Minnesnowta: The Land of Atmosphere, ‘Fargo,’ and… ‘Fargo’

By Brent Glass

Minnesowta

Everybody has a home.  Maybe not a physical home (though I wish everyone had shelter), but a place they consider their home.  Mine is Michigan and the greater Detroit area.  Most of my college peers called Illinois their home – although not without a hint of chagrin.  Hometowns can be a source a pride, a source of embarrassment, or an amalgam of both.

Whether we embrace or reject our hometown, regional idiosyncrasies often follow us through our lifetime; either acting as a friendly reminder of our roots or a bad habit we’re constantly trying to shake.  Personally, I love my hometown and yearn to hold onto the pieces that made me.  Some may scoff at a Midwesterner, but I clutch to my origins.  Many people share my sentiments.  One Midwesterner that loves his home, flaws and all, is Slug (Sean Daley), rapper of the hip-hop group Atmosphere.

Lemons

Slug is on the right.

Hailing from the south side of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Slug has often rhymed about his hometown.  He does not romanticize his urban roots – he regularly mentions the drawbacks of urbanity – but there is always a sanguine message.  Yeah, this town may be f**ked up, but so are most.  This one’s mine and I’m not gonna ghost.  I like that.  Some people live their whole life trying to find a new hand, rather than figure out the best way to play the one they were dealt.  Sean Daley is a prime example of the latter.  Watch the following video and get a grip on Slug’s thinking.

If you’ve never listened to Atmosphere, I highly recommend them.  They are not your run-of-the-mill hip-hop group.  They’re lyrics are honest, original, and their discography includes tracks to fit your mood.  Atmosphere has been around since 1989.  The good news?  They’re still cranking out music and holding shows (Saying Something author Blake Baxter documented one Atmosphere show we attended last summer, here).  Even better news?  Their new album, Southsiders, is set to drop May 6.  Blake Baxter’s “Spring Song Recommendations” included the first single of their new album, “Bitter.”  A second single has since been released, solidifying my intuition that this album would be second-to-none.  Even better, better news?  Atmosphere isn’t the only good thing based in Minnesota.

Often caricaturized because of their accents and regional colloquialisms, Minnesota has proved to be a great setting for films and television shows.  And who would recognize that more than a couple of Minnesotans?  You may remember my celebration of Ethan and Joel Coen, the directing duo from… Minnesota.  While their first film was released in 1984, their international acclaim followed their 1996 cult film, Fargo.

Fargo Poster

Don’t be confused: Fargo is the title of the film, but Fargo is not a city found in Minnesota.  Nay, Fargo can be found in the great state of North Dakota.  There is a small scene in Fargo, but the rest takes place in the state of 10,000 lakes.  For those uncultured individuals, I’ll give a brief synopsis.

Pregnant Police Chief Margie Gunderson (Frances McDormand) investigates a series of local homicides.  Her detective work leads her to investigate Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), a struggling sales manager at a car dealership.  Financially pressed, Jerry ask a dealership technician to connect him to some criminals.  Jerry planned was to have the two individuals (played by Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) kidnap his wife, collect the ransom from his father-in-law, and use the cash to pay the criminals and start a business project.  However, as with most things, events did not unfold as planned, creating a tumultuous time for the nervous Lundegaard and steady Margie Gunderson.

Fargo is a crime story, but simultaneously darkly comical; a specialty of the Coen brothers.  Many since have considered Fargo the zenith of tight script-writing.  The brothers employed intentionality and avoided superfluous language; everything had a purpose.  The film was so good, in fact, it took home the Oscar for Best Picture and has inspired a new FX show, aptly titled Fargo.

fargo-fx-tv-series-poster

FX’s Fargo premiered this past Tuesday to meek ratings.  That should not be surprising, considering that the majority of people have still probably not seen the film.  It was a cult film then, and continues to be.  However, in this highly accessible medium, on a well-watched network, it could be just what the brand needs to make it ubiquitous.  Only time will tell.

Upon hearing the news of FX’s adaptation, I was thrilled.  My initial thought was, “This is great!  One of my favorite movies will be turned into a show with Martin Freeman.  Wowee!”  However, as the premier approached, I started to doubt.  I thought, “How could anything follow such a prolific film as Fargo?”  Nevertheless, I watched the first episode, and I’m happy to say that I think the show has plenty of promise.

As with the film, the television series began with these words:

“THIS IS A TRUE STORY. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 2006 [it was 1987 for the film]. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”

Interestingly enough, some could take this statement as a blatant lie.  In the film, the story was based upon actual events that took place in Connecticut – not Minnesota.  And the characters were… well, caricaturized.  So why would the Coen brothers – and subsequently Noah Hawley – use the aforementioned quote?  Joel Coen explains here:

“We weren’t interested in that kind of fidelity. The basic events are the same as in the real case, but the characterizations are fully imagined … If an audience believes that something’s based on a real event, it gives you permission to do things they might otherwise not accept.”

So, when the new television show began with “THIS IS A TRUE STORY” we can know that’s kind of true.  But just kind of.  Like with the film, the events in the show are based on reality but the over-the-top characters are just conjured ideas.  But, that’s not a bad thing.  As Joel said, it gives the creators some leeway in their execution and allows for eccentric people that offer a plethora of laughs.

Humor, as with the film, is one of the strengths of the show.  Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman offer convincing accents (especially Freeman, he’s British!) that are quintessentially Minnesotan, although oftentimes exaggerated.  The exaggeration, however, only adds to the quality of the show.  It offers a balance of dark subject matter and hysterical sayings and slang, weaving an intricate tapestry of extremes.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the show.  Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) is a struggling insurance salesman who is pushed around by his wife and lives in the shadow of his younger brother’s success.  As the famous salesperson Zig Ziglar said, “Timid salespeople have skinny kids.”  Lester doesn’t have any kids, but he sure is timid, so you get the point.  However, circumstances change when Lester meets Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) in the hospital.  Local police had been investigating a couple local homicides and connect the suspected killer (Lorne) to Lester through their fateful emergency room meeting.  Shortly after, sh*t gets real.  Here’s the teaser trailer:

Oh yeah, Bob Odenkirk is in it!

Again, the scene is mostly set in Minnesota.  Fargo, again, is a location mentioned in the work and, from the context of the film and now-television show, we can assume it’s a place the scum of the earth like to congregate.  However, the story is completely new and the first episode showed that it’s going to be exciting.  Like the film, FX’s Fargo looks to explore the suppressed individuality of each person, people’s breaking points, the mundane motions of everyday life, the evil that lurks in the world, and other captivating topics.

The Coen brothers are executive producers on the project, which is reassuring.  Like HBO’s True Detective, FX’s Fargo will be an anthology, fully concluding the story by the end of the season and (if renewed) starting afresh the next go around.  I hope to cover this series very closely, so look for more articles to come.

Martin Freeman Fargo

Brent Glass is a Michigander who graduated from Eureka College in May of 2013. He spent time at the Sagamore Institute in Indianapolis, IN (a non-partisan think tank) where he worked on political economy pieces for Detroit, MI and Elkhart, IN. Additionally, he spent the summer of 2012 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, working on social media management. Currently he is creating a social media management business (Connect You Consulting) and working full-time as a Management Assistant to the owner of a car dealership. He plans to further his education in the fall of 2014 in pursuit of a Ph.D. in Urban Development.

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