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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell Fargo,

This week fans of Fargo will be de­lighted with its re­turn to SBS. Cre­ator, di­rec­tor and writer Noah Haw­ley is in fine form with his third it­er­a­tion of the crime drama in­spired by the Coen broth­ers’ clas­sic Academy Award­win­ning black com­edy thriller of the same name. Not un­ex­pect­edly, given Haw­ley’s gifts, it is another mes­meris­ing 10-part fa­ble, a style al­ready dubbed “prairie-noir” by ad­mir­ers, about a group of good Min­nesota folk who are driven “blood sim­ple” by wrath and hu­man folly.

Some of them are de­cent peo­ple who just make the wrong de­ci­sions and be­come caught up in the sav­age mo­men­tum of the plot, forc­ing them into col­li­sions with oth­ers — of­ten in the most com­i­cal of ways.

This is a show in which any­thing can hap­pen to any­one at any time, usu­ally when you — and they, of course — least ex­pect it. With Haw­ley the prob­lems of guilt and com­plic­ity are al­ways plea­sur­ably ma­noeu­vred in such a way that mur­der­ers may not be caught, and may in fact be the char­ac­ters with whom we most iden­tify.

The evoca­tive ex­pres­sion “blood sim­ple” was a ti­tle for another Coen broth­ers movie, de­rived from the 1952 Dashiell Ham­mett novel Red Har­vest, where it is used to de­scribe what hap­pens to some­one psy­cho­log­i­cally once they have com­mit­ted mur­der. “They go ‘ blood sim­ple’ in the slang sense of ‘sim­ple’, mean­ing crazy,” ex­plains Joel Coen.

Part ac­tion thriller, part ca­per homage, and this time with touches of the hor­ror movie genre, the new se­ries is sim­i­lar to the pre­ced­ing two in­so­far as it is in­grained with the trade­mark Coen broth­ers’ hu­mour and that qual­ity of so­called “Min­nesota nice”, which made the movie so pop­u­lar.

It is usu­ally de­fined as a dis­in­cli­na­tion to in­trude, the re­sult of a nat­u­ral dis­taste for con­flict and con­fronta­tion, and a propen­sity for un­der­state­ment. It can also make what might seem like the most be­nign in­ter­ac­tion ab­so­lutely per­plex­ing to an out­sider. It is cru­cial to an un­der- stand­ing of the show. Haw­ley calls it “a height­ened friend­li­ness and sense of com­mu­nity that sprang up around a re­gion that was his­tor­i­cally iso­lated and in the frozen tun­dra of win­ter”.

The Fargo cre­ator spoke re­cently to The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter about how he ref­er­ences the Coens’ many movies in the show — you’ll eas­ily spot touches of No Coun­try for Old Men, Rais­ing Ari­zona, Blood Sim­ple and Miller’s Cross­ing. He said he set­tled on the no­tion of mak­ing “No Coun­try for Old Fargo”, “where we need a dra­matic crime in­fra­struc­ture that sus­tains the level of threat through­out, where you’re al­ways a lit­tle wor­ried about every­body and the threat of vi­o­lence is al­ways there. And within that, you can have th­ese comic mo­ments.”

While the se­ries is con­cep­tu­ally based on the Coens’ film, each sea­son is a sep­a­rate crime case, with new char­ac­ters, con­ceived as a lim­ited se­ries in the style of True De­tec­tive and Amer­i­can Hor­ror Story. Haw­ley calls it “a mix­ture of re­ally dry, com­pelling drama with com­edy, with true crime and vi­o­lence, and this other el­e­ment which sort of mixes a lit­tle ab­sur­dity, a lit­tle mys­ti­cism and a lit­tle phi­los­o­phy”.

While the first two sea­sons had ob­vi­ous con­nec­tions to the movie, Haw­ley calls this “a new book”, and this time sets it in 2010 in the af­ter­math of the fi­nan­cial col­lapse.

The first episode, ti­tled Law of Va­cant Places, in­tro­duces two broth­ers, Em­mit and Ray Stussy (both played by Ewan McGre­gor, who looks like he is hav­ing enor­mous fun). Em­mit, the older brother, sees him­self as an Amer­i­can suc­cess story — the “Park­ing Lot King of Min­nesota” — while un­der threat from some­one called Rita Gold­berg, the so-called “stor­age queen”. The more sym­pa­thetic Ray, a bald­ing, pot-bel­lied pa­role of­fi­cer, for­ever a sup­port­ing player to his in­dus­tri­ous brother, spends most of his days col­lect­ing urine — “piss tests” they’re called — from his un­savoury as­sort­ment of parolees.

Their fa­ther died when they were teenagers, leav­ing one of them a stamp col­lec­tion and the other a Corvette. They traded, and ever since there’s been bad blood be­tween them. Ray still drives the Corvette — his num­ber­plate reads “Ace Hole” — and the stamps are now worth a for­tune.

Em­mit, though, has a prob­lem. He bor­rowed a mil­lion dol­lars (with no col­lat­eral re­quired) from an out-of-town in­vest­ment firm. Now, the sin­is­ter VM Varga (David Thewlis), rep­re­sent­ing this shad­owy en­tity, wants pay­back in the form of “part­ner­ing” with Em­mit’s com­pany, an as­so­ci­a­tion hardly likely to be above le­gal scru­tiny.

Varga is one of Haw­ley’s in­spired cre­ations, a fright­en­ing crea­ture who could have stepped straight from a Stephen King novel, an en­forcer with an un­usual gift of the gab. “The words ‘be­gin’ and ‘end’ — are th­ese the same?” he asks Em­mit when he at­tempts to pay out the loan. “So why talk about end­ing some­thing that’s just be­gun?”

Then there’s Ray’s sexy brunette girl­friend Nikki Swango (Mary El­iz­a­beth Win­stead), one of Ray’s parolees. She’s ob­sessed with com­pet­i­tive bridge, and she and Ray make a cool team fleec­ing the lo­cal com­pe­ti­tions. Also in the mix is Em­mit’s hard-nosed, fast-talk­ing lawyer and con­sigliere, Sy Feltz (Michael Stuhlbarg).

When Ray hires hap­less Mau­rice LeFay (the very funny Scoot McNairy) — a small-time stoner and thief who spends his life break­ing into rich peo­ple’s digs and steal­ing their flatscreen TVs — to con­duct a rob­bery, the mur­der­ous fun re­ally gets un­der way.

In the mid­dle of it all is Glo­ria Bur­gle (Car­rie Coon), the steady chief of the lo­cal po­lice de­part­ment. She’s a newly di­vorced mother who is handy with a po­lice-is­sue shot­gun but all at sea with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, es­pe­cially the mo­bile phone.

The cast is ex­em­plary — their com­plex Min­nesota ac­cents ring true and their comic tim­ing is per­fect. Haw­ley’s di­a­logue is so pithily streetwise it re­minds you of El­more Leonard. It shows an un­canny ear for wry, life­like chat: col­lo­quial speech, ad­jec­tives ab­sent, punc­tu­a­tion some­times awk­ward, and the odd slang.

Haw­ley and his di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy, Dana Gon­za­les, who came up through the ranks work­ing with Paul Hag­gis, Julie Tay­mor and David O. Rus­sell, bring a new visual style and colour pal­ette to the show’s aes­thetic. They con­sciously ref­er­ence the Coens’ In­side Llewyn Davis, with its dis­tinc­tive win­try look, tak­ing the blues out of im­ages, and as Haw­ley says, mak­ing colours such as red, or­ange and yel­low “re­ally pop in a dif­fer­ent way”.

It gives the se­ries an al­most ex­pres­sion­ist Ger­man film-noir qual­ity, where pools of shad­ows sur­round and some­times over­take small cen­tres of light, adding to the night­mar­ish drive of the plot as the body count builds up. (Watch out for a par­tic­u­larly malev­o­lent air-con­di­tion­ing unit.)

Haw­ley’s film­mak­ing is con­trolled and ob­jec­tive, again echo­ing the Coens’ ap­proach, mov­ing his cam­eras in clas­si­cal ways. Some scenes are played out in one shot — the fram­ing is of­ten al­most sym­met­ri­cal, some­times quite com­i­cally — and there are many close-ups and re­verse an­gles of faces re­act­ing to events. It is a story about de­par­tures and lapses from the world of Min­nesota Nice, and the se­ries’ visual ap­proach en­hances the trans­for­ma­tion from quo­tid­ian re­al­ity to night­mare.

Heck, this is sim­ply the classi­est piece of TV drama around. It’s in­stantly en­ter­tain­ing, even if you’ve never seen any of it be­fore and have never heard of the Coen broth­ers or that movie called Fargo. Wed­nes­day, 8.30pm, SBS.

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