We’re a few weeks into the official Fall TV season, (whatever that really means in 2015 when TV shows begin and end all-year-round, sometimes not even on TV.) And the general consensus is a resounding MEH. All of the broadcast networks new shows range from 'Good God, this is awful' to 'this is too meh to commit my time to.' Ryan Murphy, probable racist, definitely Washed Up Auteur, contributed Trash on Arrival premieres across broadcast and cable with Scream Queens and the even worse American Horror Story: Hotel. The Walking Dead, defining Basic Blockbuster of our time, has returned.
Thank God for Fargo.
The series returns to FX tonight for its second season, but as another participant in the ever popular anthology trend, i.e. it's a whole new story independent of season one. Well, technically it’s a prequel. It’s 1979 and Lou Solverson, the grizzled, retired cop/wise dad played by David Carradine last year, is a young state trooper (a taciturn but compelling Patrick Wilson) who finds himself embroiled in a mob war. Remember the big massacre Old Lou made cryptic references to last season? We’ll get to see that go down, and if the first four episodes of the season are any indication, it will not disappoint.
Where last season was a smaller affair not dissimilar to the movie from which it draws inspiration, season 2 is a sprawling, pulsating mass filled with one colorful, funny-accented character after another, with storylines slowly contracting before it all implodes in the inevitable massacre. The episodes are “slow,” but never boring...instead taking time to carefully introduce and invest in every character so that we actually care when shit goes down, unlike other anthology series this year that failed to make us care about well, anything.
The cast is so phenomenal there isn’t even a clear standout. Jean Smart is the steely matriarch of the Gerhardts, a local, tight-knit crime family, staving off corporate absorption from the Kansas City mob syndicate. Burn Notice's Jeffrey Donovan shows a new side of himself as the bullish, hot-headed son who threatens to ruin the detente. Bokeem Woodbine is quite possibly doing the best work of his career as the Kansas City enforcer sent to facilitate the deal by any means necessary. Kirsten Dunst is aces as an increasingly loathsome young wife, this season's sociopathic answer to Lester Nygaard, who lands herself and her doting husband squarely in the middle of the brewing crime war. Ted Danson fills in for David Carradine as the warm and wise veteran who may or may not make it to season's end. Everyone is fantastic; every character is transfixing. The cinematography remains gorgeous, the sequences and setpieces directed with rhythmic flair, and emphasis on a new split-screen feature.
Last year it was bold to say Fargo was better than True Detective. This year, that's an extremely lightweight accomplishment. But as of late, Anthology TV, despite being trendy, has shown diminishing returns overall, with ensuing seasons falling victim to their own ambition, or else failing to launch entirely. Unlike his peers though, so far every swing series maestro Noah Hawley takes seems to connect, flawlessly. The new season is hungrily ambitious in every way, but the first four episodes—almost half of the season, mind you—still feels like it's on stable ground. That's including a decidedly out-there twist in the premiere that helps facilitate the ensuing clusterfuck that comes to pass. Any other series would get one hell of a raised eyebrow. But Fargo, and Hawley, have already earned our trust. It feels nice to watch something on TV without the apprehension of a brick. There may be something airborne in Fargo's skies, but at press time, it is thankfully not the jig.