Fargo – nuanced and wilfully weird drama still thriving after 21 years

Forget Marvel superheroes, Star Wars spin-offs and Lego films, Sam Delaney just keeps returning to Fargo and its surreal stories set in ice-dusted Minnesota

I reckon Fargo is one of the best shows on telly. The first series starred Martin Freeman as a cowardly but murderous husband and Billy Bob Thornton as a psychopathic hitman. It was great. The second series starred Kirsten Dunst as a stabby housewife and Ted Danson as a heroic grandad. It was even greater. The third series, which I am balls-deep in right at the minute, stars Ewan McGregor as a pair of twins (yes, he plays both roles, like Tom Hardy in Legend) at war with each other over rights to their dead father’s legacy. It is not quite as great as the first two but still excellent compared to most TV drama.

Just like the first two series, it is deftly plotted, riddled with twists, turns, suspense and the very occasional touch of surrealism. The plot is only vaguely linked to the first two series but it once again is played out against the moody, ice-dusted backdrop of Minnesota, where clouds of cold steam emerge with every line of dialogue and blood splatters vividly across the snowy landscape.

The violence is slightly less graphic than it was in series one and two: the villain, played by David Thewlis, is more a creepy gentleman gangster than a loopy sociopathic thug. He toys with his victims psychologically, taking control of McGregor’s small-town car-park empire with a chillingly unspoken threat of unimaginable violence. In one memorable scene, he casually pisses in a victim’s coffee mug then gently cajoles him into drinking the lot. It really is fabulous entertainment.

FARGO -- Pictured: David Thewlis as V.M. Vargas. CR: Matthias Clamer/FX
David Thewlis as V.M. Vargas in the latest season of Fargo

The Coen brothers released the original film of the same name way back in 1996. On the face of it, you might not have guessed it would have endured as a successful franchise two decades later. It was a strange, darkly comic murder mystery set in one of the least glamorous parts of the United States. But it is the eerie atmosphere, the unique setting, the intricate narrative, the smart dialogue and the oddball characters that has secured its continued success.

In one memorable scene, he casually pisses in a victim’s coffee mug then gently cajoles him into drinking the lot. It really is fabulous entertainment

In the days of Marvel superheroes, Star Wars spin-offs and films about Lego, it can sometimes feel as if the whole entertainment industry is in thrall to the brutish power of bright colours, loud noises, gut-churning special effects and muscular actors in daft spandex outfits.

Fargo bucks that trend. It proves that entertainment can still find an audience while being unconventional, nuanced and wilfully weird. It proves that little lives can be just as dramatic as big ones. And it proves that great writing can deliver a franchise that is still thriving after 21 years.

Watch Fargo on Netflix