While Academy voters tried to figure out their Best Picture for 2015, my favorite movie was Fargo Year 2, which ran for 9 ½ hours and originally premiered on FX before making its debut on Blu-ray and DVD. You’re thinking, “Uh, dude, Fargo is a TV miniseries.” My response is, “Dude, have you seen Fargo Year 2?”
Okay, true, it was made for television and originally aired in weekly hour-ish installments, but everything about Fargo Year 2, from the writing to the casting to the superb direction, editing and ominous score are so far above anything else on TV (save, perhaps, USA’s equally cinematic and ambiguous Mr. Robot) that it qualifies as something else altogether. Furthermore, I’d stack Fargo Year 2 up against 90% of the year end “best of” films, including several of this year’s Best Picture nominees. It’s that good, my friends.
First things first: You don’t need to have watched Fargo Year 1 to follow any of the action in this latest incarnation of the FX anthology series. Besides one character that carries over from the first year (Patrick Wilson plays Lou Solverson, originally portrayed by Keith Carradine), this is an entirely new story set in a different era. Second: You don’t have to be familiar with the Coen Brother’s 1996 Academy Award winner, Fargo, to appreciate this limited series. The two take place in the same universe, however if you’ve never even heard of Marge Gunderson, you can follow the story of Year 2. Finally: If you are a fan of that Coen Brothers masterpiece, or any of their films, showrunner/co-creator Noah Hawley and his wonderful team of writers and directors capture the tone the Coen’s (with many loving homages sprinkled throughout), while also establishing a unique voice of their own.
Year 2 is set in 1979 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Luverne, Minnesota. Roy Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin) is the youngest son in a Fargo crime family and he’s trying to step out of the shadow of his two older brothers, hotheaded Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) and stoic, hulking Bear (Angus Sampson). While trying to land a big score to impress his family, Rye travels to a middle of nowhere diner to intimidate a judge in the dead of night. Things go horribly wrong.
The judge and two other people end up slaughtered, and Rye gets hit by a car while staring at a UFO in the sky. Thus begins a chain of events that draws together the lives of a simple butcher (Jesse Plemons) and his hairdresser wife (Kirsten Dunst, a revelation), a small town sheriff (Wilson) and his family – which includes his terminally ill wife (Cristin Miloti) and his wise, soulful father-in-law (Ted Danson) – and the entire Gerhardt clan.
Rye goes missing just as the Gerhardt’s are feeling pressure from Kansas City mobsters, represented by Brad Garrett and scene stealer Bokeem Woodbine, as the literary psychopath, Mike Milligan, to sell their business ventures to the KC syndicate. At the same time, Gerhardt patriarch, Otto (Mike Hogan) suffers a debilitating stroke, rendering him incapacitated to make decisions. Dodd wants to seize control and start a war with the mob. Bear defers to his mother, Floyd (a superb Jean Smart). The tension in the family is exasperated by concern over Rye’s whereabouts and betrayal by Dodd’s in over her head daughter, Simone (Rachel Keller in a breakthrough performance).
Besides the standout acting of the aforementioned cast members, Fargo Year 2 also includes exemplary performances by Allan Dobrescu, as Bear’s disabled son, Charlie, and Zach McClarnon, as the Dodd’s right hand man, a Native American Vietnam Veteran whose loyalty to the Gerhardt family runs deep. Plus, you know, Bruce Campbell as Ronald Reagan. What’s not to love?
Television is a writer’s medium, with directors often handing over their work to the showrunners who get final cut. However, there’s no denying that the shortlist of directors working on Year 2 all had a hand in crafting the final look and tone of the show. Michael Uppendahl, Jeffrey Reiner, Keith Gordon and Adam Arkin, as well as Hawley’s use multiscreen, tight, rhythmic editing, and beautifully composed wide shots give the show that cinematic quality I’ve been praising since the first paragraph.
Year 2 is now out on Blu-ray and DVD. Although I’ve grown weary of binge watching, this one is so wonderful that one dose isn’t enough in one sitting. Anyone missing a great crime drama now that Justified and Breaking Bad have driven off into the sunset, seek out Fargo and enjoy the ride.