New, Fifth Incarnation Of 'Fargo' Packs Powerful Punch

Watching the premiere episode of the new season of “Fargo” was an unsettling experience.

Feelings of unease stuck with me for about an hour after previewing the episode on Friday. 

The episode was violent and dark. It maintained an intense -- and at times, nearly unbearable -- level of suspense that helps explain the anxiety that lingered afterwards.

The bottom line? The show was great, one of the best I’ve previewed all year. 

True, there have been a lot fewer shows to review this year, thanks to the writers’ and actors’ strikes.

But I’m reasonably certain this new incarnation of “Fargo” -- its fifth since the first one in 2014 -- would end up high on a list of the best shows of 2023 regardless of how many other shows came and went this year.



Of the four “Fargos” that have come before this new one, my own record is checkered. In 2017, I complained so often about Season Three, in which Ewan MacGregor played two brothers, that even I got tired of reading about it.

And when Season Four came around, I felt that Chris Rock had been miscast as a local crime boss.

But that was three years ago, and now, “Fargo” is back in all its uncomfortable, creepy glory.

The TV series’ tenuous relationship to the 1996 Coen brothers movie of the same name starring William H. Macy and Frances McDormand bears explaining every time a new cycle of the “Fargo” TV show comes around.

Basically, the TV show shares geography -- mainly the snowy, frigid, vast plains of the northern Midwest in winter -- and a woebegone sensibility with the movie.

The Coen brothers are not involved in the TV show at all. And if memory serves, none of the shows have set foot in the city of Fargo, North Dakota, although all of them take place in the same basic region. 

But other than that, not much is taken from the movie for the TV show, although sharp-eyed fans of the movie will pick up references to the movie from time to time.

For example, in the new one, the husband of the main character -- played by Juno Temple (above photo left) -- happens to work in a car dealership, the same job held by the ill-fated William H. Macy character in the movie.

One of the things these “Fargo” seasons are known for is a claim made at the outset of all of them that we are about to see “a true story.”

The story, the writing on the screen claims, “has been told exactly as it occurred.” The TV Blog will refrain from complaining about this again (because really, who cares?), but it is not unreasonable to react to such a claim cynically.

In Episode One, the story starts to shape up as one about a woman -- the Temple character, Dorothy “Dot” Lyon -- living a mundane life in a typical Minnesota town with her husband and young daughter.

Her mother-in-law is a gun-toting, super-rich control freak named Lorraine Lyon, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (above photo right), who wields power in the small town.

In Episode One, Dot suddenly finds herself pursued by masked killers for reasons that are not revealed, but only hinted at.

The scenario reminded me of the 2005 Viggo Mortensen movie “A History of Violence,” which was about a man seemingly minding his own business in a small town when he is suddenly visited by hoodlums who apparently have axes to grind and scores to settle.

If the character of Dot in “Fargo” is anything like diner owner Tom Stall in “A History of Violence,” then “Fargo” fans are in for a thrilling ride.

The fifth season of “Fargo” premieres Tuesday, November 21, at 10 p.m. Eastern and Wednesday on Hulu.

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