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Review: FX's 'Fargo'

It would be interesting to poll film fans and ask which entry in the Coen brothers canon would be a most popular pick for a translation to television. Alas, with Jeff Bridges probably a bit too busy to don the Dude’s shades once again, the faithful will have to make due with Fargo, which premieres April 15 on FX.

So, to answer the first, most pressing question: How does series showrunner/writer Noah Hawley manage to keep comparisons to the Oscar-winning source at bay? He does so by sporting a whole new story and set of characters, while retaining the same humor and offbeat Minnesota vocabulary, not to mention that unforgiving frigid weather and equally cold regard for human life. Oh, and it helps that Joel and Ethan Coen are fellow EPs on the project.

Much like Frances McDormand’s pregnant police chief in the film, the conscience of the series is Deputy Molly Solverson (excellent relative newcomer Allison Tolman), who investigates a string of murders that will no doubt nag all the characters throughout this 10-episode limited series. Well … all except Lorne Malvo, a man of unique morals thankfully played by Billy Bob Thornton, who clearly enjoys his post as prime mover in the mystery and drama. Whenever Malvo is around, the action can best be described as, “Ooh, yah, there will be blood!” Some of it isn’t for the faint of heart, but it seems to fit perfectly in the FX fan wheelhouse.

Also along for this most enjoyable ride are the omnipresent Martin Freeman, trading Sherlock’s Watson and Bilbo Baggins’s big feet for the understandably addled Lester Nygaard; Oliver Platt as a rich man being quite literally plagued by a blackmailer; and Colin Hanks as frustrated police officer Gus Grimly.

There are well-played in-jokes in this diverting exercise and they include: a great many characters tossed into the trunks of cars by evil men; Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard as the oddest couple of bad guys; arguably the most humorous, inevitable use of the popular “ooh yah” phrasing; and a wondrous, gasp-inducing solution to one of the film’s great mysteries.

By sticking close to the sensibility of the source, and adding enough suspense, shocks, humor and oddness to make a new spin on the action, this series earns perhaps the best reaction any adaptation of Fargo can: It’s much more than just kinda funny lookin.’