Binge Guide

Weekly Binge: Fargo

by | October 15, 2014 | Comments

With a storm of A-list talent, complex storytelling, gallows humor, jarring violence, and blizzard-worthy amounts of snow, Fargo is a perfect little binge for a cold day.

Isn’t it time you watched season one of Fargo? You betcha!



What’s the premise? Murder hits the small town of Bemidji, MN after an insurance salesman (Martin Freeman) encounters a violent drifter (Billy Bob Thornton).

What’s it like? With stylistic storytelling and dark humor akin to the eponymous 1996 Coen Brothers film, Fargo is not a remake, but a complement to the Coen-verse where grim violence and quirky politeness can cohabit within the same small town — and oftentimes, within the same person. Directed by Noah Hawley, TV’s Fargo captures much of the Coen Brothers’ point of view, combining laughs with brutality and quiet sadness with epic character flaws. Imagine if Ned Flanders were the hero in No Country for Old Men and you’ll start to get the picture.

Where can I see it? The complete first season just came out on DVD and Blu-ray this week. Otherwise, you can pay to stream all of season one on Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, iTunes, and Vudu.

How long will it take? Each of Fargo‘s 10 episodes runs about an hour, so you’re looking at a weekend-long binge. For Pete’s sake, just do it already!

What do the critics think? Certified Fresh on the Tomatometer at 98 percent, Fargo is considered by critics to be one of the best darn shows of the year. David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun wrote that “it’s easy to lose yourself as I did in this world of endless snow, hopelessly flat lands, coffee shops, down jackets, small town facades, brutality, blood, drugs and slaughter.” HitFix critic Alan Sepinwall raved, “The TV Fargo establishes itself as its own wonderful thing that is connected to the movie without being a recreation of it, and that doesn’t seem unworthy of the name.” And Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times said, “Like the movie, the series is peculiar, with an irregular rhythm and lots of black humor, and it is also oddly winning.”

Why should I watch this? Before season two was announced, the concept for Fargo was a TV miniseries with a complete narrative, serialized over 10 episodes. Due to its limited-run nature, Hawley’s Fargo was able to nab A-listers Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, Bad Santa) and Martin Freemam (The Hobbit, Sherlock), who might not otherwise be able to commit to a TV show. The result is a series as cinematic in casting as it is in mise-en-scene and storytelling. The supporting cast — with Allison Tolman as the determined young detective, Bob Odenkirk as the cynical deputy thrust into power, Keith Carradine as the wise, retired police chief, and Colin Hanks as the hilarious-yet-witless Office Gus Grimley — add moral complexity to this antihero tale. Plus, casting Key & Peele’s Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele as two inept FBI agents and Oliver Platt as the “Supermarket King of Minnesota” makes for some funny, surprising character work.

What’s my next step? In addition to the Coen Brothers filmography, starting with Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and Burn After Reading, you should investigate other TV anthology series — especially HBO’s True Detective with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and FX’s American Horror Story with Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, and Angela Bassett. If you’re a fan of Martin Freeman’s work as Lester Nygard, definitely check him out as Dr. Watson in Sherlock. Also, Billy Bob Thornton gives a stand-out criminal performance in Sam Raimi’s 1998 film A Simple Plan. For those who have enjoyed their time in the cold Minnesota weather, try Lilyhammer, a Netflix original in which Steven Van Zandt plays a mob boss relocated to a rural Norwegian town.

Will you be braving the elements of Fargo? Tell us why!