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Fargo by Jeff Russo (Review)

posted Jul 1, 2014, 11:24 AM by Kaya Savas

When I first heard there was going to be a Fargo TV series I reacted like many, and was appalled. Then I heard it was going to be an anthology series with a self-contained 10-episode arc, so I became intrigued. Then I heard the Coen brothers gave it their seal of approval, so I became interested. Then I watched the pilot, and I was hooked. I then realized it was one of the best series I’ve seen. The show is a brilliantly written, acted, shot and scored noir. Noah Hawley has crafted a dark and chilling world that firmly recognizes its roots from the classic Coen brothers film. The look, the characters, the feel, the sound and even plot elements pay homage to the film. However, the show strangely is its own creation. It still tries to play with the audience claiming to be a true story before every episode, like the film did. Don’t worry, nothing in real life can be that well-written, it’s not a true story. But then you get to the score. Carter Burwell’s score to the film is probably as iconic as the film itself. So how would Jeff Russo even approach this? Well, he did it in the best way possible. Like everything else in the show, it does not shy away from the film it's inspired from. Russo did a brilliant job at creating a tangent line from Carter Burwell’s brooding score to make his own little masterpiece.

Fargo was a unique scoring process in that since Jeff Russo and Noah Hawley have an established track record, Jeff got to work very early on the show. By the time they started shooting Jeff had already written 45-minutes to about a hour of music. This is a rare thing in films, and maybe even non-existent for television. The music came first, and since Noah and Jeff had this bank of music to work with, it was very easy to place it into the first cuts of episodes. When you watch and even listen, you can tell how great the precision of the score is. The show is built around the score, and the music on its own lives a great standalone life. Within the narrative Russo plays a perfect balancing act of score and silence. A truly great composer will know when to back off. The music Jeff Russo built is cold, lonesome and mysterious. I feel like the music almost made Fargo seem like a fictional wonderland of terror and intrigue, which in a way it is exactly that in this fictional universe. Russo builds suspense and tension with ease, and he does it in a very simple but effective manner. The music feels barebones but it carries a tremendous weight. The score feels heavy and that makes it bone-chilling. I feel like comparing it to David Julyan’s Insomnia is a fair way to express that cold weight in the music. The score is tense and plays the darkness of the show brilliantly. You’ll find that in these brooding builds is the true voice of the score. One can easily see the homage to Carter Burwell’s score in the main theme, but once you get into the body of this brilliant work you will find Jeff Russo doing some amazing things. Everything is handled with a tinge of tragedy, and in that you find this moral ambiguity amongst the characters that the music reflects. There is a cold beauty to it all. And when you are left alone with this score the lonesomeness of it all can bring you to tears.

Jeff Russo’s Fargo is a brilliant TV score that arcs across some of the best writing you’ll find on television. This twisted tale of devious characters and the good ones trying to make sense of it all will keep you riveted all the way through. The score carries tremendous weight and resonance, and the orchestral execution is wonderful. The main theme here pays homage to Carter Burwell’s score, but the real body of the score is its own wonderful masterpiece of beautiful darkness. Noah Hawley crafted an excellent modern noir, and Russo’s score is the super glue that holds every ounce of brilliance together. It’s going to be interesting to see how Russo handles a second season with a new story, but for now this standalone work is something not to be missed.