When is an ongoing series not really ongoing? When it’s Fargo!
Now with its third season, Fargo has not only the previous two seasons, but also the feature film of the same name all taking place in the same town. But really, it's only that town that properly connects these stories. Every season of Fargo tells a story of its own.
To notice the casual references that exist to the other seasons (and movie), you need to really go looking for them.
So if you haven’t seen the Coen Brothers' original film or the first two seasons of the show, it doesn’t matter. You can start watching season three from scratch and still enjoy the black-as-pitch humour, outrageous violence and quirky characters we have come to expect. And yes, everyone has that Minnesotan accent, dunchyano.
Fargo (1996) was many cinemagoers' entry point into the delightfully weird and wonderful world of the Coen Brothers. The Oscar-winning comedy caper was the directing siblings' sixth feature. Already at that early stage in their career, the siblings were shaping up to be two of the most exciting and interesting filmmakers working in America.
The writing/directing brothers had already tackled twisting film noir with Blood Simple (1984) to much acclaim. The follow-up, the slapstick child-napping comedy of Raising Arizona (1987), failed to tickle the funny bone. Luckily, the Coens' gangster film, Miller's Crossing, was next. Released to great critical acclaim, it was a sign of the variety of their future projects.
Their fourth feature, Barton Fink (1991), upped the strangeness with John Turturro starring as the titular character. The film was an almost unclassifiable mystery with a malevolent turn by John Goodman. By now, the film-making duo were attracting an astonishing array of acting talent, as demonstrated by The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) with Paul Newman, Tim Robins and Jennifer Jason Leigh joining the cast for the Capra-esque tale of share trading and hula-hoops. You know, for kids.
Then came Fargo, which won two Oscars: Best Original Screenplay for the Coens - their first - and Best Actress for Frances McDormand, who played pregnant Marge Gunderson, a policewoman on the trail of a killer in the small town of Fargo. The dead bodies start piling up when William H Macy’s bumbling car salesman, Jerry Lundegaard, hires a couple of funny looking hoods to kidnap his father-in-law so he can pocket the ransom and save his dealership. Full of brilliantly quirky performances, including Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare as the bungling kidnappers, the dark comedy is as hilarious as it is exasperating.
Which brings us to season one of the television series Fargo, an anthology black comedy/crime drama created by Noah Hawley. Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks and Martin Freeman, the television show's brilliance is that it retains the snowy locations of the film and still takes a darkly comic view on a murder most horrid. Unlike many remakes, however, it doesn’t pander to the original film's audience.
The film exists within the Fargo timeline that the writers behind the television show are creating, but you don’t have to have seen the film to enjoy the TV series. And that goes for all of the series - each season stands proudly alone.
Set in January 2006, season one sees violent drifter Lorne Malvo (Thornton) involved in a car accident. He stops at a hospital in Bemidji, Minnesota and, while there, meets local mild-mannered insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman).
Their meeting sets forth a chain of murderous events throughout the city. Meanwhile, Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and Officer Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) of Duluth, Minnesota attempt to solve several crimes across the state and soon realise Malvo and Nygaard are involved.
Season two takes place in 1979 and is a prequel of sorts, but it doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the first. There are links but they are slight. Patrick Wilson plays Molly's father, Lou Solverson, who is portrayed by Keith Carradine in the first season. And the gang warfare storyline of the sophomore season relates to a story the elder Solverson told his daughter.
The opening episode is a succession of bloody events that spiral out of control as Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) and Ed Blumquist (Jesse Plemons) desperately try to cover up the hit-and-run and murder of Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin), who just happens to be the son of the patriarch of a local crime family. Lou and Sheriff Hank Larsson (a brilliant Ted Danson) investigate. And did we mention the UFO?
With a cast including Ewan McGregor, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, David Thewlis and Jim Gaffigan, the third season is shaping up to be another crime caper brimming with humour. Hawley promises more sneaky connections to what has gone before. Not that that matters, of course. Season three will once again stand alone, and on the strength of its set-up, that’s fine by us.
McGregor plays the dual lead roles of Emmit and Ray Stussy. Emmit is a handsome, successful self-made man, while his younger brother, Ray, a parole officer, blames Emmit for his misfortunes. Sibling rivalry leads to a world of murder, crime and mobsters. And maybe more UFOs? You betcha!
The third installment of Fargo premieres on SBS at 8.30pm on Wednesday 17 May. Double episodes will air for the first three weeks, followed by single episodes from 9.30pm for the remaining weeks.
Watch the first episode of season 3 at SBS On Demand right here: