Genre: Drama
Premise: A small-town insurance salesman finds himself embroiled in a series of violent mishaps after a chance meeting with a mysterious man.
About: One of the best films of all time is being turned into a TV show after a long winter hiatus. That’s right, Fargo, which won Joel and Ethan Coen a screenplay Oscar, has been reimagined as an hour-long drama which will premiere on FX next week. It should be noted, however, that while the brothers are executive producers on the show, it’s unclear how involved they’ll be. The pilot script (and many of the other episodes) will be written by Noah Hawley, who’s probably best known for writing on the show, Bones. However, he also created the short-lived 2009 series, The Unusuals, and has written four novels.  The show stars everyone’s favorite hobbit, Martin Freeman, and Billy Bob Thorton.
Writer: Noah Hawley
Details: 66 pages (April 3, 2013 Draft)


On the surface, this looks like both a good idea and a bad idea. A bad idea, because how do you turn a very specific movie like Fargo into a TV series? To fans of the iconic film, it looks like a cheap ploy to get us to pay attention. It’s a good idea because the TV world is desperately looking to fill the Breaking Bad void, and the Fargo universe is about as close, tone-wise, as you’re going to get to the Meth TV Empire without it looking like a direct rip-off.

Plus, you’ve got Billy Bob Thorton in it. And while Thorton’s been missing in action for awhile now, there was a time (when this movie came out in fact) where he was hot shit, winning Oscars and marrying Angelina Jolie ‘n stuff. Hey, anybody who can bag the Angster’s gotta have something going on, right? So what do Billy Bob and the rest of the Fargo production team have in store for us? Can they pull off a miracle and match the cagey wicked hilariousness of the film? Or was this just a big, fat Fargoian mistake? I shall Far-go that answer for the time being.

40 year-old Lester Nygaard is a big fat wimp. He’s got the body of a pimple-faced teenager. He’s got an insurance job that he sucks at. He’s married to a wife who doesn’t respect him. And he lives in a cold, small, miserable town. Whatever the American dream is, Lester is living the opposite of it.

That’s put on display when the town bully, Sam Hess (who has been beating Lester up since high school), starts badgering him during a trip into town. Sam dresses Lester down with a series of insults, and to add more insults to injury, he does it right in front of his own kids. Lester gets so scared during the harassment, that at one point he turns around to run away and runs smack dab into a store window.

It’s at the hospital where he meets the unstable and unpredictable psychopath Lorne Malvo, one of those crazy ass people you NEVER look in the eyes. Lorne asks Lester what happened, and Lester eventually gives him the replay. Lorne is baffled that Lester would allow a man to humiliate him like that, and off-handedly says that if he were ever around that man, he would kill him for Lester. Lester’s a little freaked out but he doesn’t say not to do it. And that’s all Lorne needs.

A few pages later, Sam Hess ends up dead. But the crazy thing about Fargo the TV show is that things don’t end there (major spoilers ahead). When Lester goes home, his wife tears into how worthless he is, and Lester just loses it. To the tune of bludgeoning his wife with a hammer. Ouch! But that isn’t even the end of it. I don’t want to spoil too much but we’ll just say, there’s more blood to come, courtesy of Lorne. And when all that blood settles, it looks like Lester and Lorne are going to have to work together to make sure they don’t get nabbed as the murderers.


Initial impressions?

This is a good, but not great, pilot. My biggest concern after finishing it was, did they blow their load too early? I mean, the killing of Sam Hess was enough to start the ball rolling. They could’ve easily had Lester kill his wife in a subsequent episode. But they killed her here, too. And then someone else. The body count of Fargo started to look like Rambo.

I actually just read an interview with Vince Gilligan, the creator of Breaking Bad, and he said one of the biggest things he learned while doing Breaking Bad was to hold back. He originally wanted to pack all this shit into the first season but he realized if he had done that, he wouldn’t have had a show for very long. He said it was okay to draw things out. And that’s the opposite of what they’re doing in Fargo. I mean, a nuclear bomb just dropped in this pilot.

Another interesting thought that came out of this was, can you root for a character that does horrible things? Walter White (in Breaking Bad) becomes a bad person and we still root for him. But that’s because we got to know the guy as a good person for three seasons. Here, Lester bludgeons his wife with a hammer. It was so shocking I actually jolted backwards, and I don’t experience that often when I’m reading. So in that sense it was good. But now you’re asking for us to root for a guy who bludgeons his wife IN THE FIRST EPISODE.

Again it goes back to, did you really need to do that? Lester was already indirectly responsible for Sam’s murder, so you gave us something he needed to cover up (which provided more plots for future episodes). And we still would’ve liked him. I’m just surprised they went with the wife-killing angle. I guess they wanted that “talk-about moment” to get people discussing the show?

I’m also wondering where the show’s longevity is going to come from, seeing, as of now, that the only goal our main character will have is covering up this mess. In Breaking Bad, Walter White spends a lot of time doing that as well. The difference is, Walter White is active. He’s not just running away from things. He’s building a meth empire. He’s making money to help his family. The “dodging the cops” stuff was always secondary. I don’t know if you can have a show where a character is solely reacting to the past.

The standout character from Fargo is definitely Lorne. He’s that Gaear Grimsrud (the awesome Peter Stormare) from the film who would rather stare you into terrified oblivion than answer whatever stupid question you’re throwing at him. And when he does say something, it’s weird or unsettling.

I noticed that the Coen brothers have gone to well with this character, as we see another version of Gaear in No Country For Old Men (Anton Chigurh). These villains are so chilling in their interactions with people that maybe more writers should be stealing them for their own scripts. Start with characters who bore into your good guys’ souls and ramble on about unsettling shit then add your own flourishes. They’ve done it again here with Lorne and it works.

One of the things that made the Fargo film so memorable was the dialogue, and while the teleplay doesn’t quite reach those levels, it holds its ground. We get exchanges like Lester giving his insurance pitch: “What happens if you have an accident at your job?” “I work at the library.” And that glorious silly Midwestern banter: “Geez. Ya think this was, like, an organized crime thing? A hit or the like?” “Don’t know what I think yet. Except that I was warm in bed a half hour ago.” I was mostly entertained by whatever anybody was saying.

Truth be told, I was really into the whole script until the mountains of bloodshed started raining down from the sky. Fargo the movie had this laid back feel to it that doesn’t gel with so much happening in such a short amount of time. But the characters are interesting enough where I’ll definitely watch a few episodes. I’m curious to see how the show is going to evolve.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: It’s tempting to throw everything you can think of into your pilot. We’re all scared that readers (and viewers) won’t stay interested long enough to get to the end. But it’s okay to be patient. Scenes with subtle tension between characters can trump huge bloody shootouts if they’re written well. So don’t blow your load in your pilot. Learn to take your time.

  • Jim Dandy

    Have you ever noticed how just about all Coen Brothers movies are powered by dual chases?

    “A” runs off with something belonging to “B”, then “B” chases “A”. Then a third party (“C”) turns up and chases “A” and/or “B”. This creates a huge amount of forward momentum because just about every character is physically chasing someone else for the whole movie.

    • Eddie Panta

      You A to B to C chase analysis is correct, it’s Shakespearean!

      • brenkilco

        Hitchcockian, yes. But Shakespearean?

        • Eddie Panta

          Yes, of course it is Romeo and Juliet or Othello.

          Most Coen Bros. movies are about miscommunication. The Man with the Plan, is making assumptions about what his partner did or wants. This assumptions lead him to ruin.

          In BLOOD SIMPLE Ray assumes ABBY killed her husband, he enacts a plan to cover it up. They never communicate. The inciting incident does NOT create the story, the male characters inability to communicate is what does.

          • brenkilco

            I agree that Blood Simple deals with multiple misinterpretations by its characters, but I don’t see that Othello or Romeo and Juliet contain double chases. Can you flesh that out a little.

    • Foreigner

      Are we going to see glimpses of it here on SS?

      • Jim Dandy

        Hopefully. I can’t say too much about it right now. If I even told you the premise you would Spontaneously Human Combust.

        • wlubake

          Is it about a guy who can make people spontaneously human combust?

  • Magga

    I remember watching the pilot for The Shield and thinking it was just OK, not something I’d start watching on a regular basis, but then (SPOILER) the lead character shoots a fellow police officer point blank and kills him, then blames it on the criminals. Instant addiction, and I didn’t have to watch him being a good guy for any period of time. It wasn’t even the shock value alone, it was the question of what purpose it had in the long run, what good could come out of it. I dislike using pre-existing properties to brand a film or a show for the most part, I even think it’s spelling the end of the golden age of TV as we speak (together with genre fare like Game of Thrones and Walking Dead reducing TV drama into modern cinema level genre fare) but this review made me change my mind about this show, and I’ll now watch the pilot. So for me the tactic worked so far :)

  • HalfMartian

    Martin Freeman alone is worth giving it a shot. Sherlock is brilliant.

  • Rzwan Cabani

    I read the pilot last summer, and I know the ending Carson is eluding to — it really worked for me. I was shocked at him killing his wife — wasn’t expecting that, and shit just got worse — the ending made me want more. That is exactly what you want from the ending of your pilot. It’s quirky, dark and fucked up — everything I need in my life ;)

  • G.S.

    I have a theory about serial-style, 1-hour TV shows. A season is equivalent to an expansive movie, following similar beats but spread out over 15 to 25 hours rather than 90 to 120 minutes. When we dissected a screenplay into scenes each with their own mini-arcs in the greater context of the film, that translates into each episode of the show requiring having it’s own arc.

    A 90 minute movie with a standard 3 act structure will take 20 minutes for the first act, 50 minutes for the second and 20 minutes for the third. So an equivalent 15 episode TV series will have a 3 episode first act, 9 episode second act and three episode third act. All that said, I’d equate the pilot episode is equivalent to the first 6 pages (or so). Valid?

    In that vein, if I read a screenplay where the main character brutally murdered his wife in the first 6 pages, I MIGHT read a little further to see if there’s some justification. More likely, I’ll stop and move on. As much as I like the idea of flexing screenwriting rules to push the storytelling envelope or otherwise exploring “gray” characters, I’m still a strong believer in having the protag pet the dog and the villain kick it. I still think most audiences don’t like when the one they are supposed to root for does something as wrong as that. You get away with a “Dexter” because of the mitigating circumstance surrounding his victims. And yet, look at how many people lost their minds at the climax of “Man of Steel”… and he was clearly justified.

    I know there are lots of people who take a certain pleasure in watching the exploits of a “bad guy,” and I suppose carrying the “Fargo” title will keep a lot of people watching after the shocking first ep, but I wouldn’t be among them.

    • Nate

      Regarding Man of Steel that was mostly the fans who went ape cause he killed Zod. I don’t think anyone else would give a crap. I certainly didn’t.

      • mulesandmud

        I hated the Zod kill in Man of Steel, not because of fandom or questionable morality, but because the staging of the situation was idiotic. Idiotic that killing Zod was as simple as a neck snap (with Zod fighting to resist him full force, no less). Idiotic that Superman decided to kill him just then, to save a handful of people, after five minutes of leveling city blocks and presumably killed hundreds of others in the process (conveniently offscreen, of course). Idiotic in the staging of the humans Zod was trying to kill, who made no attempt to run/crawl/lunge away from Zod’s approaching heat vision, but simply stood there while Superman decided whether or not to save them. And idiotic that Superman’s response to the murder that he himself had just committed was to scream “NOOOO!!!” (on top of being a monumental cliche, you can’t NOOO yourself, stupid).

        I’m all for major plot points that cause characters to make a difficult moral decision. However, if the situation is ridiculous and contrived, then the power and resonance of that decision gets lost behind the groaning of plot gears.

        • Franchise Blueprints

          Thank you. The entire film was basically BS. The end fight with Zod you hit it on the head. The board members who thought Man of Steel was a good movie I wish I saw the film you guys did. Seriously.

          Long Live Christopher Reeves the true definitive Superman!

          • ScottStrybos

            More definitive than Brandon Routh?

          • Franchise Blueprints

            His look is too youthful. Superman has that perpetual 35 ish facial appearance. He’s a very close second in performance and overall appearance.

          • ScottStrybos

            Just for the record, because my name is attached to this comment thread, suggesting that Brandon Routh was a more definitive Superman than Christopher Reeves was a joke. Reeves will always be the Superman.

      • kenglo

        Upon further review, I think MAN OF STEEL was a pretty good film…just sayin’…

        • brenkilco

          It was never going to be a good movie. Too solemnly silly and talky. He’s Jesus. We get it. Full of comic book illogic. Just how did Lois trace Clark who probably used assumed names and left no clues to his identity back to his family farm etc. And I know how to get rid of the villains. Let’s reverse the polarity on the phantom thingamabob. But it would have been a passable entertainment if they’d cut that endless, repetitive climax. God, was there a single high rise office tower in the continental U.S, either Superman or Zod didn’t get tossed through? And after all that, as mentioned, all we got was a simple broken neck. C’mon.

          • kenglo

            I mean we can nit-pick all day on plot holes of ANY movie, but the fights, to me, were more realistic and action packed because they were getting knocked through buildings and mountains. I wish they did that with a Dragon Ball Z film! Alas, to each his own I guess. I liked it.

          • Franchise Blueprints

            You took the thought out of my head. I literally was thinking how that fight in town looked like Vegeta, Android 16 & 18 fighting Yamcha. Superman is no Goku.

          • andyjaxfl

            It’s a fight between two super-powered beings amidst skyscrapers. Of course they are going to be tossed through a few of them (though Zod did almost all of that tossin’).

            The only Jesus metaphor that I found useless was the church scene and the use of the stained glass. I would have much rather scene Clark have that conversation with his mother. Shit, she’s his last surviving parent!

          • mulesandmud

            Howard Hawks made it simple for us: “A good movie has three great scenes and no bad ones.”

            There might be a great scene in Man of Steel somewhere (I like the bit with the you-are-not-alone transmission, at least), but I could rattle off half a dozen bad scenes without effort. Pretty cut and dry.

        • andyjaxfl

          I’m with ya, kenglo. It’s not perfect by any means, but there’s more to like than not.

  • kenglo

    I have a question off topic, but am curious.

    ” Here, Lester bludgeons his wife with a hammer. It was so shocking I
    actually jolted backwards, and I don’t experience that often when I’m
    reading. So in that sense it was good. But now you’re asking for us to
    root for a guy who bludgeons his wife IN THE FIRST EPISODE.”

    Does a reader, like Carson in this case, get overly unsympathetic to a spec when there is an inordinate amount of violence? Or better yet, just ‘graphic’ violence? Does it turn a reader off to see/read stuff like that, as opposed to a good sex scene? Reason I ask, I am touching up what one of my ‘groupies’ called ‘YA with a PULSE’, but I have folks ‘evaporating in red mists’, implosions and explosions of heads, ‘spinal taps’ (lol picture that one!) and things like that.

    Should we, as writers, write what we feel, regardless of ‘tone’? Or should we cater to what could be released in theaters? Cater to the sensibilities of the ‘reader’?

    Just curious. Because I love me some Tarantino violence!


    • Randy Williams

      I think tone is very important. For someone like me, who cringes at the least amount of violence, if the writer competently sets up a “movie” world that I’m convinced is not “realistic”, then I’ll go with it.

      I just recently read this very short story by one of the finalists in The Blue Cat screenwriting competition this year. Take a look how quickly he sets the tone, draws the characters. The violence is off the charts but I didn’t squirm at all. It was quite entertaining.

      • kenglo

        Awesome short story. Kept it mysterious and although it is violent, it is somewhat done in a matter of fact manner. Cool!

    • Panos Tsapanidis

      I think Carson’s main concern is that through that murder, Carson stopped rooting for the main character. And that’s one hell of a slippery slope.

    • mulesandmud

      This is the classic professional dilemma: Do I compromise my vision for the sake of commerce or career? Or do I stick to my guns and potentially limit my options?

      It’s not an either/or proposition; more like a gray scale, and everyone lands somewhere different. If you make bold choices, even brilliant ones, you’re inevitably going to lose people, but you might win some fans in the process. A sudden shift into extreme violence is a particularly polarizing example.

      If you get inspired to make a dramatic tonal shift, and you think that’s the best choice for the material, then go for it, but always be acutely aware of what you’ve done and how it might effect a reader. Writers who simply let ideas just fall out of their head and onto a page and then call it done are falling victim to either ego, laziness, or both.

      I’ll say this: a true pro knows how to compromise, just like a serious storyteller knows their audience. Writers who “write what they feel regardless of ‘tone'” sound like sloppy writers to me.

      • kenglo

        Ya callin’ me SLOPPY???!!! LOL

    • Foreigner

      I’m not an experienced screenwriter, but I’d say go for bold choices. Follow your vision. Coen Brothers always did – there are so many unconventional choices in their scripts, but they always work regardless.

      Once you’re a pro, you’ll know how to find the perfect balance, but I would say it’s important to start off with focusing on how you feel about the story.

    • Franchise Blueprints

      Most popular film bloggers morality needle is dead center. I just read BSR opinion on the first Robocop film and he was shocked at the shotgun murder of Murphy. I guess unless you review horror films exclusively its not politically correct to condone fictional violence.

      • kenglo

        LOVED the first ROBOCOP

  • Randy Williams

    What with the current oil boom prosperity of North Dakota, (Walmart workers make $17 and up an hour there) and the subsequent human drama associated with prices going sky high for everything, housing shortages, loneliness on the prairie and such, I was expecting a TV series to come out of it. Never thought they’d reboot “Fargo”, though. Anyway, it gives them lots of real life material to work with that answers your question about “longevity” perhaps.

    Also, like the nordic sweater poster with tax day, April 15 surrounded by axes. How appropriate.

    • wlubake

      Quiet. You’ll kill my pilot set in Williston. No, really, I have one.

      • wlubake

        Though since it is out there, here’s the concept, in semi-logline form:

        In oil boomtown Williston, ND, a rash of rig-worker murders has drawn the
        attention of the reluctant Native American sheriff, a private investigator
        hired by the oil company, and a mysterious country roughneck named Buck White.
        I’ve oscillated between setting it up as a feature or a pilot. Feel like it could have legs either way. Buck White is a character I feel is long lacking from Hollywood, but would be well-received. He’s sort of like a redneck John McClane.

        • Poe_Serling

          You gotta feature the cracked monument of Abe Lincoln somewhere in your story. ;-)

          • wlubake

            Like how House of Cards brilliantly featured the peach water tower in Gaffney, SC? My folks live in SC and I have driven by that thing dozens of times. Cracked me up how they created a whole episode about it.

          • wlubake

            Another interesting note on the head: that was done for a park called President’s Park in North Dakota that closed. Essentially it was a free for all on the statues, and Williston ended up with one. Similarly in a small town called Buena Vista, Virginia (about 15 miles from where I went to college) there is a small park featuring three large and out-of-place presidents’ heads. They are from a similar project by the same artist that was supposed to be in Williamsburg, VA. For my now wife’s 19th birthday, I picked up fast food and took her to that park to see the presidents. We had only been dating a couple months. She cites it as her weirdest birthday ever. The fact that it didn’t scare her off was a good sign for out long term prospects, though.

          • MaliboJackk

            Isn’t that the guy from Mt. Rushmore?
            What’s he doing there?

        • Randy Williams

          I don’t see the hook for a feature. Still, I’d watch your idea any day over this “Fargo” as reviewed above.

  • E.C. Henry

    This Fargo TV series thing sounds like a winner count me in! Carson, you’re having too much fun doing these reviews. Shouldn’t they be more like work or something?

  • Citizen M

    Given all Carson’s puns, I was expecting a [x] fargeddaboutit.

  • Citizen M

    Louis C.K. on How TV Pilots are Made

    A couple of years old but still interesting.

    • mulesandmud

      Damn he’s good. I’ve had a few tastes of this process recently and it’s still exactly as he describes it.

      I wish more people would write about the blow-by-blow of getting a project through the production process, but most people are hesitant to frankly describe the inner working of this absurd machine. Lucky for us, Louis doesn’t give a fuck.

  • Eddie Panta

    This doesn’t sound like a Coen Bros story at all, especially with the husband killing the wife. Yeah, it’s a shocking moment, but doesn’t seem the what a Coen Bros. male character would behave. In a Coen Bros. film you get a male character / husbands with an inability to communicate. They aren’t the aggressor typically.

    Normally their stories give us a male lead who is much more like a Walter White, a man who doesn’t rule the roost, but has a half-baked plan, a scheme to get some quick money, when it backfires, he’s busy covering up and all the while keeping secrets from his wife or partner he digs himself into a deeper hole..

    Or The lead male will make an incorrect assumption which leads to tragic comedy of errors. The Man with the Plan fails, mostly because he did not communicate with his partner. This is the essential element of most Coen Bros. films. it’s the basis of Blood Simple, essentially the entire plot. The inciting incident is the character’s incorrect assumption, not an actual act or event.

    In Blood Simple all Ray has to do is tell Abby what he assumes, but he can’t bring himself to do it.

    In Man Who Wasn’t There, the lead male/husband, played by Billy Bob assumes his wife is cheating. His plan backfires.

    In Miller’s Crossing, Tom and Leo are like the married couple, Tom doesn’t let Leo know whose side he’s really on. Leo never tells Tom what he’s really up to. Tom never tells Verna how he really feels.

    No Country For Old Men, the lead doesn’t tell his wife about the money he’s found. He keeps it a secret. His plan backfires. He never speaks to the sheriff.

  • fragglewriter

    Luckily I have tissues and a big tube of santizer here at my desk to tidy up the mess.
    Fargo, IMO, was an ok movie. I watched it twice cause I couldn’t understand the hooplah (still don’t), but killing off two characters in the first episode doesn’t seem like too much. Maybe for TV, but not for exciting TV.
    I think if the Fargo show slows down the killings to develop the characters, and then interwene the blood, it will be a decent show. I say give it at least the first 4 episodes to see what value this show brings to the air.

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    Regarding, Vince Gilligan deciding not to throw everything and the kitchen sink:

    VG said in an interview that the writers’ strike forced him to change his plan about throwing everything and the kitchen sink in and hold back. He said he got – in a way – lucky.

  • Dan

    Just a note: I have been reading script shadow religiously for at least 3 years now, but I rarely post.

    I am a true Fargonian. Born and raised in Fargo, currently raising 5 new Fargoanians. I am super excited about this series and hope it takes off.

    Did you know that in front of the Fargo Visitors Center we have on display the actual wood chipper from the movie Fargo? They even keep a fake leg sticking out of it. It’s pretty cool.

  • mcruz3

    Fargo is a limited series, which might explain why they packed so much into the pilot.

  • paul

    What is tomorrow’s article going to be about? Wish we could get a heads up a lot earlier.

  • andyjaxfl

    How does this relate to Fargo the movie outside of the location? Is Marge featured at all or did I completely miss that in the review? Is it called Fargo mostly for brand recognition?

  • Franchise Blueprints

    Off Topic
    Follow up thread to previous debate on FIRST PAGE importance. I came across this article that supplemented what I originally posted in the CA2 thread concerning weeding out readers. How ultimately they will be bad business for the Prod cos they work for.,0,1126770.story?page=1#axzz2yPDVKXtV

    • astranger2

      Maybe I scanned it too briefly, but all I read was about the intern litigation. Was there something about “weeding out readers” in there, and their negative impact on companies they work for?

      • Franchise Blueprints

        Essentially the major companies no longer allow unpaid interns. In return you’re getting readers that actually care about their jobs. That benefits writers tremendously IMO.

        • astranger2

          Interesting article. Reminded me of SWIMMING WITH SHARKS. Although it was insightful the one producer felt doing all that gopher work benefited him in getting all the “details” right… even if it were those two “blue” packets of sweetener, instead of the pink packets Spacey’s character wanted… lol

  • Robin the Boy Wonder

    Gee whiz, I have zero interest in this show from the get-go!

    Relying on unreliable memory here, but from unreliable memory, the MAD MEN pilot is pure genius.

    For just about the whole ep, Don Draper is the man about town. Smoking, boozing, rooting around, getting the job done – he’s the man! And we LOVE him (at least I did.)

    Then, if my unreliable memory serves me correct, in the last scene he sits down with his family for dinner.

    What the f@%k? That sleazy piece of shit! Too late, we already like the guy. No, love him! (At least, I did. Still do.)

    Of course, you open with Don having breakfast with his family, then see all the smoking, boozing, rooting around, getting the job done and we don’t like him. We HATE him! Now THAT is a twist. Actually, it’s not even really a twist. Just great friggin’ writing.

    Now I really hope I remembered all that correctly or I look like a total ass…

    • Franchise Blueprints

      Dastardly bearings, how dare Carson post this Red Herring!

  • carsonreeves1

    I didn’t see him start truly turning “bad” til Season 4. But that’s just me.