The 1996 film, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, pretty much put these brothers on the cinematic map. Fargo was followed by The Big Lebowski and O Brother Where Art Thou?, which both became cult classics.
True fans should not overlook Raising Arizona (1987!) starring Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter, or their first film, Blood Simple, released in 1984. (Frances McDormand was in both, a relationship that set her up for Fargo and an Oscar for Best Actress.)
The American Film Institute named Fargo as one of the 100 greatest American film in history.
These are all incredibly big boots for a television spinoff to fill, but the series that premiered in 2014 has managed to live up to expectations. The Coen Brothers still have their hand in it (as does writer, director, showrunner Noah Hawley, who has written a book about it too), including the most recent, fourth season which is available on Showmax and DStv, with new episodes every Tuesday.
The previous three seasons are on Showmax, too, so either relive the pitch black humour at your leisure, or plan a marathon initiation. As Fargo is an anthology series with seasons moving back and forth chronologically, you don’t have to watch them all to enjoy them individually but there are some connections between seasons that you’ll pleased to notice.
Season 4 is set in 1950, and its main theme is organised crime in Kansas City, Missouri. It goes into a bit of history as to how warring families and factions established a tradition of trading their youngest sons with their enemies. In theory, this frankly Shakespearean arrangement would strengthen bonds. Spoiler: it doesn’t work out as planned, but that doesn’t stop them.
Once we’re all caught up, Cannon Limited, led by Loy Cannon (Chris Rock), is in uneasy cahoots with the Italians, headed by Josto Fadda (Jason Schwartzman).
Things are thrown into disarray when Josto’s brother Gaetano (Salvatore Esposito, in his first English-speaking role) arrives from the Old Country, and the situation is compounded by an “angel of mercy” murderous nurse. Oraetta Mayflower is played by Jessie Buckley, and she’s from Minnesota, which means she has the distinctive accent McDormand adopted for the original movie. She is, without a doubt, all kinds of weirdo crazy. And we’d expect nothing less here.
“Fargo, as in past seasons, manages to be both more dramatic, and more comic, than almost any other show on TV right now,” said National Public Radio when the series premiered in 2020.
“There’s an immediate rush that comes from the opening minutes of a new season of FX’s Fargo, intensified by the three-years-plus since Noah Hawley’s adaptation/expansion of the Coen brothers’ classic last aired,” wrote The Hollywood Reporter.
“It’s a charge that comes from Hawley’s love of archaic and convoluted language; from Jeff Russo’s playful circling of Carter Burwell’s haunting score for the original film; from another eclectic cast stepping into characters with instantly evocative names like ‘Ethelrida Pearl Smutny’ or ‘Constant Calamita’; from the reminder that ‘This is a true story’.”
The credibility of the “true story” contained in the events of Season 4 are yet to be seen – but if it unfolds anything like the previous seasons, it’s going to be deliciously difficult to suspend our disbelief.