Fargo (Season 1)

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Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) is bullied by the Hess family

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the FX series (inspired by the Coen brothers’ film- Fargo).

I heard about this show from a former co-worker (who called it “the best show on TV”) and via little snippets online.  However, it took me SOME time to get into the story and finish watching the DVD set (which I purchased on sale from FYE).  I watched it twice to get a better understanding of the story. 

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Lester happens to meet Lee Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) in the ER

If you enjoy watching British actor Martin Freeman (The Hobbit; Sherlock), then this show MAY make you into a fan.  He gets to stretch his acting muscles here, NOT only playing the meek, mild, “Nice Guy” you’d expect. 

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Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) interviews Lester at his desk in the insurance office.

The good guys on this show are ALMOST as interesting as the baddies- you’ll want to cheer for them for sure!  Deputy Molly Solverson (Alison Tolman) is a humble, earnest, and observant 2nd gen police officer in her hometown of Bimidji, MN (which is close to Fargo, ND).  Molly is around 30, looks like an average Midwestern woman (thank you, producers), likeable, BUT sometimes undermined in her role (by the males in her department).   

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Deputy Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) in his patrol car

She finds a complementary foil in reluctant cop and loving single dad, Officer Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks).  On my second watch, I LOVED seeing their working friendship evolve into a slow-burn romance.  Tolman and Hanks have such an easygoing and sweet chemistry- it’s rare to see in modern TV.  Murder investigations CAN bring people together! 

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Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele play FBI agents

There are several well-known actors who are guest stars on the show; I esp. liked seeing Key and Peele as two clueless FBI agents.  In a few of their scenes, I wondered if they were making fun of the two cops on Season 1 of True Detective or perhaps such sketches from their OWN show. 

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The “new” Lester flirts with a young woman in Vegas

One of my favorites on the show is Lou (Keith Carradine), a retired cop who now runs a diner; he is also a widower and Molly’s father.  Lou and Molly have such a GREAT relationship; we see the love and respect shine through in every scene they share.  At times, Lou is concerned re: the safety of his daughter, BUT he never undermines her ability to do her job. (FYI: Season 2 goes back in time to find Lou, played by Patrick Wilson, as a young deputy.)

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Malvo tries to get info out of Lou Solverson in his diner

If you like Billy Bob Thornton, then this series will simply be a treat; the veteran movie actor creates a scary good villain and chews up the scenery.  He transforms himself w/ different hair, clothing, posture, manners, etc.  I think Fargo is definitely worth a watch (esp. b/c of the VERY strong acting, writing, cinematography, and music).  It’s a character drama mixed w/ a police procedural, w/ sudden doses of violence (which is to be expected also in MOST of the Coens’ films).    

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Broadchurch: Series 2 (Netflix)

This review contains MILD spoilers for the British (BBC/ITV) show.

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I started watching this series in July, BUT didn’t get to the bulk of the eps until Thanksgiving.  Series 2 focuses on the trial of Det. Ellie Miller’s (Olivia Colman) husband (Joe), an older case which is still affecting DI Alec Hardy (David Tennant), and how various individuals of the small town of Broadchurch (as well as a few new characters) deal w/ the aftermath of Series 1.  The community is  shocked (yet again) when Joe decides to plead “not guilty” to the death of Billy Latimer! 

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The Latimers, Beth (Jodie Whittaker) and Mark (Andrew Buchan), have a new baby girl; they still grieve for Billy. This couple has emotionally complicated chemistry with each other, perhaps even better than in the S1.  (Their teen daughter, Chloe, doesn’t have much to do in this series.)  Rev. Paul Coates (Arthur Darvill) and Australian hotel owner, Becca Fisher (Simone McAullay), are in a long-term relationship- BIT of a surprise.  We can see that Paul is conflicted about his role in this town. 

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Miller has been downgraded to the level of traffic cop and now lives in a small apt. w/ her toddler son, Fred.  Her older son, Tommy (who was Billy’s best pal), has chosen to live temporarily w/ Aunt Lucy.  Miller is STILL a dogged cop, even motivating Hardy to keep going when he gets disillusioned.

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We meet Hardy’s ex-wife and teen daughter, who live several hours away and are doing well in life.  We sense that Hardy wants to be a more involved parent.  He is now taking meds, BUT eventually undergoes a heart procedure. The BEST thing about this series is the growing friendship and continued partnership between Miller and Hardy!  Colman and Tennant, at times, have a competitive (perhaps brother-sister) type of chemistry.

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Pictured: EVE MYLES as Claire and JAMES DARCY as Lee Ashworth.
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We slowly learn more re: the Pippa Gillespie/Lisa Newberry case. The witness Hardy had been protecting, hairdresser Claire Ripley (Eve Myles) and her overbearing boyfriend, Lee Ashworth (James D’Arcy from Agent Carter) feature prominently in this series.  They seem like the definition of a co-dependent/dysfunctional couple;  I would’ve liked to see less of their story.      

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Pictured: MARIANNE JEAN BAPTISTE as Sharon Bishop.
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The newcomers to the series were the main draw for me (aside from Tennant and Colman).  Two former colleagues, prosecutor Sharon Bishop (Marianne Jean- Baptiste) and veteran defense attorney, Jocelyn Knight (Charlotte Rampling) are on opposite sides of the trial. These women are BOTH very smart, tough, and experienced in court.  They each have other issues to deal w/ outside of work, which we slowly discover.  I wanted to see a BIT more of them!  There is a LOT more to this show, so check it out if you liked Series 1.

The Escape Artist (2013) starring David Tennant

NOTES: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.  The original BBC version was shown in three parts (an hour each). The version shown in the US on PBS was edited to two parts (90 minutes each), which is the one I saw.

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You do not know how you will react to the law, until the law happens to YOU.

The premise is VERY interesting, yet as the tale goes on, it becomes less and less believable.  The tension created and acting are the main reasons to check it out.  You will find parallels to Cape Fear.  Game of Thrones fans will be pleased to see Anton Lesser (Maester Qyburn) and Kate Dickie (Lysa Arryn).

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David Tennant (who gets to use his own Scottish accent) is in the lead role of Will Burton, a  successful 38 y.o. barrister (lawyer who can go to trial) and devoted family man (w/ a wife, played by Ashley Jensen, and young son).  Tennant’s face is very expressive, esp. the eyes, and he makes the legal talk sound like second nature.  I esp. liked the interactions w/ the child actor who played his son.  Tennant and Jensen have great chemistry as marrieds, too. 

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Will has been voted as the #1 junior barrister under 40 in London; he is congratulated by clerks and fellow barristers at the (private) firm where he works.  In the #2 position is Maggie Gardner (Sophie Okonedo), a woman who respects Will but has a long-time professional rivalry with him.  Okonedo is an actress that should REALLY be more known; she has the ability to be whip smart, strong, and also vulnerable (like Tennant).  Maggie is a BIT surprised when Will decides to take on the case of suspected murderer, Liam Foyle (Toby Kebbell- most recently in the Ben-Hur reboot).

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We learn that Foyle asked his solicitor to request Will, who has never lost a case. As he tells his son’s class at career day, Will believes that “everyone deserves a defense.” However, the details of this particular killing turn his stomach and keep him up late at night.  Also, Foyle is NOT the most pleasant defendant (Kebbell makes a creepy villain), which may turn off the jury.  Check out Season 1, Episode 3 of Black Mirror (Netflix)to see Kebbell’s acting range.