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TV Series Review: 'Fargo' Returns To FX

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The movie "Fargo," back in 1996, brought us one version of life in North Dakota and a car salesman and a crime that went wrong - really, really wrong. I was left wanting more. And TV critic Eric Deggans feels that way about FX's TV adaptation, which returns for a second season tonight.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: The characters who fill the second season of FX's "Fargo" are more absurd, more dangerous, more hilarious and more entertaining than almost anything we saw in the show's first season; and that's saying a lot. The new season's story begins in 1979; a twerp-y son of a Fargo crime boss is sitting in a diner, trying to intimidate a no-nonsense judge. The judge responds with a bible story on the devil's bet with God over the soul of Job.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FARGO")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) And the devil said, I can change his mind and make him curse your name. He kills Job's herds and takes his fields. But Job's mind remains unchanged. So I ask you, son, if the devil couldn't change Job's mind, how the hell are you going to change mine?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) What?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) You're a little dim, aren't you?

DEGGANS: Now, the twerp may not be the sharpest knife in North Dakota, don't you know. His response kicks off a murderous bloodbath that draws in state trooper Lou Solverson. Solverson's one of the few characters to appear in both seasons of "Fargo." Last season, he was a retired state trooper and diner owner played by Keith Carradine. But in this second season, 30 years earlier, Lou's still on the job and played by Patrick Wilson. When he talks about the murders to his pal Karl, played by Nick Offerman, Lou gets an earful of conspiracy theories.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FARGO")

PATRICK WILSON: (As Lou Solverson) It's a diner robbery in Minnesota, Karl, not a presidential assassination.

NICK OFFERMAN: (As Karl Weathers) Oh, sure. That's how it starts, with something small, like a break-in at the Watergate Hotel. But just watch; this thing's only getting bigger.

DEGGANS: Lou becomes convinced an unassuming couple, played by Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons, were involved. So Lou tries to shake them up with a jarring story from his time in the Vietnam War.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FARGO")

WILSON: (As Lou Solverson) There's a look a boy gets when he's been shot, and he's laying there in the mud, trying to get up.

JESSE PLEMONS: (As Ed Blomquist) I don't...

WILSON: (As Lou Solverson) His brain hasn't caught up with the reality, which is he's already dead. If you'd been to war, you'd know the look. See, you and Peggy, you got the look.

DEGGANS: OK. Sometimes the show leans on topical references a little too much. But writer Noah Hawley has crafted a thick stew of characters and plot lines that touch on America's post-Watergate disappointment, the impact of veterans coming home, the struggle between family businesses and big corporations and much more. And what's most amazing, it all works for a second time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEGGANS: Modern anthology series, like "Fargo," discard typical TV logic. They throw out all the familiar things from a TV hit - its characters, its story and time period - to try crafting a new season with the same atmosphere and attitude. "Fargo's" first season already beat the odds by turning a beloved, Oscar-winning, 1996 movie into one of TV's best-regarded new series. Based on its first four episodes, "Fargo's" second season is poised to do it again. And by giving us a wide array of characters who's brutality and venality are covered with just the right amount of Minnesota nice, "Fargo" shows us all just how a modern TV anthology is supposed to work. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.