With any reboot, one can either scrape the bottom of the barrel or reach for the stars. One can ignore the special elements of a well known property, or hold them up proudly for the world to see. You could have a Hannibal, which honors the movies that came before it, or you could have a Terminator: Genisys, which retains none of its predecessors’ qualities and presents no merits of its own.
When most properties get rebooted, it’s easy to picture them embarking in one direction or the other. But there are some properties fans couldn’t imagine going down either path, because, quite frankly, they would never expect those properties to get rebooted in the first place.
Fargo, a singular piece of work that many consider to be the Coen Brothers’ best film, counts as one of these properties. Who in their right mind would attempt a Fargo reboot of any kind? Fortunately, FX took a leap of faith and aired Noah Hawley’s televised version of Fargo. What viewers got is one of the best shows on television, which returns for a third season this month.
Here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Fargo (The TV Show).
15. It takes place in the same universe as the movie
Viewers questioned this during the first episodes of Fargo. Was the the movie simply a loose inspiration for the TV show, or was the show set the same world of Marge Gunderson and Jerry Lundegaard? In the end, it doesn’t matter. Fargo works as well on its own as it does alongside the movie. Still, it was exciting for fans to discover there was in fact a connection between TV show and movie.
In the film, Carl Showalter (played by Steve Buscemi) hides a suitcase filled with money from the Lundegaard kidnapping. Showalter pulls to the side of desolate road and buries the suitcase in the snow, marking it’s location with a red ice scraper. Showalter’s partner kills him, and the suitcase remains it its location, now unknown to everybody alive.
Then Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt) breaks down in the same place Showalter stopped ten years before. Stavros steps out of his car and notices the red ice scraper in the snow. The suitcase money buys Stavros a grocery empire, but ultimately brings him tragedy.
14. Ewan McGregor actually gained weight for his role
Some roles require actors to go through intensive training and lose excessive amounts of weight to look the part. But other roles allow, or even demand, actors to eat to their hearts content and gain weight. These actors are the lucky ones, at least until their weight gain becomes a detriment to their health.
As Ewan McGregor giddily explained on Jimmy Kimmel, he had to gain weight for his role on Fargo season three. This opened him up to eat anything he wanted whenever he wanted. When Kimmel asked McGregor to specify the number of pounds he had to gain, the Scottish actor said he didn’t know. His only guideline was to get bigger than he currently was. This must’ve been tricky since McGregor had to gain weight to play Ray Stussy and simultaneously play the relatively slender Emmit Stussy, Ray’s older brother. As if handling dual roles wasn’t taxing enough.
13. You can jump in any season
Fargo hopped on the season by season anthology trend first popularized by American Horror Story. Each new year uses a different bloody quagmire to fuel the season’s plotline. Unlike American Horror Story, and more in line with True Detective, Fargo also switches up its ensemble between seasons, so you’re constantly seeing new faces on the show.
Season one centered on a whirlwind of trouble brought on by Lester Nygaard and Lorne Malvo, played by Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thorton respectively. The two trigger a series of violent events that come under cop Molly Solverson’s (Allison Tolman) investigation. Season two tells the story of Molly’s father, Lou (Patrick Wilson), and an incident at Sioux Falls roughly thirty years earlier.
Season three starts off in 2010, and boasts a cast featuring Carrie Coon, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michael Stuhlbarg, and David Thewlis to name a few. We’ll have to wait to find out what connections, beyond setting, season three shares with the other two.
12. Noah Hawley also created Legion
After Noah Hawley impressed FX with two critically lauded seasons of Fargo, the network hired Hawley to create Legion, FX’s joint venture with Marvel Television. Hawley’s new show is based on a character from X-Men comics named David Haller, a mutant carrying a dangerous cocktail of telekinetic powers and mental disturbances.
The first season of Legion received praise from critics and viewers, primarily for its visual flair and impressive cast. The show’s main characters included Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens, as Haller, and Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza, as the mysterious Lenny. Legion‘s primary castmembers also included Jean Smart and Rachel Keller, who played mother and daughter on the second season of Fargo.
Legion will return for a ten episode second season in 2018. It’s the first live-action TV series based on X-Men comics, and fans are still wondering whether or not it’ll tie into the existing X-Men movies. Perhaps Hawley can cleverly intertwine the show and movies as he did for Fargo.
11. And he’s a published author
Somehow, between two intricate prestige TV shows, Hawley published a nearly 400 page novel. Before the Fall isn’t Hawley’s first novel, but it is his best known thanks to Fargo‘s great success. The New York Times hailed Before the Fall as one of the best suspense novels of its year, and the book was nominated for the Edgar Allen Poe Award.
Before the Fall chronicles the aftermath of a plane crash. Of the eleven passengers, only two survive: a painter in a tight spot and the son of a wealthy media mogul who died in the crash. Further inspection of the disaster suggests their might be a larger conspiracy at play. Rapid page-turning ensues.
Soon after the novel’s publication, Sony Pictures bought the rights for Before the Fall. They tapped Hawley to adapt his book into a screenplay. Hawley will have to juggle the adaptation, his two shows on FX, a future TV show based on Cat’s Cradle, his feature film directorial debut, and an undisclosed project for Universal’s Monsters Cinematic Universe. Deep breaths, Noah.
10. The show has Coen brother references galore
Hawley makes zero effort to hide his affection for the Coen brothers. And thank God for that, because Fargo is a goldmine for fans of the directors (who, though attached to the TV series in name, are barely involved with Hawley’s project). Fargo subtly references everything from the Coen’s goofy comedies to their pitch black thrillers.
In the very first episode of Fargo, Lester Nygaard walks into a restaurant that offers a White Russian as one of their specials, a clear nod to The Dude’s beverage of choice in The Big Lebowski. Lorne Malvo echoes the malevolent ways of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. So does Mike Milligan, played by Bokeem Woodbine, who at one point actually calls someone “friendo.”
Other nods to the works of the Coen brothers lie in the cast. Thorton is a Coen veteran, having starred in The Man Who Wasn’t There. In terms of this season, series newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg was the main character in the Coens’ A Serious Man.
9. And allusions to other stuff
Hawley’s fascinations extend beyond the work of Joel and Ethan Coen. He slips little nods to other movies and TV shows throughout the show. The majority of these references have to do with the castmembers on Fargo.
One easter egg involves an allusion to the original, UK version of The Office, which starred Martin Freeman as Tim (the basis for Jim, on the sitcom’s American incarnation). Freeman’s Lester Nygaard is asked by two FBI agents (played by comedy duo Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele) a riddle about a fox, a rabbit, and a cabbage. In The Office, Tim is asked the same question. In both series, Freeman’s characters solve the riddle.
Many of the actors in Fargo’s cast have worked with each other before. Freeman and Billy Bob Thorton were both in the romantic Christmas comedy Love Actually. Adam Goldberg from season one previously starred in Saving Private Ryan, a film that Ted Danson, from season two, appeared in as well.
8. Very little of it takes place in Fargo
Fargo is very much defined by its location, the location being midwestern states like Minnesota and North Dakota. The accents, the warm hearted nature amongst inhabitants, and the freezing cold temperature, all define the very specific region Fargo calls home. But the area this show spends the least amount of time in is probably Fargo itself.
Fargo is an actual town in North Dakota that had the misfortune of becoming associated with a gruesome movie in the mid-nineties. Fargo, unsurprisingly, exists in the fictional world of Fargo the TV show. But most of the action season one takes place in Bemidji, Minnesota. Bemidji’s association with Fargo has to do with two hit-men who travel to the former location for a job.
Season two spends more time in Fargo. This time the town acts as the home of the Gerhardt crime family in 1979. But even season two dwells primarily in Minnesota, largely in the town of Luverne, where unfulfilled beautician Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst) lives with her husband Ed (Jesse Plemons).
7. None of this was based on a true story
The Coens’ 1996 classic disturbed audiences from the opening frame. An epigraph placed at the beginning of the film attests that what audiences will see is based on true events. The names of the real people involved were changed to respect those who survived the ordeal, and those who didn’t
This was a bold-faced lie, which accomplished exactly what it was meant to. Watching Fargo under the impression that it drew inspiration from real life only makes the film more disturbing. It’s hard to swallow the fact that these scenes actually played out in the real world. And it must be a fact because the movie said so!
No one appreciates the twisted brilliance of the Coens more than Hawley. Every episode of Fargo opens with a disclaimer that states everything that happens in the show happened in reality. Viewers new to the show probably buy this and subsequently find every episode horrifying. But for those of us who know the disclaimers are falsehoods, it’s really funny to see Hawley purposefully beat this dead horse.
6. The show actually films during winter
If you’re wondering why it takes so long for Fargo to return each season, just blame it on the weather. The crew actually films each season in winter so they can capture the actual conditions of the show. That being said, we have to wait about a year and half between each season of Fargo so the show can be made just right.
Dismaying as this is, you have to give a round of applause for the cast and crew of Fargo. Filming in the snow is no cakewalk. It entails setting up expensive cameras and equipment in the snow and the slush. But the Fargo team endures so that they can bring their fans the best show possible.
This might be harder if Fargo was a standard drama series that continued one season’s story on into the next. But since each season’s story is totally insular, we don’t have to deal with cliffhangers in one’s season finale nagging us until the followup season comes around. We can just watch Legion instead.
5. It shares creative DNA with Breaking Bad
Even with Better Call Saul on the air, it’s safe to assume that TV aficionados everywhere miss Breaking Bad something awful. Every show with a dark antihero feels totally limp in comparison to Vince Gilligan’s absent masterpiece. All that’s left to do is finding the shows that inherited Breaking Bad‘s venerable talent.
Fargo‘s arsenal of talent houses several names that were once attached to Breaking Bad. The pilot episode, “The Crocodile’s Dilemma,” was directed by Adam Bernstein, a director who lays claim to eight episodes of Breaking Bad. Bernstein is responsible for Bad‘s season four premiere, “Box Cutter,” one of the series’ best. Director Colin Bucksey did several episodes of Breaking Bad in addition to his work on Fargo and Better Call Saul.
4. One writer on the show worked with Hawley on Bones
Noah Hawley’s first regular job in television was on Bones. Hawley spent three years as a writer and story editor on Fox’s procedural drama. He stopped working for the show in 2008. After creating two short lived series, The Unusuals and My Generation, Hawley finally wrote Fargo for FX. In his long journey to becoming showrunner of a successful series, Hawley kept his friends close along the way.
Steve Blackman is a producer and writer who spent time as both for Bones. Before re-teaming with Hawley on Fargo, Blackman penned scripts for Private Practice and Las Vegas, and also produced episodes of both shows. Blackman became a consulting producer on Fargo, and wrote the episodes “Fear and Trembling” and “The Castle” for season two. The latter was co-written with Hawley.
3. Many of the actors were on Hawley’s The Unusuals
The first TV show Hawley created, The Unusuals, ran for ten episodes before its cancellation. The show, starring a pre-Hurt Locker Jeremy Renner, covered a notorious NYPD precinct staffed with dysfunctional cops. It was a dark comedy aired on ABC for one season.
A decent sum of actors from The Unusuals turned up on Fargo years after the former was terminated. Most prominently, Adam Goldberg held a key role in season one while Cristin Millioti held an equally important one in season two. Goldberg played a hitman from Fargo, the town, and Millioti played Molly Solverson’s mother Betsy.
Besides Fargo, Goldberg and Millioti both bounced back after The Unusuals. Golberg became a regular on The Jim Gaffigan Show (the star of which will be in Fargo season three) and Millioti became the fabled mother on How I Met Your Mother. Ryan O’Nan, Joshua Close, and Susan Park are other actors who did both The Unusuals and Fargo.
2. Hawley is the name of a town near Fargo
Perhaps it was destiny that brought Noah Hawley and Fargo together, judging that, geographically speaking, they were already very close to each other. If you’re one who believes in signs, it might astound you to learn that Hawley is the name of an actual town in Minnesota that neighbors Fargo.
Hawley and Fargo are roughly thirty minutes apart, separated by the boarder between North Dakota and Minnesota. No movies have been made about Hawley yet, so hopefully the residents of that town become associated with a delightful romantic comedy, whereas Fargo residents are associated with a deeply unsettling thriller.
Hawley the person never lived in the midwest. He was born in New York City and raised by a playwright mother and a businessman father. He now lives between Austin, Texas and Los Angeles. In case you wanted to get a head start on stalking him.
1. This is not the first attempt at a Fargo TV show
Turns out the unthinkable had already been thought of, as somebody in 2003 had the audacity to try a Fargo TV series. This show was supposed to be about Marge Gunderson, Frances McDormand’s Oscar winning role from the movie. In this version, the straight and narrow cop from Brainerd, Minnesota was set to be played by Edie Falco.
Though never picked up to series, a pilot episode for this Fargo was actually shot and aired. It can still be watched on YouTube, for those who are curious. In it, Marge investigates a local pharmacist’s murder while elsewhere a son kidnaps his father’s frozen corpse, whatever that means. The pilot was written by Bruce Paltrow and Robert Palm, and directed by Kathy Bates, the Oscar-winning actress of Misery fame.
It’s probably safe to assume that 2003’s Fargo is no longer canon. Falco may still be best known for her work on The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie, Bates is remains a talented and sought-after actress, and the show has not been mentioned since.
The third season of Fargo begins April 19th on FX.