There are so many crime dramas and murder mysteries on TV that it is easy to get lost in the noise. For close to three years, however, FX has been quietly dominating the crime drama arena with Fargo
and it has gone relatively unnoticed. Fargo
is not only the best crime drama on TV it's one of the best TV shows period. If you're not watching, you need to hop on it immediately.
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Simply the Best (of the Best)
A TV anthology series with a limited season is a growing trend on TV but FX has pretty much cornered the market. With American Horror Story, American Crime Story and Fargo, FX is the TV network destination of choice if you want to see very famous people on TV playing a variety of different characters. Fargo, though, manages to do something special with its familiar cast and format. Like a lot of anthology shows there is a fear that anyone can die at any time but Fargo also manages to have an incredible amount of fun. It is the best of both worlds from FX's anthology dramas. Fargo has the enjoyment of the campy American Horror Story and the stakes of the emotional American Crime Story.
Fargo does take heavy inspiration from the 1996 movie that gives the series its name. Fargo has the look and vaguely surreal feel of any Coen Brothers movie but still manages to create something uniquely its own. There are horrible and sometimes downright horrific things happening. The murders (of which there are a lot) are at the strange cross-section between inventive, hilarious and bone-chilling. Yet no matter how gruesomely the characters go out there is a winking humor and self-awareness that keeps Fargo engaging. Fargo tackles some serious issues and can make you care deeply about the characters but it never becomes preachy and/or depressing like some other crime dramas of a similar nature. (Looking at you, True Detective.)
The anthology format does more than add to the overall feeling of Fargo. As mentioned, there are some familiar and impressive faces to be found among its cast. Season 1 had Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks and Billy Bob Thornton, among others, leading the cast. Season 2 gave Kirsten Dunst, Ted Danson, Patrick Wilson and Jean Smart fantastic meaty roles. Season 3, though, has the most impressive cast yet with Ewan McGregor (playing two characters), David Thewlis, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Carrie Coon all front and center. There is no other show on TV that can boast such an impressive cast and get consistently fantastic performances out of them like Fargo.
Familiar Echoes and Shocking Twists
Fargo is an anthology series but between each season there are familiar themes and archetypes. Fargo doesn't exactly repeat ideas or characters but it does echo them with each new year. In season 3 there are some obvious patterns but no matter how much Fargo picks up on similar themes the plotting remains excellent. Fargo manages to feel both safe and wholly unexpected within one episode. Fargo has such a unique and special voice as a series, as most episodes are written by one man, the showrunner Noah Hawley, but it can still surprise and delight you. There's a formula but that formula is turned on its head in very effective ways.
Fargo is heavily serialized like most anthology shows but that serialization is only within a season. Every season deserves to be watched and experienced but it is incredibly easy to hop on to one season and experience the story from beginning to end. There are some connections between them, all seasons of Fargo exist in the same universe, but each year tells a beautifully crafted story. Each episode feels complete but it also weaves wonderfully into the next. The episodes often end on cliffhangers but they aren't gimmicky or cheap. Fargo is heavily serialized and downright addictive TV. It's engaging, compelling and while it has handfuls of humor it never approaches an annoying level of camp.
Season 3 has just begun but all the elements are there to suggest it will be just as strong as the first two seasons. The characters of Fargo immediately pop and the same holds true of the situations around them. Season 3 doesn't have quite as strong a plot hook as the first two seasons, but the characters are already a delight.
Ewan McGregor is doing tremendous work playing two twin brothers, one a successful smarmy businessman and the other a total bumbling loser. There is obviously nothing inherently original idea about that idea, but McGregor breathes new life into the concept. McGregor's performance is the perfect example of what makes Fargo so fantastic. It takes the familiar and makes it feel fresh.
Will you be checking out Fargo? Have you already seen the show and agree? Have you seen the show and disagree? What is your favorite crime drama on TV? Is Fargo the best anthology show on television?
(Images courtesy of FX)