BINGE-R #39: Fargo + Cuckoo

BINGE-R #39: Fargo + Cuckoo

 Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Ted Danson (Sheriff Larsson) in Stan’s  Fargo

Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Ted Danson (Sheriff Larsson) in Stan’s Fargo

FARGO S2

Streaming Service: Netflix

Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming

I paid no attention to the second season of Fargo, the crime anthology spun off from the Coen brothers’ celebrated 1996 feature film, when it appeared 18 months ago. I’d tapped out on the first season after a few episodes, unimpressed by its cruel menace and general iciness. But Fargo’s small screen creator, Noah Hawley, recently delivered a knockout series via Foxtel, the X-Men pocket universe Legion, which made me reconsider his work. Going back to season two of Fargo I found a show that was weirder, wilder and yet quieter than the initial offering. The story’s inciting crimes, committed in very cold blood, bestowed a melancholic sense of mortality.

The flat Germanic consonants and the setting remain the same – the snowy prairies of North Dakota – although the year is 1979 and the runt of the local organised crime family, Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin), has managed to turn the intimidation of a local judge at a deserted Waffle Hut into a triple homicide. Blood and milkshake pool together on a diner table, as the charge of pulp violence is redrawn by untoward flourishes, circling back to the disbelief at life’s brutal outcomes that percolated through the original movie.

“That’s how it starts, with something small” notes the town of Fargo’s lawyer, Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman), sitting in a local veterans’ hall where an entire wall is dominated by a blown up photo of a World War II fighter plane. Hawley has a distinct aesthetic that’s become more ambitious with each show, with production design flourishes and dialogue rhythms – accentuated here by the cheery blandishments exchanged by locals – that gives the investigation of the Waffle Hut homicides by a state trooper, Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), and his father-in-law, local sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson), a regretful otherworldliness.

Strange moments dot the initial episodes (hello Ronald Reagn), and moments of terror have a sad undercurrent, as if no-one can accept where they find themselves. Rye’s clan are soon facing the expansion plans of an organised crime syndicate from Kansas City, but the storyline that hints most as looming tragedy is that of an ambitious hairdresser, Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst) and her butcher husband Ed (Jesse Plemons), whose love for his wife soon has him crossing lines he never would have imagined even coming close to. By all means skip the first season of Fargo, but don’t miss the second one. It has a strange, soulful undercurrent just out of your grasp.

 Puss in Cahoots: Andy Samberg (Cuckoo) in Netflix’s  Cuckoo

Puss in Cahoots: Andy Samberg (Cuckoo) in Netflix’s Cuckoo

CUCKOO S1

Streaming Service: Netflix

Availability: All six episodes now streaming

Andy Samberg has many fans. Some hoover up every episode of the American comedian’s sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Netflix has the first three seasons), others treasure his sketches and feature film with comic troupe The Lonely Island; I’m not so sure about the Adam Sandler movies, however. Cuckoo, a culture clash British sitcom from 2012 with Samberg as an unlikely son-in-law, should more than satisfy his followers. Lined with embarrassing sincerity and a streak of humour that escalates from bemused to the bizarre, the six half hour episodes are readily binged.

When Staffordshire couple Ken and Lorna Thompson (Greg Davies and Helen Baxendale) pick up their daughter Rachel (Tamla Kari) from their airport following her gap year traveling, they’re shocked to be introduced to her loving new husband, American hippie bro Cuckoo. “Part teacher, part visionary, part firebrand”, Cuckoo is a mix of exaggerated self-regard and backpacker douchebag. Samberg can crush this type of role – note the way he pronounces peyote “pay-o-tay”, like he’s a hallucinogenic connoisseur – and Cuckoo is soon vexing Ken, a solicitor whose orderly life starts running out of control. By the end of just the first episode he’s trying to bribe Cuckoo to shoot through.

Robin French and Keiron Quirke’s comedy could easily be about Cuckoo’s excruciating imposition, but his presence also changes the family dynamic – Lorna is smitten with him, for example – in ways that allow for a deeper, devious humour than the son-in-law’s habit of meditating in the nude or making a wildly suggestive wedding celebration speech. The strained accommodations of British suburban life keep bubbling to the surface, and it helps considerably that Greg Davies towers over Samberg and his character’s collection of indigenous peasant vests. Cuckoo is smart enough not to get by on mere irritation.

Note: Netflix also has season two of Cuckoo, where Samberg was replaced by Twilight werewolf Taylor Lautner, and that switch I can’t vouch for. So to recap: yes to Fargo season two and Cuckoo season one, no to Fargo season one and Cuckoo season two.

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