By Nina Metz
Though set within the same frigid landscape as the 1996 Coen Brothers movie, the new FX series “Fargo” is not so much an adaptation as it is a close cousin.
Three episodes in, it has revealed itself to be a show larded with sight gags, stubborn Midwestern manners, character quirks, black humor and oftentimes a serious and observant look at mangled humanity.
“It’s the best of America versus the worst of America,” is how creator and executive producer Noah Hawley described the show’s crime genre last week by phone from Los Angeles.
Dealing with all those frauds, morons and psychopaths is the character of Molly Solverson, a police deputy tasked with unraveling a series of murders in her small Minnesota town. She’s played by Chicago actress Allison Tolman in her first major role.
The Coen Brothers are not directly involved in the 10-episode series, which airs at 10 p.m. EDT Tuesdays, but the film’s legacy looms large.
Frances McDormand won an Oscar for her role as the no-nonsense Minnesota police chief at the story’s center.
To offset that memory, Hawley created a brand-new character who is distinct but shares many traits with her inspiration.
Sweet, cunning and contemplative in equal measure, Molly Solverson at first glance looks like a Campbell Soup kid who grew up to become a police officer. She is an unassuming presence, the brown of her hair matching her brown vest and parka; her tan uniform blending into her pale skin.
It’s a deceptively complicated performance, one that conceals plenty behind that polite Minnesota facade. Tolman is the one unknown lead on a show that also features Billy Bob Thornton, “Hobbit” and “Sherlock” star Martin Freeman, Colin Hanks, Keith Carradine and “Breaking Bad’s” Bob Odenkirk.
“To the network’s credit,” Hawley says, “FX said Molly can be a discovery. We don’t need to cast a name actress in the role.”