Big Issue Vendor

Fargo taps into our deepest fears, and not just because of the ad breaks

Easily the worst thing about watching the fourth season of Fargo is that I have had to do so on More 4, says Sam Delaney. Good thing it's worth it.
Jessie Buckley stars in Fargo season four as Oraetta Mayflower. CR: Elizabeth Morris/FX

Easily the worst thing about watching the fourth season of Fargo is that I have had to do so on More 4, a channel which actually makes you watch the ad breaks. Can you believe that shit? I mean, at least over on Sky they pay lip service to the advertisers by including ads in their watch-again shows – but allow us, the humble viewers, to fast forward through them.

Of course, there might be someone, somewhere, who chooses not to fast forward. Perhaps they find that meerkat funny. Or they are emotionally invested in the travails of the hapless singer off the Go Compare ads. It seems unlikely though. When you’re balls deep in some suspense-rich premium drama you’re unlikely to welcome the interruption of anything, let alone dreary, patronising adverts that insult our intelligence and denigrate our culture.

I wrote a book once about the so-called Golden Age of British advertising when the commercial break was lit up by the like of the Smash Martians, the Honey Monster, Nick Kamen in his underwear or, my personal favourite, George the Hofmeister Bear. Now those were ads that really could raise a smile. But even then you would merely tolerate as opposed to actually welcome them. If you’d had the option of a fast-forward button at the time, you’d almost certainly have used it. So what hope has the ad break got nowadays? I had to sit through a 30-second promotion for ginger beer the other day that was so witless and condescending I nearly had to call the doctor and ask him to up my medication.

It’s testament to the high quality of the fourth season of Fargo that I persisted bravely through ads as awful as these in order to watch it. You’ll probably be very aware of the late ’90s movie of the same name, made by the Coen brothers and starring Frances McDormand.

Strangely, the Fargo name was revived nearly 20 years later by the writer/director Noah Hawley who has produced four outstanding seasons of the drama that have no explicit link to the original movie or each other. All they owe to the original is an abstract sense of atmosphere. With dark-skied northern states as their snowy backdrop (the series are set variously in Wisconsin, North Dakota and Minnesota) they usually focus on ordinary folk who become accidentally embroiled in criminal acts, leading to a terrifying sequence of events that they cannot control.

I’m a member of the ordinary folk and I have dreams along these lines all the time. Usually, I have accidentally committed murder or stolen some money and am on the lamb from both the law and a shadowy criminal outfit. I guess most of us are trying to get through life by keeping our heads down and hoping for the best that we don’t ever end up in the nick or being beaten to death inside one of those walk-in freezer units by a member of one of the famous organised crime syndicates. So the idea that we could stumble accidentally into one of those situations by virtue of a seemingly innocuous, everyday decision really taps into our deepest fears. That, I reckon, is what makes the Fargo series so compelling. Or maybe it’s just the graphic violence and that.

Either way, it’s enough for me to sit through about six bloody ad breaks per episode without kicking my own TV in. The ads were better back in the Eighties but they had to be – most of the telly was shit. These days, the standard of TV has had to improve in order for us to stomach the ads.

Season Four of Fargo is on Channel 4 and More 4