Blog · TV

Fargo and anecdotal storytelling

Adam Goldberg as Mr. Numbers and Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in Fargo

FX’s Fargo may very have premiered over two years ago and I may only have watched the fantastic first season, but now is a better time than ever to talk about its genius brand of anecdotal storytelling.

The first thing to understand about Fargo is that it isn’t a true story. Of course the show takes major and significant cues from the Coen Brothers’ film of the same name and the effect is just the same. Starting with ‘This is a true story’ and then diving into a story and world that’s so kooky and offbeat actually heightens the atmosphere of the show. Not only does everything feel incredibly off but also gleefully artificial. The show claims it is a true story in an almost sarcastic manner and that somehow allows us to accept everything that happens as if it were ACTUALLY true.

So when characters start talking in parables, stories and myths, it all feels like it belongs. We live in the real world and in the real world real people talk with real sentences and are, hopefully, straight forward with one another. Sometimes displaying that real life drama and interaction on screen leads to real empathetic fireworks. One would argue that Luther and, more recently, Stranger Things walks the realistic line more than other shows and it works incredibly well for them.

But, right from the get go, you can tell that Fargo needed to work its way down a different avenue. Instead of purporting to be real it needed to fully embrace the weird and wonderful and by doing so they could transcend the usual brand of storytelling.

One would be ignorant if the conclusion was that Fargo doesn’t involve any realistic dialogue at all. In fact, Fargo does dialogue better than most modern shows. It, in its gaudy nature, rivals the tangible conversations of Hannibal and Mr. Robot. And it, perhaps unintentionally, subscribes to the Hannibal style of dialogue.

Characters don’t just open up to each other because that can be extremely boring on screen. Instead, characters tell stories. They tell parables and fairy tales and make metaphors and drudge up old bedtime stories because this injects the story we’re already experience with yet another story – you get layers.

It tricks, cleverly so, the audience into experiencing two stories at the same time and Fargo uses this for both contradiction and solidarity. Sometimes cutaway metaphors and stories reinforce character moments and turns and build a character without actually showcasing the character itself. On other occasions it just goes to building this world out even further.

But the genius of anecdotal storytelling is the time it saves with character development. Other shows will take a character and put him/her through an obstacle course and hope he/she emerges from the other side with small blemishes, some scuffs and a new physique. Fargo takes a character and puts him/her through a verbal obstacle course and moulds the audience’s perception of the character through his/her response to the story or choice of story. You get the same effect but one is overused whilst the other appears new and fresh, especially when the stories and metaphors are out-there and vibrant in nature.

Fargo’s anecdotal storytelling was a breath of fresh air in a television landscape mired by character development through physical and mental strife. It was and still is a unique way to introduce a character, develop a character and tell a story.


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