BINGE-R #67: Fargo + July’s Best Shows
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 10 episodes now streaming (plus S1 + S2)
That was quick. The third season of Fargo, the anthology crime series borne from the woodchipped morality of the Coen brothers’ 1996 feature, was airing on SBS just three months ago, but now it’s on Netflix. The first season didn’t hold my attention, but the second won me back [review here]. I’m mostly taken with the new episodes – which are headlined by dual Ewan McGregor performances as rival siblings Emmit and Ray Stussy – but with a caveat: the small screen Fargo has recurring themes and structure, including the everyday choices between right and wrong and the presence of a malignant, mysterious force of evil, which means it takes time for the new batch to create the menacing, offbeat grip the show specialises in.
The turning point for me was the third episode, a self-contained detour featuring Fargo’s latest dedicated law enforcement officer, small town police chief Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon). Investigating the death of her elderly stepfather, who is a tragically dumb casualty of the machinations between the Stussy brothers, Gloria discovers the cantankerous old man had a secret previous life, as a science-fiction author lured to 1970s Hollywood. “Well, he was something to somebody,” Gloria tells an unenthused witness in between flashbacks and animated segues, and Coon, best known for The Leftovers, gives the character an everyday righteousness and sharp instincts; you want to follow every step of her investigation.
McGregor is very good as the successful Emmit (“the parking lot king of Minnesota”), and the younger, balding Ray, a parole officer still smarting from a youthful trade with his brother that worked out badly. Instead of stressing their differences, the Scottish actor reminds you of the similarities so that their vexed feuding is underpinned by a genuine connection. But in this realm of snow-covered prairies and quiet towns, the sharpest operators are women such as Gloria and Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Ray’s paroled client turned girlfriend. When not pushing the pair up the competitive bridge ladder, she’s advancing Ray’s cause with sometimes excessive results.
Once you get past the punctuating chatter of “anyhoo” and a death attributed to “misadventure by major appliance”, the show’s creator Noah Hawley bears down on how easy it is to dig yourself a hole and the futility of trying to pull yourself out: “life’s a journey,” breezily, and incorrectly, remarks a character covering up their first killing. As well as Ray, Emmit has to deal with the mysterious V.M. Varga (David Thewlis), an unscrupulous British investor in his business who’s become a not so silent partner. With his weary malevolence, Varga’s a gangster for this wronged, wintry landscape. Watching him and Gloria move irrevocably towards each other makes the third go around of Fargo enticing.
JULY’S BEST SHOWS
1 – The Handmaid’s Tale S1 (SBS on Demand): Hands down the top series to debut this month, this dystopian drama about a brutal American theocracy starring Elisabeth Moss reveals “how easily a woman can be cut off from everything that underpins her life: freedom, love, and seemingly even hope”. [review here]
2 – The Same Sky S1 (Netflix): Set in the divided Germany of the 1970s, where a Stasi agent from the East sets out to seduce a target in the West, and “exploiting gaps in ideology, gender and empathy, this drama about deception gives as good as it gets, twisting into complicated, unexpected perspectives within just six episodes”. [review here]
3 – Ozark S1 (Netflix): Once you get past the Breaking Bad echo, this drama where Jason Bateman plays a desperate, relocated money launderer establishes “its own take on how malfeasance with the best of intentions can settle into a home with corrosive intent”. [review here]
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