- Composed by Jeff Russo
- Sony Masterworks / 2014 / 53m
Set in the same universe as the Coen Brothers’ film of the same name, Fargo was one of the best new tv shows to emerge in the last season. Beautifully dark humour accompanies the antics of Martin Freeman’s bumbling character – who starts the series murdering his wife – and his hitman accomplice-turned-nemesis, played by Billy Bob Thornton. The acting is uniformly brilliant – not just those two leads, but also great support from Allison Tolman as the local cop who’s the only one who really believes in Freeman’s guilt, Colin Hanks as an outcast cop from another town and Keith Carradine as Tolman’s father. The ten-episode series tells the story in completion – there’s nothing left to tell at the end – and if it’s recommissioned for a second season then apparently that will be told with an all new cast and new characters, but still in the same universe. (I certainly hope it comes back.)
Carter Burwell’s score for the movie is one of his most recognisable (and most impressive) scores and thankfully Jeff Russo’s music for the series picks up where that leads up. While Russo’s background is in rock music, his score is orchestral and seriously impressive. The opening title, “Bemidji, MN” is very similar to Burwell’s movie theme – eerily calm but soothingly melodic and pleasant. It forms the basis for large parts of the score (it’s very odd in fact that Burwell doesn’t receive any credit) – and never outstays its welcome.
There are essentially two sides to the music – high-register strings and winds perfectly evoking the freezing temperature and snow which dominate the show’s look, and occasional diversions into black comedy with quirkier little pieces, pizzicato strings here, a little woodwind flutter there, ironic sleighbells – it’s all about creating just the right atmosphere, and the composer succeeds in doing precisely that. At times things do get rather dark – “Murder” with its piercing brassy opening, leading into a funereal passage which screams sadness and regret. “Malvo’s Theme” (for the Thornton character) is just perfect, the character in a nutshell: stylish, sophisticated, studied, quirky. There’s “Wrench and Numbers”, which is essentially a drumkit being hammered for a couple of minutes – it’s an exercise in dramatic scoring (it’s beautifully-judged in context) and weirdly listenable on the album, despite being far removed from much of the music around it.
“Dullard” is a brilliant piece: light, airy fragments of the main theme turn contemplative, peaceful – it couldn’t be further from its title. “Homecoming” is gorgeous – a violin solo quite heartbreakingly sad against the snowy backdrop of the visuals and of the other strings. “Gus, Pt. 2” (amusingly, there is no part one) opens with a shocking stinger, turns more dramatic – a sudden urgency, so effective because of the relative calm which has preceded it. “The Parable” (subtitled “Gus’s Theme”) is another great character theme – homely, decent, an inquisitive air, a little blast of warmth – again, very clever. Later, “Gus and Molly” is really quite moving: a portrait of domestic bliss amongst harsher surroundings.
Fargo is really rather brilliant. I often think television music is quite hard to make into a really strong album, regardless of how well it works in context – the cues tend to be much shorter, the ideas more abbreviated, needing familiarity with the show to make sense. That’s not the case here – ten episodes of music condensed to just under an hour, it has an enviable dramatic flow and is based on a tremendously clever set of ideas. Yes, the mood is cold, but there is great beauty to be found in the shades of white on offer. This is some of the strongest dramatic scoring I’ve heard in television in quite some time.