Fargo

Marilyn Monroe Seven Year Itch

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Sons of Anarchy

Spin-offs have been a part of television since the very beginning. These include not just those series that branched off from popular shows focusing on a favorite supporting character but also those that continued following the leads. The latter could be thought of as TV show sequels, like Archie Bunker’s Place. Prequels, however, have not been as big a part of television tradition. There were Saturday morning cartoons offering origins of live-action TV characters like Alf and the Muppets, as well as some jumping onto the “__ Babies” concept for classic animated series like Scooby-Doo and The Flintstones. Around the same time, ’80s drama Dallas got a legitimate prequel, but it was in the form of a TV movie. Outside of shows that were prequels to movies — a current trend in and of itself that has its roots in series like Freddy’s Nightmares (some of its episodes, anyway) and Young Indiana Jones Chronicles — the earliest American live-action spin-off of a live-action series to go backward in focus was probably Young Hercules, in which none other than Ryan Gosling portrayed the teenage version of Kevin Sorbo’s legendary hero for 50 episodes between 1998 and 1999. Unsurprisingly,  the Star Trek franchise eventually got into prequel territory with Enterprise. Later, another sci-fi series, Battlestar Galactica, tried it with the unsuccessful Caprica. 

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Fargo

Aw jeez, we didn’t think that FX’s hit series Fargo was really going to run for just one single season, don’t cha know, but it sure is exciting to hear that we’re getting more of the good stuff, you betcha! (End bad slang usage.) Hot on the heels of some major Emmy nominations — 18 total, the most for any FX series ever — the cable channel has renewed their beloved series, based on the Coen Brothers’ film of the same name, for ten all new episodes. And they really will be all new, thanks to a new setting, a new cast of characters, a new actual cast, and a new crime to follow. But, rest assured, this Fargo promises to still feel like both of its predecessors. So what does the second season of the series hold for us? Well, probably plenty more winter jackets. But this time, they will be vintage winter jackets.

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Better Call Saul

You might feel some apprehension about the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul, but you know you’re going to watch it. When it finally arrives, that is. The show, which is to star Bob Odenkirk reprising his role as lawyer Saul Goodman, was supposed to debut on AMC this November. The bad news is that it’s been pushed back until early next year. The good news, though, is that the cable network is excited about what they’ve seen so far and have already renewed the series for a second season. The first will be 10 episodes, and the second, arriving early 2016, will add another 13. Vince Gilligan is directing the pilot and will share showrunning duties with Peter Gould, who created Goodman as a Breaking Bad writer in season 2 (the character’s debut episode was also called “Better Caul Saul”). Michael McKean, who was so great recently on HBO’s canceled Family Tree is also in the cast as another lawyer, and Jonathan Banks is reprising his role as Mike Ehrmantraut. Yes, it’s a prequel series.

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Fargo Series Finale

There were few surprises in tonight’s series finale of Fargo. Maybe the biggest one was how Agent Budge (Keegan-Michael Key) repeated the riddle of the previous episode’s title, “A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage,” rather than moving on to address the meaning behind “Morton’s Fork,” as this installment was called. But maybe that served its own purpose. Morton’s Fork is a matter of choice in a situation where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. For instance, if the show had Budge go over the meaning of the episode’s title, I probably would have criticized its consistency, yet with the discrepancy I question the reason. On a larger scale, the fork applies to a number of outcomes that a show might have where fans will be disappointed. Most television series these days have to deal with the dilemma when finishing up. Audiences are so hard to please at the end of a long-term investment, and at 10 episodes Fargo might have been just long-term enough to face that kind of scrutiny. Plot-wise, what might have satisfied the majority of viewers? Deaths of certain characters? Answers to questions about a particular character’s mortality? Do we ever have expectations for heroic outcomes anymore? The conclusion of this series is more interested in resolving the arcs of its good guys, and those resolutions are only satisfying on paper.

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Keith Carradine and Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo

This week, for the penultimate episode of Fargo, I’d like to start with the title. I normally leave that for the end of the recap, but for once I found there to be a very clear meaning as it relates to the plot of the show. The name of tonight’s installment, “A Fox, a Rabbit, and a Cabbage,” is one variation of a classic riddle that most of us probably heard in elementary school. I don’t have to state the idea behind it, because for the second episode in a row we got to hear Agent Budge (Keegan Michael Key) lay the title’s origin out directly. The main thing is it’s about trying to keep predators away from prey (or more simply, keeping one thing from another thing that the first thing would eat) while transporting them all together. Similarly, the premise of this episode involved multiple situations where characters kept nearly coming into alignment where one of them would have been killed. That caused this to be the most suspenseful episode yet. Especially after some new characters were eliminated rather quickly (so much for my excitement with Stephen Root‘s joining the cast, though he was good while he lasted) and this being so close to the end of the show, it just seemed more deaths could come at any moment. I took it as though showrunner Noah Hawley and director (and former child actor) Matt Shakman were dealing with their own variation of the riddle, where they had to maneuver the characters around in ways to […]

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Allison Tolman

If you’ve been holding off on watching Fargo, the television spin-off of Joel and Ethan Coen‘s cinematic classic of the same name, now is a pretty good time to get going on the FX series, not just because the limited series is approaching its end, and not just because it’s getting to be seriously good, but because it features one of the most exciting and zippy leading ladies to hit the small screen in quite some time. Basically, you’re going to want to get on board with superstar-in-the-making Allison Tolman right now, at least before the accolades and other roles start pouring in. (Some spoilers follow.) Fargo is best described as a spiritual twin to the film (though later episodes do quite directly link up the series and the movie), so it should come as little surprise that the show’s most cheer-worthy and compellingly human character is a female police officer (in this case, a deputy), just like in the 1996 black comedy, which found its heart and head in Frances McDormand‘s police chief Marge Gunderson. Tolman’s Molly Solverson is similarly the soul of the series, and even when the series gets oofta-sized rough, she remains unfailingly interesting and damn charming to watch.

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Fargo "The Heap"

First off, I want to note that I’m not going to put forth any more claim that this show has left the shadow of the Coen Brothers influence. Last week, I personally felt that it was standing enough on its own that I was no longer looking for or noticing references, but of course I was pointed to a couple fairly significant instances of quotation. I still feel like it’s departing from the pastiche, though, and that’s a good thing. But sure enough, it continues to make certain connections and allusions now and then. I did sense a Barton Fink homage in tonight’s episode with the close-up on a poster of women walking on a beach. And there’s an image of Molly (Allison Tolman) midway through that easily reminds us of Marge in the Fargo movie. More on that in a moment. Because of the narrative course of this week’s episode, titled “The Heap,” I do think it continues to break free in a way that makes it plausible that the series could continue beyond this mini run. The world of the show is strong enough. At the same time, this sure could have been a great series finale. You’ve got a kind of closure on some story lines, even if they’re not necessarily satisfying to the characters, or maybe some viewers. And then you have a device that pushes the plot forward in a way that we’re used to only seeing done in the very last episode of a show. Or, […]

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Key and Peele in Fargo

The show has had its ups and downs so far, but with its seventh episode Fargo is suddenly a series worth celebrating as a standalone entity. With “Who Shaves the Barber?” I finally forgot about all the Coen brothers blood that was pumping life into the heart of the show from the beginning. This was the best episode since the pilot, and in some ways it was even better because it didn’t rest on all that pastiche and influence. It’s a shame that we only have three more installments to go, as now I could see it actually continuing beyond its predetermined ten parts. That’s a big change of my mind from a few episodes ago when I wondered how series writer Noah Hawley was going to stretch out the show’s two main storylines for the whole series. But now we have the introduction of comedic duo Key & Peele — sorry, that’s actors Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele — providing the next level in the never-ending mouse hunt that is the pursuit of Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton). It’s a brief debut for their two FBI agents, and we’ll have to see how well they mesh with the show going further, but they sure do seem like an invigorating addition.

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Adam Goldberg in Fargo

In many ways, I liked this week’s episode of Fargo, titled “Buriden’s Ass,” as much as I disliked last week’s (both of them were directed by Colin Bucksey). It wasn’t perfect, but it had a good deal of action and racked up a serious body count. Not that deaths make a good show, but it was enough that stuff was happening. And much of that stuff led to conclusions for certain characters and questions for and about others, questions that are intriguing rather than frustrating. Some characters make really dumb choices, as is expected in this series, but interestingly Lester (Martin Freeman) was not one of them this time. He finally made decisions that indicate he could just make it through the finale alive, after all. There are two moments in the episode where characters are shown to be really thinking about what to do next. For Lester, it’s with a surprisingly lengthy close-up on Freeman’s face as he works out his plan. And by episode’s end, it seems to have been a good plan, albeit one involving a very cliched escape scenario and a few too many instances of illogical luck (why did no one from radiology look for their scheduled patient? why did Lester’s nephew do nothing when he saw the guy creeping around the house?). Then there’s Stavros (Oliver Platt), whose thought process was accompanied by those annoying reminder flashbacks. And by episode’s end, it seems his decision was not a good one at all.

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Fargo The Six Ungraspables

For an episode that rounds out the first half of a series, “The Six Ungraspables” is a surprisingly uneventful affair. I think it might be Fargo‘s worst, because as much as it moved the plot forward, it did so at a very slow pace and not in any way that added to the characters or their storylines. Or maybe I missed something. Maybe I didn’t grasp enough this time. Maybe I was too annoyed with the unnecessary opening sequence to appreciate much else in the hour that followed. One of my biggest issues with Fargo so far is its occasional hand holding. Another is its occasional lack of logic for the sake of convenience. This fifth episode was basically all about how Lester’s Macbethian hand injury fits into both of these criticisms. After last week’s opening, I got excited when it became apparent that this too was beginning with a flashback. And to a time without snow on the ground! Silly me even thought maybe there’d be a link to O Brother, Where Art Thou? this time because of the bluegrass music. Unfortunately, all this sequence did was show us how Lester (Martin Freeman) came to own a shotgun and illustrate as plainly as possible how that shotgun later caused the festering wound in his hand. Was there anyone who was watching and hadn’t understood what that injury was from or that there was still a pellet lodged in there, one that would easily lend itself as evidence that Lester was present during Chief […]

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Oliver Platt in Fargo

Just when I’m thinking that the Supermarket King storyline is worthless, this week it ties the Fargo series to its movie namesake. There was a tease in last week’s episode with the ice scraper in the office of Stavros (Oliver Platt), and now “Eating the Blame” opens with a flashback to 1987, which is the year in which the Fargo movie takes place. Funny, I just finally re-watched the movie the other day and was left wondering if someone would ever find the cash that Steve Buscemi’s character buries. Here’s the answer: Stavros found it miraculously in a moment of despair and used it to become grocery store royalty. I wonder if that will be the only link we get. It’s not important if it is or isn’t. What is important, at least this week, is the idea that miracles and plagues can be mistaken for each other. The finding of the money was a sure sign that “God is real” to Stavros, and it’s hard to argue that for 19 years it had to have seemed truly heaven sent. But he’s also likely had two decades of contemplating whether the briefcase belonged to someone and whether he’d be in trouble for taking it. The answer appeared to come in the form of the extortion note, completely accidental on the part of blackmailer Don (Glenn Howerton). And that it is accompanied by Biblical plagues of water turning to blood and locusts (really crickets, in a really great scene) makes it all the […]

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Colin Hanks in Fargo The Muddy Road

I can’t help but think Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) is a very careless criminal. The third episode of of the TV series Fargo, titled “The Muddy Road,” begins with the character kidnapping a man from his office during work hours in broad daylight for all to see. He’s also captured doing so on surveillance cameras. He may not show his face completely, but this is a guy with a pretty distinct look, and witnesses and closed-circuit video are easily going to be enough to put him in a tight spot. You’d think. Is he just that lucky? In the pilot episode he visits the man he’ll later murder in order to get a look at him, but everyone else there gets a good look at him, too. At the end of the same episode, he runs a stop sign in a stolen car after having murdered a couple people, including a police chief. Sure, he’s intimidating enough to get off on a warning without showing identification, but he’s eyeballed pretty good. And now, this week we also see him slip into the home of the Supermarket King (Oliver Platt), after having killed a dog in plain view outside, and just slowly and confidently continue his scheme even while the man of the house is audibly walking nearer and nearer to where Malvo is standing. There’s some nice tension there for the audience in the shot where you can see Platt walking down the hallway towards the kitchen, where Thornton is […]

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Billy Bob Thornton in Fargo Episode 2

As noted in my review of the pilot last week, the second episode of Fargo promised some more references to various Coen brothers movies, namely Raising Arizona and Burn After Reading. The former was in the form of Oliver Platt‘s “Supermarket King” character. He owns a chain of stores called Phoenix Farms and wrote a book called “American Phoenix.” I guess showrunner Noah Hawley didn’t want to go too on the nose by naming him Stavros Phoenix, though. Instead, his last name is Milos. As for the latter homage, there wasn’t much to it other than Glenn Howerton playing a personal trainer. Meanwhile, there were allusions to The Hudsucker Proxy (the man scraping the name off the police chief’s office door) and I’m gonna say A Serious Man, as the scene with Colin Hanks spying on his orthodox neighbor undressing reminded me of a scene from that film. The Easter eggs are fun but also a little distracting, particularly because I’m looking for more in every scene and wondering whom each newly introduced character might be based on. Has there been a deaf guy in any of the Coens’ movies, for instance, or is deaf actor Russell Harvard playing a wholly original part? Was the blackmail note a direct reference to The Big Lebowski or is it supposed to be just the stereotypical ransom sort seen in countless movies? The hunt might have been more consuming this time, because there wasn’t a whole lot going on in a focused manner in this episode, titled […]

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Allison Tolman in Fargo TV Series

It may not be the best movie of 1998, as its Best Picture honor claims it to be, but Shakespeare in Love is a delight for any drama nerd with a boner for the Bard. Hardly acceptable as a true account of the inspiration for and writing of “Romeo and Juliet,” John Madden’s film is really just a celebration of the work of William Shakespeare by being a pastiche of themes, tropes and lines from his plays. Another proper title for the movie would be “Mark Norman (and Tom Stoppard) in Love With Shakespeare.” In their script are direct reverential references — some of them nods of foreshadowing for things later to be written, others familiar devices employed as general homage — to “Hamlet,” “Twelfth Night,” “The Merchant of Venice” and more. Some of it is kind of silly if you find that sort of celebratory amalgamation and obvious, literal allusion to be a cheap reduction of an artist’s genius (at least Shakespeare got off better than The Beatles did in Across the Universe), and now that same kind of imitative collage is being done for Joel and Ethan Coen in the new TV series Fargo (making them modern day equivalents of the Bard, apparently deserving of equal admiration and tribute). Despite sharing its name with the filmmakers’ 1996 Best Picture nominee, the FX show is not quite an(other) adaptation or spin-off or remake of the story of Marge Gunderson and Jerry Lundegaard. It is not even set in the same Minnesota […]

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key_peele_magician_cop

If you spent the recent 30th anniversary of Police Academy wondering where the comedy franchise’s reboot is already, it seems that New Line might have been doing the same. And now they’ve revealed, via The Hollywood Reporter, that Key & Peele stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele are on board as producers of the next movie, which seems to be more of a continuation with an all new cast than a remake. That means we shouldn’t be wondering if the duo will be taking over the roles of Hightower and Jones, respectively, or — less racist in thought — pondering if one of them will be the new Mahoney. Still, we’re in the mood to play casting director, so let’s look at who among Key and Peele’s pals might be right for a part, if not any of the parts we love from the previous seven installments. A number of the guys they’ve worked with are actually old members of The State, which means they’ve all done their share of Police Academy antics on Reno 911 (so have both Key and Peele, as a matter of fact). Another comedic actor they’ve both worked with on more than a few occasions is Rob Huebel, who I could easily see as playing an antagonistic Captain Harris type. And how about their new friend Liam Neeson (aka Liam Neesons) as the academy commandant?

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FARGO new Blu release

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. Fargo Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is a used car salesman with money issues. He arranges to have his wife kidnapped in the hopes that her overbearing father will pay a ransom, she’ll be released, and everyone will come out a winner. Things don’t work out quite the way he planned though, and in addition to two madmen (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) holding his wife he’s also got a persistent cop (Frances McDormand) on his tail. The Coen brothers’ sixth feature film was their first to reach a wide audience, and that’s due as much to its fantastic sense of humor as it is its tremendous cast. It tells an incredibly dark and violent tale, but it does so in such a marvelously sweet and humorous way. Macy gets most of the funny lines, but McDormand runs a close second with a performance filled with genuine congeniality. This is actually Fargo‘s fourth appearance on Blu-ray, and by all accounts it’s identical to the 2009 release. This one has better cover art, but the special features are all the same. [Blu-ray extras: Commentary with Roger Deakins, featurettes, trailer]

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Van and Mike Key and Peele

Comedy Central has a ratings goldmine in comic duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, stars of the sketch comedy show Key & Peele, and they’re looking to further capitalize on this with development of an animated series based on two of the team’s popular characters. In October, it was announced that Season 4 of the highly popular show was ordered to the tune of 22 episodes, the largest since the first season in 2012, and that’s expected to hit the airwaves at some point during the third or fourth quarter of this year. The comedians and Comedy Central will apparently be spending their time before then developing their animated offering with the help of executive producer Rodney Barnes (The Boondocks, Everybody Hates Chris), Key & Peele collaborator Joel Zadak, Allen Fischer (Wonderland), and Brian Dobbins.

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fargotruth-1

Let’s paint a dark picture: You’ve finally snapped and committed the heinous act of murder. The problem is that you let it happen without properly planning things out. Now, you have this nasty little human corpse lying around. How do you get rid of it? Movies and literature have offered clever ways to get rid of dead bodies for years. In Luc Besson’s Nikita, Victor “The Cleaner” (Jean Reno) uses acid to dissolve bodies in a tub. In Psycho, Norman Bates mummifies his mother and keeps her around for posterity’s sake. And in the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare) feeds Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) to a woodchipper. Since concentrated acid is hard to come by (right, Mr. White?), and none of us at FSR have very good taxidermy skills, we got to wondering: Is a woodchipper an effective way to dispose of a body?

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fx movies

With yesterday’s announcement (via THR) that cable network FX is adding yet another television series to their development slate that comes from movie blood (this one is a spin on 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans, with that feature’s co-writer again returning to James Fenimore Cooper’s novel of the same name for historical entertainment), the network’s transformation from “channel that plays Fox reruns over and over” to “original programming dynamo” seems nearly complete. Well, nearly. The network has steadily turned out solid original television programming over the years – including shows like Nip/Tuck, The Shield, Rescue Me, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Damages, Sons of Anarchy, Justified, Archer, The League, Louie, Wilfred, The Americans, and American Horror Story – building the sort of slate that any network would love to have, and yet FX still doesn’t seem to get the same respect as other cable networks with their own original programming (like the current big gun, AMC). So why is that? Because what FX doesn’t have is its own brand identity – there is nothing about these shows that feels indelibly “FX-y.” In fact, every show currently airing on the network could easily be divided up along other network lines (The League could be HBO, and Justified is easily AMC, Louie could have a home at Comedy Central, and on and on). How can FX make “FX” finally sound like any television lover’s favorite network?

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