McGinnis: Getting It RightWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | email@example.com
A pair of men standing on a vast white expanse of frozen lake. From a distance, it appears they are engaging in that most northern of winter traditions, ice fishing. But when the camera cuts closer, it’s apparent that removing things from the frigid waters below is not their goal. Both men are trying to force something — someone — through a hole in the ice. The corpse’s legs stick straight up like a pair of morbid handles.
“Hole’s too small,” the first man says — in sign language — to his partner.
“Guy’s too fat,” comes the gestured reply.
The camera cuts back to a distant shot of the pair as one of them proceeds to walk to the shack behind them. A revving sound — a chainsaw — commences as words are superimposed over the scene. “Fargo. An FX Original Series.”
Yes, the commercial is the first of many teasers for a new show that will be broadcast in April — inspired, at least in theme and location, by the classic Coen Brothers’ crime story from 1996. The original film garnered rave reviews and earned Francis McDormand an Oscar for her portrayal of iconic police chief Marge Gunderson. The movie’s black comedy and knowing portrayal of Minnesotans and their culture, not to mention its tense tale of a kidnapping plot gone disastrously wrong, helped establish “Fargo” as one of the best films of its decade.
There have been talk for years about adapting the film, in some form or another, to the small screen. As far back as 1997, rumors swirled of a version being developed for various cable channels, but a pilot filmed with Edie Falco in the role of Marge was never picked up. Wasn’t it better to leave well enough alone, anyway? How could the original movie’s story and characters be captured in a small screen version?
The answer, if the details of the new production are to be believed, is that they can’t. The new show isn’t aiming to adapt the tale of small time car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (played in the original film by William H. Macy) and his efforts to hire a pair of kidnappers to abduct his wife in a pitiful scheme to extort money from his father-in-law. More importantly, it appears the new series will not feature any version of McDormand’s Marge, either — the central character everyone thinks of when they think of “Fargo.” No characters will be emulated at all from their screen counterparts, in fact.
Rather, the new show is pitched as an anthology series, a la “American Horror Story,” with each season telling its own tale of crime and loose morals in the snow-covered desolation of the original film. The show will star Billy Bob Thornton as a drifter who runs into a salesman played by Martin Freeman, inspiring him to acts he never thought of committing before. Colin Hanks, Kate Walsh and Bob Odenkirk — Saul Goodman himself — are also starring in the show.
The idea of adapting the tone and feel of the original film, as opposed to simply lifting the story wholesale, is certainly a welcome concept. It opens up this new show to follow its own path instead of simply rehashing what the Coens did so successfully. (The brothers serve as executive producers of the series.) But there is still an odd feeling in my gut about the experiment, one which will not shake even as more promising details emerge about the project.
The thing is “Fargo” is one of those rare pieces of entertainment that is practically perfect as it stands. Few films ever have captured a sense of place as wholly as that film. So set is its vision of Brainerd, Minn. that I think of the movie every time winter arrives. So many images and pieces from the film have cemented themselves in my mind as cinematic markers, moments never to be forgotten. The beautiful, haunting theme music. “I’m not sure I agree with you on your police work there, Lou.” The hilariously awkward interrogations between Marge and Jerry. The wood chipper.
Of course, that is not to say that the new project is without merit, or could not stand as an amazing work of its own accord. Toledoans only need to hear the title “M*A*S*H” to be reminded how a classic film can be adapted into an equally classic series. Still, it’s a tricky proposition to capture this kind of lightning in a bottle once more. I hope the producers of this new “Fargo” can do it.