Friday, April 18th, 2014

What Do TV Shows Want To Be When They Grow Up?

first-look-martin-freeman-fargoHuman reviewers have mostly been apologetic when measuring Fargo the TV show against Fargo the movie, because how can you compare a film to a series? An apple to an orange? And apple to… ten apples? But the machines, who do not apologize, have it settled: According to Metacritic, Fargo the series (Rating: 87% – ‎38 reviews) is better than the Coen brothers' movie (Rating: 85% – ‎24 reviews). We are meant to understand that these numbers don't really say what they seem to say, but could you really explain how? To an alien?

The clearest explanation for the existence of the show is this: "The concept was born out of MGM’s desire to get more of its movie properties onto television, and the goal was to franchise Fargo without remaking it." This seems to be a crucial difference between Fargo and, say, Hannibal, or even Friday Night Lights, both of which are casually understood to be based on films but which are really based on much richer books. Fargo treats its inspiration like a trope; its relationship to its parent movie is an awful lot like Captain America: The Winter Soldier's relationship to 1941's Captain America Comics #1. (Winter Soldier, however, is expected to adhere STRICTLY to the mythology of the much newer and super-lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is less than a decade old. The intellectual property cosmos is confusing and beautiful, just like the real cosmos.)

This has been going on for a very long time, the movie-to-TV thing, but look at what it's given us: A catalog of cash-ins and flukes and low-rent animated series. This is one of the best pages on Wikipedia, by the way: It's where you can learn that, in a closet or on a hard drive somewhere, there are 39 episodes of an Ace Ventura: Pet Detective cartoon. In 1990, CBS produced an Uncle Buck show in which the kids' parents were dead and John Candy's character, played by Kevin Meaney, had taken full custody.

Movies have produced a lot of TV, just not a lot of ambitious TV. But Fargo is good, or very good. Maybe great. So if it's a success, why not assume every beloved modern film has the commercial potential of a 50-year-old comic book or a blockbuster children's movie? Where is HBO's Pulp Fiction or AMC's The Shawshank Redemption?? Showtime's Point Break? I mean they're already talking about doing the Truman Show. I would probably watch all of those, except for the Shawshank one.

7 Comments / Post A Comment

GailPink (#9,712)

Based on the first episode, Fargo looks as good as the movie — which is very good!

deepomega (#1,720)

Part of this is that Fargo lends itself well to the things that Prestige Television care about – that is, white men who commit violence and, sometimes, their wives. We could imagine Pulp Fiction doing it, but probably not Shawshank. Point Break for sure.

I'll tell you what I want, though: the teevee adaptation of Karate Kid.

John Herrman (#8,286)

@deepomega Starz presents its news series HEAT

conklin (#364)

This all sort of sounds like television developed specifically for Bill Simmons. (Which I don't intend as a value judgment although I imagine some people will take it as such.)

Abe Sauer (#148)

This goes both ways, no? TV has produced a lot of movies, just not a lot of ambitious movies. (exceptions like The Fugitive maybe). Hollywood is always looking to maximize its brand extensions as it is the most effortless way to turn a buck (as opposed to investing in a new idea, growing it, and selling audiences on a new thing.

Anywhoo, Fargo is indeed an interesting example. Everyone is already comparing it to the great TV of our day, like Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men etc that all created fully formed worlds. And stylistically, maybe Fargo is trying to do this. But to me it has a lot more in common with a show like Sex in the City, Gossip Girl or even Friends in that it is completely based on the regional stereotypes the rest of America has about a single place and its populace. (Like Lake Wobegon.) Without its regional quirkiness, what would Fargo be? A general murder mystery. In that way, like with the aforementioned NYC shows, I fear people will watch almost like its a National Geographic special on these bizarre people and their customs, with which you, as a normal American in a normal place, share almost nothing in common. And this need to have regional quirk might trump the development of characters or story. The original Fargo had this as well of course but it only needed to sustain it for 100 minutes.

John Herrman (#8,286)

@Abe Sauer Yes absolutely! After ten hours people will either mistake that quirkiness for realism or… maybe get tired of it?

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@Abe Sauer " Fargo is indeed an interesting example. Everyone is already comparing it to the great TV of our day, like Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Mad Men"

OK, is everyone on crack? I just tried watching the first episode and had to stop after 10 minutes or so. It's horrifyingly bad. This is not a TV show, it's an unfunny SNL skit. What in the fuck…that adult bullying scene… am I really expected to be that stupid to believe that this is a part of that local quirky way of life, and not just a tired cheap TV entertainment routine? Breaking Bad my ass.

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