“I know part of being American is you standing on my throat.” With those astonishingly prescient words, Chris Rock ushers in a new season of FX’s excellent anthology crime-story dramedy Fargo, based on the Oscar-winning 1996 Coen Brothers neo-noir film of the same name.
This year the inventive creator and showrunner Noah Hawley (of another FX series, the also-daring and visually stunning X-Men comic book adaptation Legion) has turned the clock back again, even further past the 1979-set second season to 1950 Kansas City, Missouri, where two warring but oddly cross-pollinated gangs form an uneasy alliance though there’s a local history of those alliances turning sour.
Rock (perhaps previously best known for his stand-up and self-titled HBO series, though he has dabbled in dramatic acting before) plays Loy Cannon, the leader of the African-American side of the unsteady accord, who agrees to trade sons with the Italian mob as a sign of trust– early prediction here: the boy he gives away is almost certainly going to grow up to be Mike Milligan, one of my absolute favorite characters from season two. And leading the opposing crew is Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore, Saving Mr. Banks) as Josto Fadda, an upstart mafioso whose cappo-di-tutti-capi father passes away in a series of increasingly unlikely– but undeniably captivating– misfortunes. Josto wants to take the reigns of the Kansas City cosa nostra in the wake of the untimely demise, but his tough-guy fresh-off-the-boat brother Gaetano (Salvatore Esposito) and the deal between his famiglia and Cannon’s are both making things more difficult for him.
Beyond those two factions being at each other's throats, there are also more than a few wild cards at play in this season of Fargo’s first two episodes, which aired back-to-back tonight on FX. First there’s a precocious teen named Ethelrida (Emyri Crutchfield of 2015’s Vacation reboot) growing up in a mixed-race funeral-home household, a verbose and shockingly sociopathic nurse called Oraetta Mayflower (Jessie Buckley, who’s having a jaw-dropper of a breakout year after her knockout performance in Charlie Kaufman’s straight-to-Netflix I’m Thinking of Ending Things), two escaped convicts straight out of a gender-swapped Raising Arizona (Karen Aldridge of The Dilemma and Legion’s own Amber Midthunder), an OCD detective playing both sides (Jack Huston from Kill Your Darlings) and an on-the-warpath US Marshal played by the guy who only ever seems to play US Marshals: Deadwood and Justified’s Timothy Olyphant.
If that sounds like a stacked cast, don’t be too shocked– that’s been Fargo’s M.O. since season one. And the best thing about this show is how the audience can feel all of these conflicting personalities coming into each other’s gravitational pull. They’re on a collision course for wackiness, as they say, but usually instead of out-and-out wackiness we get some supremely dark humor, lots of violence, and some pontificating on the nature of the universe, Coen-style. Hawley has become so spot-on at aping the tone and themes of the Coen Brothers films that this series often feels like it has benefitted from their direct involvement, though my understanding is that they only serve as glorified consultants in their roles as executive producers. Still, whatever this magical formula is, I clearly can’t get enough of the result Even after tonight’s two-and-a-half-hour premiere, I was still left with my teeth chattering for more.
With its focus shifting to the role of African-Americans in the world of midwestern organized crime this season, Fargo joins the ranks of HBO’s Watchmen and Lovecraft Country in being fortuitously topical genre storytelling, considering the civil upheaval happening in the United States this year. But social commentary aside, Hawley and his team have ensured an unbroken continuity of quality across every episode of this series so far, and based on the first two episodes, that tradition endures into the fourth installment. The show’s production design and cinematography remain unmatched, its writing is consistently clever and thought-provoking, and the assembled cast (as noted above) is almost implausibly outstanding. Fargo never goes long without bringing me to the edge of my seat, and I fully expect that trend to continue over the next couple months.
Fargo airs Sunday nights on FX.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general since a very young age and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.