Review: ‘Fargo’ Season 5 strong so far on FX and Hulu with clever callbacks to 1996 movie masterpiece

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews Season 5 of 'Fargo' so far (Part 1)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 15: Juno Temple attends FX's "Fargo" Year 5 Premiere at Nya Studios on November 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)(Getty Images/Rodin Eckenroth)

Not only is “Fargo” (1996) my favorite Coen Brothers movie, it’s on my short list of the greatest movie masterpieces of all time. I truly believe it’s a perfect movie, from William H. Macy’s slimy used-car salesman to Frances McDormand’s pregnant detective, from Carter Burwell’s powerful music to the Coens’ snowy atmosphere to create a setting uniquely its own.

Thus, it’s been a thrill seeing such a stellar TV series adaptation over the past decade, starting with Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo in Season 1, followed by Kirsten Dunst in Season 2, Ewan McGregor in Season 3, and Chris Rock in Season 4. If you missed any of those, don’t worry; this is an anthology series, meaning it restarts with a new story and new characters each season so you don’t need to watch the previous seasons to jump in now.

Gloriously, Season 5 finally arrived last week, dropping its first two episodes in time for Thanksgiving. Episode 3 airs Tuesday night on FX before streaming on Hulu on Wednesday, once again claiming to be “based on a true story,” but we know that “Fargo” has always winked at viewers knowing its woodchippers never actually happened.

Set in the chilly fall of 2019, the story follows Dorothy “Dot” Lyon (Juno Temple), an aptly-named lyin’ housewife living in Scandia, Minnesota. Her secret past comes back to haunt her during a botched kidnapping attempt that involves North Dakota Sheriff Roy Tillman (Jon Hamm), who has long been searching for Dot across state lines.

It’s great seeing Temple back after the finale of “Ted Lasso” (2023), but don’t expect her comedic Keeley Jones. This role is somewhere between her trailer-park trash in “Palmer” (2021) and criminal underworld of “The Offer” (2022). Episode 1 cleverly flips the 1996 film’s premise: imagine if Jerry Lundegaard’s kidnapped wife was the shady one, while the husband is an honest car salesman. Their child is again named Scotty, only this time it’s a girl.

The first episode also features juicy directorial callbacks to the original movie, including an almost shot-for-shot reconstruction of the home invasion with kidnappers in ski masks casually appearing through the glass on the deck. There are also direct visual echos in the ensuing sequence with troopers pulling over the kidnappers’ car, but just as we think it’ll be a direct remake, it’s cleverly flipped by creator Noah Hawley, who writes all 10 episodes.

The only confusing part of Episode 1 is Temple having nightmares of Hamm, which doesn’t make sense until Episode 2. The second episode finally introduces us to Hamm, who wistfully pines for the old days like Tommy Lee Jones in “No Country for Old Men” (2007) — another Coen Bros. masterpiece — but with the corruption of Kevin Costner in “Yellowstone” (2018). Granted, “Fargo” is never a straight drama like either of those works.

No, what makes the series so much fun is the black comedy beneath the crimes. For Temple, it’s besting baddies in a thrilling gas-station shootout involving Lamorne Morris (“New Girl”), then setting “Home Alone”-style booby traps at home. For Hamm, it’s donning a towel with a picture of his own face covering his naked butt in a makeshift hot tub. There’s even some brutal putdowns by Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dot’s wealthy, cynical mother-in-law.

So far, I’m really digging this fifth season after the first two episodes and can’t wait to see what’s in store next on FX this Tuesday night. Episode 3 will be the first episode not directed by Hawley — Donald Murphy takes the reins for Episodes 3 and 4, followed by Dana Gonzales for Episodes 5 and 6, so here’s hoping they can keep it going. If their combined efforts are even half as good as the previous seasons, this is going to be a fun weekly thrill.

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews Season 5 of 'Fargo' so far (Part 2)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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