn Notice that I keep wanting to confuse him for Guy Pearce. I cannot believe Cristin Milioti is playing a cancer-ridden mother again, but I ached for her in all six minutes of her screen time (and damnit, milk does taste different in a glass). In their limited time, so far, Brad Garrett and Nick Offerman have also provided heavy doses of dark comic relief. And what is the opposite of “cleans up good”? Because that’s Kieran Culkin (and the entire Culkin clan, really).
As for the story? The second that guy uncovered the typewriter and said, “Behold the Future,” I was completely invested. I threw myself at the foot of my television and bowed. Can you believe that three murders flow from a typewriter?
There’s a glut of television options right now. Some of it is good. Some of it is very good. Fargo (and Better Call Saul and maybe Mr. Robot)) stands above them all. This is the Peak TV-era The Wire or Sopranos or Breaking Bad. This is the series we’re still going to be talking about five or ten years from now. Fargo is a master class in how to make great TV.