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