The Minnesota Noir of “Fargo”

June 17, 2014 10:08 AM

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Maybe the week of the U.C. Santa Barbara shootings was not the ideal time to catch up on a tragicomedy about emasculation avenged. Maybe I’m burned out on bloodbaths. But “Fargo,” FX’s adaptation of the great film by the Coen brothers, created and written by Noah Hawley, left me feeling a thousand miles away, despite its strong cast and shrewd beauty. It also raised a question that’s become a cable-drama default: How good does a violent drama need to be to make the pain of watching worth it? “Breaking Bad,” thumbs up; the brilliantly nightmarish “Hannibal,” too. Other shows—“The Walking Dead,” say—have seemed like a bad bet. As the critic James Poniewozik tweeted recently, “TV’s not a chili-pepper-eating contest.”

“Fargo” is nowhere near as graphic as these shows, and yet it has a streak of sadism that’s a serious departure from the movie, which was a snowbound noir about a decent cop chasing incompetent crooks. In it, William H. Macy played Jerry Lundegaard, a watery-eyed lummox who wears a mask of Minnesota...

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