There are some things you can miss and there are some things you can’t. Season two of Fargo is solidly in the can’t miss category (like season one was) and here’s why:
Bokeem Woodbine as ‘Mike Milligan’
Woodbine has been an actor for 23 years and you’ve probably never heard of him. Get ready for that all to change. From now on you’ll hear his name read like this: Emmy Award Winner Bokeem Woodbine. He is captivating. Captivating. The only way I can even begin to explain my excitement when he’s on the screen is that it’s somehow akin to sexual arousal. He’s that good. I can’t say it enough.
Jesse Plemons as ‘Ed Blomquist’
I mean Emmy Award Nominee Jesse Plemons. Maybe winner. I don’t know. He’s so so so so good. Dear god he’s so good. If I could give an emmy for what man boobs articulate in a character he’d be a shoo-in. Remember when you first saw Boogie Nights and you were kinda/sorta aware of Philip Seymour Hoffman, but his portrayal of ‘Scotty J.’ was so good that you viewed him in a completely different light? That’s how good Jesse Plemons is in this role. If you thought you loved the boy he played in Friday Night Lights you’ll love the man he plays in Fargo.
The impending sense of doom
It fills you up like a meal. After episode four: ‘Fear and Trembling’ the deck is fully stacked. The lines are drawn and we know who’s on each side of them. It’s like watching two heavyweights square off.
Ted Danson’s beard
Ted Danson had never grown a beard before. Did you know that? I didn’t. Really though, Danson is killing it by making us forget he’s Ted Danson. Understated. Effective. He’s a pleasure to watch.
Characters that do smart things, make smart decisions and know when they’re in danger
This, Pajibans! THIS. How many plots just fall apart when you’re like “how did she not know she was in trouble?” or “that misunderstanding that the whole plot rode on could have been solved with a simple phone call” or “lucky he happened by to overhear that…”
Fargo has NONE OF THAT HORSESHIT. Characters are smart. Dumb characters are dumb but they’re not actively stupid. For example, being uneducated in this universe doesn’t mean you don’t realize when you’re in danger. Smart characters piece together plot points without eavesdropping or mystery deus ex machina reasoning. It’s well thought out. It makes sense. It doesn’t rely on faulty plot devices.
When people in shows do stupid things that you wouldn’t do for no reason than to move the plot forward, that’s when we all stop rooting for them. When people in shows do smart things we ourselves would do because it’s the obvious right move and it feels and looks and tastes and smells real, we root for them more. Because it’s honest and we can identify with what the character is going through. This shouldn’t be so hard to accomplish, but it is, and Fargo does this with every character, every week.
Patrick Wilson as ‘Lou Solverson’
This may very well be the main reason to watch. Patrick Wilson is just one of the best actors working today. Lady Castleton and I have been a fan of his for years. Years. Since he played Brad Adamson in Little Children in 2006. And we’ve always been like “why isn’t his agent getting him better roles?” Since then, it’s like everything he’s been in he’s always far and away the best thing in it. This is finally a script worthy of his ability and a cast that can actually hang with him.
The color palette
How many television shows can you say that about? Where the color palette is so intoxicating that it’s like a character in and of itself? How many TV shows come across as artistic expression rather than some slapdash piece of shit a third teir production company sutured together to fill an idiotic void in some network’s lineup? This is art, people. Art.
Jean Smart as ‘Floyd Gerhardt’
I don’t know Jean Smart as well as I know many of the other actors on this list, but it doesn’t matter. I can’t speak to what she did before she played the matriarch of a North Dakotan crime family, but I can tell you that she plays the role with a dignity and a power from a different age. She’s impressive as hell.
How much do the Coen Brothers contribute to the show? I would have guessed a lot. A whole lot because this show is magical in ways that only the Coen Brothers seem to be able to accomplish. But no. They’re not involved at all. When I read that I may have poured myself a drink just to spit it out. Series creator Noah Hawley sends them the scripts out of courtesy but he doesn’t know if they read them or not. When you realize this and you realize the level of the product Hawley is putting on the screen, you have to shift your perception quite a bit and recalculate what’s going on here.
This is the person behind Fargo. He looks a little like a young Sam Neill. I’m so flabbergasted by this person I could write a novella about him. He’s a novelist and a composer. He’s the one that came up with the take for what Fargo has become. FX was already planning to develop it and Hawley came in with his take, which was that the character of Marge from the original Fargo movies couldn’t have six seasons of preposterous events happen to her. That would feel disingenuous. Rather, the series should sort of be a crime anthology of the American Midwest. It’s worked smashingly so far.
Here’s what you need to know about Noah Hawley, other than the fact that when I grow up I want to be Noah Hawley. He’s an author of four books. That’s why the storytelling is so good. He made his bones in the world of prose and he knows how to unfold a story. He’s a composer. It’s rumored to be (but pretty certainly) his voice singing a song from the Coen Brothers O Brother, Where Art Thou? over the titles at the end of the Season Two premiere. He’s married and has two kids and splits his time between Austin and LA.
Perfect dialogue. Flawless direction.
Writing that feels like it was done by a master. Note perfect line deliveries. Impeccable pacing. You never get a wasted word. It’s what smart dialogue is supposed to look like. Remember how when we all watched True Detective (season two especially) it felt like someone trying to prove to us how smart they were? This is the opposite of that. The midwestern tone is so refined and sculpted. The language is used accurately and sparingly. People talk how people talk. It’s refreshing, and you come away really appreciating that restraint and that casual excellence and it makes it almost difficult to watch other shows because they feel so bloated and overcooked.
Jeffrey Donovan as ‘Dodd Gerhardt’
The dude from Burn Notice? Are you shitting me? That dude is such a poser! No. He isn’t. He’s awesome. I know, I know! You’re like “are you pulling my fucking leg here, Lord Castelton?” This guy?
This guy? Seriously?
Yes. Seriously. Because now he’s this guy.
And he’s great. I’m not pulling your leg. Dodd Gerhardt is such a fun character and you’ll love him. There’s no trace of cheesiness or wannabe Miami Vice anywhere. He’s just plain great. You think that’s my big shocker? No. Hold on to your hats, folks because there’s also…
Kirsten Dunst as ‘Peggy Blomquist’
I know! If you had told me that I would ever in my life extoll the acting virtues of Kirsten Dunst I would have thought you were on hallucinogens. But she’s great, everyone. She’s nailing this character so well and between her and Jessie Plemons, who plays her husband, they’ve built this phenomenal house of cards.
Brad Garrett as ‘Joe Bulo’
How can on show have this many stellar people in it? Garrett is outstanding playing a gangster from Kansas City. That’s what I love about this show (among other things, obviously). Everything is played straight. Bulo has a certain mission and it’s basically a business proposition so he treats it that way. There’s not a lot of flailing or overacting or false beats to set up tension. Joe Bulo is a freight train coming down the tracks very slowly that you can see coming from a mile away and there’s no stopping it. It’s a slow build but it’s real. It’s not an airplane. It’s not a transformer. It’s just a train. But there are real stakes to the approach of that train and you better have a plan when it gets here.
Nick Offerman as ‘Karl Weathers’
Honestly we haven’t seen a ton of this character but he’s always great when we do. Also, come for the Karl with a K Weathers tribute to the actor that played Apollo Creed and stay for the beard. Just look at that bad boy. If you don’t, in general, move around your weekly schedule to invite more Nick Offerman into it, I don’t want to know you anymore.
Zahn McClarnon as ‘Hanzee Dent’
If you’re over the age of 75, you might know this actor from playing ‘Mathias’ on Longmire. McClarnon is getting to sink his teeth into a much meatier role here in Fargo. I don’t want to go into it too much, but in the same way as how Billy Bob Thornton’s character of ‘Malvo’ was sort of violence incarnate, Hanzee Dent has some of that. Initially he’s in the background, and you’re like who is that guy?
And as his character unfolds you start to understand that he’s like the lone rider of the apocalypse from Raising Arizona. You don’t want to be around this character for any reason and if he’s headed toward you, you better run.
Casting that makes sense
It’s not like someone was like “I had eighteen emmy nominations for Fargo season one, now I’ll cast randoms who suck and make them great.” It’s not like “I’ll take actors from the first season and make them into completely new characters in the second season.” It’s not like “look how smart I am talking huge celebrities into being on my show.” You see all of that with other shows. This environment that Noah Hawley has created is basically cherry picking actors with real chops, whether you know them or not, to inhabit an ensemble of fully-flushed out, well written characters. It’s like picking an all-star team. I know some of you aren’t into football, but abide me a comparison. One often harped on complaint from football fans is that coaches have the players but don’t know how to use them. Or that a coach will ignore the various skill sets of his players to try to push them to fulfill his vision. What Noah Hawley has done is the exact opposite of that. He has a concise vision (something, frankly, most people in Hollywood either don’t have or aren’t allowed to have by their bankrollers, so bravo, FX). Then he hires the exact right actors to help him complete that vision. Every role is juicy and you can see how much each actor brings to it. It’s a seamless marriage of skill on both sides, and that’s how you get such a fantastic product.
Rachel Keller as ‘Simone Gerhardt’
Another actor I don’t know, but she’s doing workmanlike work as the proverbial fly in the ointment. One can only imagine how difficult it would be to be raised as tough-guy enforcer Dodd Gerhardt’s daughter and how this character evolves and what she has already become feels so honest and real.
Cristin Milotti as ‘Betsy Solverson’
Another character who we haven’t seen all that much from, but in combination with Patrick Wilson she’s buliding the beating heart and the human frailty centerpiece of this whole convoluted story. Sometimes the most simple performances are the most lovely, and Milotti is doing those moments justice.
Did I mention Noah Hawley and how we all get pissed about nothing good getting made?
You ask Noah Hawley what the best show on TV is and he admits to loving Game of Thrones and Mr. Robot. Noah Hawley is our guy, Pajiba. He’s our person in the industry and he’s thoughtful and self effacing and honest and smart. Did I mention smart? Because he is. They think through everything. They leave no stone unturned. Every year we sit here and we bitch about the lack of shit to watch and meanwhile some of us aren’t supporting Noah Hawley, who’s breaking his ass for us. Specifically for US.
Once you all watch it we can have intelligent discussions about the commentary on soldiers returning to civilization from war and what they bring with them or the representation of Ronald Reagan or how refreshing it is to see organized crime that’s not ethnic or even the whole recurring UFO runner.
But watch the show first.
Allan Dobrescu as ‘Charlie Gerhardt’
I haven’t mentioned Dodd’s brother ‘Bear Gerhardt’ played by Angus Sampson, but he’s great too. Dobrescu plays Bear’s son, Charlie. Dobrescu is a newcomer, and Charlie is a small part, but you have the sense that he’s slated to play a key role as events unfold.
Keiran Culkin as ‘Rye Gerhardt’
I don’t think I’ve seen Keiran Culkin in many things but he’s rock solid as the youngest brother of Dodd and Bear. It’s another case of an ensemble actor rising up and blowing the doors off of a performance. His character is so familiar. He’s someone we all know. It’s so obvious and relatable and ordinary that it’s pathetic. And in that way, it’s also so impressive.
Okay, friends. That’s my pitch. This is true art, created by the impressive and inspiring Noah Hawley. It’s so far and away the best show on television right now it’s criminal.
I know some of you are thinking, we’re not going to listen to this person who would have us watching football and South Park, but I’m fine with you skipping both of those if you’ll just please binge-watch the first four episodes of this season of Fargo. In fact, if you watch one show for the rest of this year, this should be it.
Right now, Fargo is so goddamn pregnant with energy and next Monday the shit is going to hit the fan. I want you to be a part of it. I want you to experience this mastery of language and camera work and storytelling and tension and directing and performance. I want you to experience what a complete fulfilled, singular vision on television looks like. I want all of us to hold hands and shout its praises from the mountaintop. A show like this doesn’t happen very often, so take my hand and walk with me to the end of this season. Be convinced. Sigh and complain and grumble and disparage my name as you cue up the first episode, but do cue it up and do watch all four.
You won’t regret it.
NOTE TO COMMENTERS: Let’s please please make sure not to spoil anything in the comments. Hopefully, this will be one safe place where people can catch up to us and enjoy it the way we did.