Broadcasted by FX, the ten episode series was released to universal critical claim this past April. Though it maintains the signature dark humor of the cult classic and exists in the same universe as the film, Fargo explores an entirely different set of events with a new group of characters. Taking place in 2006, it tells the purportedly "true" story of ruthless hit-man Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) who, through a chance encounter with insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), helps set in motion a murderous chain of events that rips through the sleepy town of Bemidji, Minnesota. Amidst the fallout, Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and Duluth police officer Gus Grimley (Colin Hanks) suspect a connection between Malvo and Nygaard, and task themselves with solving the bizarre patchwork of crimes left in both men's wake.
Part of what makes the show so believably cut from the same cloth as the Coen Brothers' film is the perfectly-toned score from composer Jeff Russo. Frequent collaborator of Fargo creator Noah Hawley, Russo came to prominence as a founding member of the rock band Tonic, but has since composed extensively for film and television, working on such shows as ABC's The Unusuals and My Generation, USA's Necessary Roughness, and the CBS mini-series Hostages. Russo clearly approached Fargo with tremendous reverence for the sonic landscape created by Carter Burwell for the Coen Brothers' 1996 film, which was itself a grandiose, noir-like take on Scandinavian folk music. Just as I will never see another desert sunset without hearing the majestic overture of Maurice Jarré's Lawrence of Arabia, Minnesota and the Dakotas have become forever married in my mind to Burwell's doleful fiddle theme. Though Russo's score almost never directly references that theme, or any other theme in the film for that matter, his preservation of the film's general soundscape is an inspired choice.
The main theme, heard prominently in "Bemidji, MN (Fargo Series Main Theme)" and "Bemidji, MN (Reprise)", plays like a sister to Burwell's composition, utilizing the same basic formula as the film's theme yet clearly establishing itself as a standalone identity for the show. Striking a curious balance between achingly lonesome and, when performed by the full orchestra, oddly majestic, Russo's chilly pastoral is comparable in just about every way to Burwell's. While one might attribute the theme to Freeman's Nygaard, it is better regarded as representing all of the series' characters and the backdrop amidst which they enact their bizarre game of cat and mouse. Little variations of the main theme work their way into the score, as in the brooding "Highway Snow (Fargo Series End Credits)" and the immensely foreboding "Fish Head". Even the cautiously tender "Gus and Molly", and its counterpart "The Long Road Home (Paint Cans)", hint at the main theme's progressions.
Fargo is a score filled with curiosities. From the darkly playful "Malvo's Theme", a calculated, quirky idea on pizzicato strings, to the brash drum session heard in "Wrench and Numbers", representing the hired guns Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers (quite an odd bit of scoring on album, but marvelous in-show), Russo doesn't shy away from taking a few chances. Elegant violin solos dot the cues, as in the emotional "Homecoming" and stunning "Thin Ice", the latter of which gives the instrument center stage for a truly haunting performance. A brisk tempo denotes Hanks' character in "Gus, Pt. 2" (good luck finding Pt. 1), and is expanded upon in a comparably warm rendition in "The Parable (Gus' Theme)", topped off again by a brief violin solo.
Much like the show for which it was written, Jeff Russo's Fargo carefully balances satisfying homage with fresh originality. Sure, much of the score is deeply reverential to Carter Burwell's 1996 effort, the tone of it evoking the same chilly, solemn regality of its predecessor, but Russo also manages to make the series his own. Coupled with a surprisingly effective album presentation, it all renders Jeff Russo's Fargo one of the finest television scores of the year. "You're darn tootin'!"
A Few Recommended Tracks: "Bemidji, MN (Fargo Series Main Theme)", "Dullard", "The Parable (Gus' Theme)", "Gus and Molly", "Thin Ice"
Label: Sony Classical
Availability: 28 track edition