Cold blood? You betcha!

Bob Odenkirk plays Bill Oswalt and Allison Tolman is Molly Solverson in "Fargo," a 10-episode series set in Bemidji, Minn.
Bob Odenkirk plays Bill Oswalt and Allison Tolman is Molly Solverson in "Fargo," a 10-episode series set in Bemidji, Minn.
Posted: April 16, 2014

* FARGO. 10 tonight, FX.

SOMETHING WICKEDLY delicious this way comes with the premiere tonight of FX's "Fargo."

A 10-episode limited series with the potential to become a TV anthology, this "Fargo" isn't so much an adaptation of Joel and Ethan Coen's 1996 black comedy as it is a brand new vehicle built on classic lines and powered by Billy Bob Thornton as a provocateur named Lorne Malvo.

Suspicious of movie adaptations? Me, too. But every so often, someone figures out a way to reinvent a "Parenthood" or a "Friday Night Lights," and we're reminded rules are made to be broken.

Or in the case of Thornton's Malvo, the stranger who comes to town in "Fargo's" 97-minute premiere, ignored.

"Your problem is you've spent your whole life thinking there are rules. There aren't. We used to be gorillas. All we had is what we could take and defend," he tells weak-willed insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman, "The Hobbit," "Sherlock"), whose chance meeting with Malvo leads to all kinds of trouble.

This "Fargo" was written by Noah Hawley ("The Unusuals") with the blessing of the Coen brothers, who are executive producers but didn't offer much input beyond recommending casting director Rachel Tenner, who'd worked on the original film. She helped put together a cast that includes Allison Tolman, Colin Hanks, Kate Walsh, Bob Odenkirk, Keith Carradine, Glenn Howerton, Adam Goldberg, Oliver Platt and "Key & Peele" stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele.

That's a fun group and the performances are all terrific. But "Fargo's" smartest move is to echo the original - it claims to be a true story, someone's expecting a baby, there's a lot of snow - without trying to replace Frances McDormand, who won an Oscar for playing pregnant sheriff Marge Gunderson. (Edie Falco starred as Marge in a 2003 TV pilot directed by Kathy Bates that didn't get picked up.)

Tolman plays a sheriff's deputy, the aptly named Molly Solverson, in this new story, set in 2006 in Bemidji, Minn. She's more of a Marge in training, not yet recognized, even by herself, as the smartest person in most of the rooms she'll be in.

Not that that's saying much. "Fargo" isn't set in Lake Wobegon: The men aren't all good-looking and the children - particularly the male offspring we encounter - are decidedly not above average. But it's still the kind of place where people have signs in their bedrooms reading, "Everything happens for a reason."

Calgary stands in for Minnesota, but the accents should sound authentic enough to Eastern ears and the snow (did I mention the snow?) is the real thing.

Freeman's Lester hints at but doesn't impersonate Jerry Lundegaard, the beleaguered car salesman William H. Macy played in the original, in which one bad idea led to a blood-tinged avalanche of consequences.

That was plenty for two hours, but this "Fargo," built to last for 10, allows the drifting menace of Thornton's character to take us for a much twistier slay ride.

Best to bundle up.


On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: ph.ly/EllenGray

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