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This screener arrived too late for a more in-depth, episode-to-episode review. I apologize.

Series


1979 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Luverne, Minnesota. Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson), a young State Police Officer recently back from Vietnam, investigates a case involving a local crime gang, a major mob syndicate, and a beautician Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst), along with her husband, Ed (Jesse Plemons), the local butcher’s assistant. Helping Lou piece things together is his father-in-law, Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson). Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett) is the frontman for the northern expansion of a Kansas City crime syndicate. The new face of corporate crime, Joe’s bringing a Walmart mentality to small town America. He and his crew, including number two, Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), have their sights set on the Gerhardt crime family in Fargo, currently led by matriarch, Floyd Gerhardt (Jean Smart). With her husband at death’s door, Floyd takes over the family business, frustrating her eldest son, Dodd Gerhardt (Jeffrey Donovan) – an impatient hothead with a cruel streak to match his ambitions. Her middle son, Bear Gerhardt (Angus Sampson), is an intimidatingly large man who, although inarticulate, is the most decent of his clan, while the youngest, Rye Gerhardt (Kieran Culkin), views himself as a big shot, but, in reality, he’s just a small dog with a loud bark. (From FX’s official synopsis)

 Fargo: Year Two
The first season of Fargo was a pleasant surprise that paid homage to the very specific appeal of The Coen Bros.’ original 1996 film without wasting time retelling its story. It also filled the ‘mundane guy becomes ruthless criminal mastermind’ void in the television schedule left by Breaking Bad. The second season, however, is a revelation and my favourite show of the 2015 season. Like its predecessor (including the Coen’s movie), ‘year two,’ as its creators called it, took broad crime story concepts and applied them to the unlikely domain of Minnesota’s frozen northern tundra, where the people are supposedly too nice to be criminals. The late-’70s style, from the grit of the production design, to the De Palma-esque split-screen effects, isn’t merely tasty window-dressing – it’s another means to reframe the mood of common gangster movie tropes. There a loads of truly unique characters brought vividly to life by established actors that have been cast outside their comfort zone, including award-worthy turns from Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons as the deceptively average midwestern couple at the center of an accidental criminal conspiracy, and Bokeem Woodbine as the silky-voiced enforcer ready to take advantage of the situation and move up the company ladder. The dialogue is spit-polished to an icy shine and the plot is twisty enough to keep even a seasoned pulp crime connoisseur on their toes.

Really, my only complaint is that creator Noah Hawley and his writers got a little precious when interlocking this season with the previous one and paying homage to the Coen’s oeuvre (the nearly shot-for-shot recreation of the flash-forward scene from Raising Arizona, for example). But these are only really retrospective complaints I arrived upon during this second viewing. As a transplant resident of Minnesota, I get an extra special thrill out of this show. I have lived in the area long enough to recognize most of the locations (at least as they’re described – it’s technically filmed in Calgary), yet not so long that I can’t recognize the humour of the inherent passive-aggression hardwired into the local population. Don’t believe the Minnesotans (and North/South Dakotans) that tell you this series is an exaggeration – I meet these people every day and love watching them portrayed as badasses.

Oh, and Bruce Campbell plays Ronald Reagan. How can you go wrong with that?

 Fargo: Year Two

Video


The first season of Fargo, which took place in 2006 and was shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and looked crisp and slick to fit the era. Season two takes place in the late ‘70s and is meant to appear older and grittier in turn. The imdb.com page doesn’t list a different format for the season and extensive Google searches only turned up fan speculation, not hard facts from the production staff. The only reason I know without a doubt that it was shot digitally and not on 16mm is that I watched the behind-the-scenes extras and cinematographer Dana Gonzales discusses using old lenses on digital cameras. Apparently due to the lenses and the relatively pervasive darkness, the artefacts on this 1.78:1, 1080p image tends to match those of a 16mm print, including gritty noise, bleeding edge haloes, flares, and some rough gradient transitions. The colour palette is pretty specific and divided by location type. Dark interiors tend to be amber, dark exteriors tend to be teal, light interiors tend to be pastel, and light exteriors tend to be stark white with super-vivid acrylic highlights (usually winter clothing). The interesting thing is that the behind-the-scenes footage features basically the same tints, at least in terms of the interior sets, meaning that a lot of the grading was achieved with lighting, rather than digital post-production (though there’s plenty of that too). The hues tend to be pretty vibrant (with the exception of the desaturated flashbacks and scenes in the butcher shop), yet they’re designed to bleed out into each other a bit to create more soupy mix. Black levels are sharp during brighter sequences, but are softened during these soupy moments.

 Fargo: Year Two

Audio


Fargo season two is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and is an improvement over the compressed surround sound I heard while watching the series on the FXNow AppleTV app. The dialogue is crisp, yet natural and blends nicely with the ambient effects (the cold of the area is perpetually represented by wind noise, which is actually pretty accurate). The track includes some aggressive shootouts and car action, but the sound designers tend to favour short bursts of sound, which creates a more poppy effect. Violence is always quite loud (the gush of blood from a wound is almost as loud as the impact) and overwhelms the mix with abstractions during slow motion/speed-ramping moments. Jeff Russo’s music took a slight departure from the first season, where he spent a lot of time building upon Carter Burwell’s original Fargo motion picture themes, but still feels like a part of the same movement. The late ‘70s qualities are also represented in the funky, disco-ish tunes (along with actual era-appropriate songs) and those tend to get a slightly bigger LFE boost.

 Fargo: Year Two

Extras


Disc one:
  • Skip Sprang TV Commercial (1:00, HD) – A fake ad that played in the background during some episodes.

Disc two:
  • The Films of Ronald Reagan: Extended Fargo Cut (8:10, HD) – Bruce Campbell offers a commentary track, in character, to his footage from the season. It’s a pretty good impression of what the actual Ronald Reagan would probably sound like, had commentary tracks been a regular thing while he was still alive.

Disc three:
  • Waffles and Bullet Holes: A Return to Sioux Falls (44:40, HD) – An extensive two-part featurette that covers the production of the second season. The cast & crew discuss the connections to the first season, the importance of the late ‘70s setting, the characters, costume & production design, editorial techniques/split-screens, political themes, the show’s graphic violence, stunts, the special effects of the UFO scenes, and homages to the Coen’s films.
  • Lou on Lou: A Conversation with Patrick Wilson, Keith Carradine, and Noah Hawley (15:40, HD) – Both actors that played Lou Solverson throughout the two seasons discuss the character with the show creator.
  • The True History of Crime in the Midwest (3:50, HD) – A quick look at the physical creation of a book that appears in one episode as a framing device and bringing season one’s Martin Freeman on as a narrator for the episode.


 Fargo: Year Two

Overall


You should probably see Fargo season two. It’s less than a year old and already among the best post-millennial crime fiction – movie, novel, or television. You don’t even have to see season one first – though you should probably also watch it. Fox/FX’s Blu-ray features an accurately rough and colourful HD transfer, a highly dynamic DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, and substantial supplemental features – especially the nearly 45-minute long behind-the-scenes mini-doc.

 Fargo: Year Two

 Fargo: Year Two
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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