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'Fargo' Travels Back to the Reagan Era
October 11, 2015  | By David Hinckley

Apparently a lot of Fargo fans have decided that if Noah Hawley could pull off the impossible by adapting their beloved movie into a TV series once, then maybe, heck, he could do it again.

If nothing else, says Hawley, whose second 10-episode season launches Mon., 10/12 at 10 p.m. ET on FX, he’s now at least partly liberated from the question he heard most often last year.

“When we announced the second season,” he muses, “a lot fewer people were asking, ‘Why are you doing this?’ “

Artistically, though, Hawley says, Season 2 of Fargo will draw only in the most general sense on Season 1.

It still has DNA from the beloved 1996 cult movie by Joel and Ethan Coen, who gave their blessings and assistance to Hawley’s TV reincarnation.

It’s violent, it’s funny, it’s quirky and characters like cops Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson, top) and Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) never offer the tiniest hint that they realize how dry and droll they sound.

It’s also set in the North Country, this time in Sioux Falls, S.D., rather than Minnesota.

And naturally we get a couple of ordinary North Country people, Peggy (Kirsten Dunst, left) and Ed (Jesse Plemons), who get caught up in a bad situation that leads them to a series of questionable decisions that plunge them in more deeply.

But instead of one über-villain in Billy Bob Thornton’s Lorne Malvo and one good-man-gone-bad in Martin Freeman’s Lester Nygaard, this time we get whole rival armies of villains, one of which is the Gerhardt family out of, where else, Fargo.

Jean Smart leads the Gerhardt family as the matriarch Floyd, with help and sometimes competition from her sons Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan), Bear (Angus Sampson) and Rye (Kieran Culkin).

The opposing team includes a Kansas City syndicate led by Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett, below) and Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine). And others.

“We had to be sure we had a cast that could support an expanded body count,” Hawley half-jokes, but he turns serious when he says, “We wanted a very different show this season.

“Joel and Ethan Coen never made the same movie twice and we didn’t want to do the same TV show twice. So we couldn’t just do a 10-month time jump from the first season.”

Season 2 instead travels back to 1979, when Lou Solverson – a wise old retired cop in the 2006 first season – was young and active.

That means Lou’s daughter Molly, a breakout star role for Allison Tolman in the first season, now is only a small child in Lou’s home.

Hawley says he feels the pain of fans who hated to lose Molly. “I hated to lose Allison, too,” he says. “But we couldn’t have gotten her into the story without bending time.”

When he got the idea for Season 2, says Hawley, setting it in 1979 was critical to the themes he wanted to explore.

“It was the dawn of the Reagan era,” he notes, “and that signaled a huge change in America. Our story takes place right on the cusp of that change. It has bigger themes than Season 1. It’s more like an American epic.”

The first season, Hawley notes, was inspired by a single vision that flashed into his head.

“I saw two men sitting in an emergency room,” he says. “That seemed like a very Coen Brothers image.”

Make those two men Lorne Malvo and Lester Nygaard and you betcha, Ma, we’ve got ourselves a movie.

Even when the first season was filming, Hawley said there wouldn’t be a second unless he came up with an equally solid idea.

As the show became a major hit for FX, which in turn became increasingly eager for that second season, it’s probably no surprise that the inspiration did come along.

“Here, the idea was that one character kills someone, then gets hit by a car,” says Hawley. “Now suddenly, wait, it’s not his story any more, it’s the story of the person driving the car.

“That felt like a premise that could support the infrastructure of a 10-hour story.”

There was still, of course, the minor matter of actually writing that story, gathering a cast and putting it on film.

“You really tell a story three times,” Hawley says. “The writing, the filming and the editing. The first hour is easy, once you have the idea. It’s the second hour where it starts to get hard.

“Our story isn’t a whodunit. There are multiple killings in the first 15 minutes. The audience knows what happened before we even meet the cops.

“So the rest of the story is really about the lives of the characters. In the second hour, for example, we find out what’s really at stake for Peggy and Ed.”

By that point, if audiences react as positively as early reviewers, the “Why are you doing this?” question could be as cold and gone as Lorne and Lester.

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