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Season 4 of Fargo examines themes of greed, power and race in 1950 Kansas City, but it's still a lot of fun

Chris Rock stars in Season 4 of Fargo. Courtesy, FX.
Chris Rock stars in Season 4 of Fargo. Courtesy, FX.

It must be frustrating for Noah Hawley.

Whenever he sits down with media to discuss a new season of Fargo, a question will inevitably arise about what he has planned next for the Fargo universe.

It might have something to do with the fact that it is an anthology series which means every season starts with a fresh premise, time period and set of characters. Or maybe it’s because Hawley, who created the darkly comic crime series as an homage to the Coen Brothers 1996 classic film of the same name back in 2013, has never operated on a typical schedule and has always maintained he would only continue when and if he found ideas worthy of the name. Or maybe it’s simply because anyone with even a passing interest in television wants to see Hawley’s magnificent creation continue indefinitely.

So, the good news is that Hawley is talking about a fifth season with the folks at MGM Television and FX Productions. But, you know, cut him some slack.

“I spent the last three years saying I was done and then not being done, so I’m not going to say that anymore,” he says, in an interview with Postmedia from his offices in New York. “That being said, we’re not on the fast track and it’s still something I have to think through. This experience of making this season has been Herculean and only more so because of the shutdown and hiatus we had. I’ve only just seen the last two hours this week. There’s still a lot of heavy lifting I have to do before I look past this present moment.”

Season 4 will finally debut on Sunday, Sept. 27 on FX Canada, more than six months after it was supposed to arrive on the airwaves. COVID-19 caused a shutdown and hiatus. But even before that, this instalment was an exercise in heavy lifting. For one, the show shifted production from Calgary, its home base for the past three seasons, to Chicago. The Windy City plays Kansas City circa 1950, requiring a colourful but expensive transformation. It also has the biggest ensemble cast in the show’s history, with an estimated 21 main characters inhabiting an ambitious tale about warring crime syndicates, race, greed, immigration and the American dream.

“The moment you get past the 1970s, you’re really spending money on cars,” he says. “Everything on the street has to change and all the extras have to be dressed. So, yes, it became a sea change scale-wise.”

Chris Rock plays Loy Cannon, who heads a crime syndicate of African-American migrants from the American South and has entered into an uneasy truce with an Italian family headed by Donatello Fadda (Tomasso Ragno) by trading his eldest son to the rival family for the youngest Fadda boy. Beyond that, the series is full of wonderfully named characters who exhibit various degrees of virtue, menace, corruption and derangement, including a Minnesota-nice but murderous nurse named Oraetta Mayflower (Jessie Buckley); a Mussolini-loving brute named Gaetano Fadda (Salvatore Esposito); and a determined Mormon U.S. marshal named Dick ‘Deafy’ Wickware (Timothy Olyphant.)

As always, Hawley was interested in examining big American themes with the series. But it could be argued that the season’s focus on greed, race and the uneven distribution of power has become more timely in the past few months as a deeply divided America confronts its past and present inequalities. This may be why some critics have suggested Season 4 is bleaker and less funny than its predecessors. Hawley disagrees. It may seem that way because of its topicality and because many issues addressed are at the forefront of people’s minds these days. On the other hand,  he adds, the first hour does include an epic fart joke.

“The stakes seem higher because of what they are fighting for,” Hawley says. “It doesn’t feel like a story of individual characters. I think people really feel the characters are representing something larger and that conversation is more serious. But the show itself, minute-to-minute, wasn’t built to be more serious than the other seasons.”

As with past seasons, sharp-eyed cinephiles will be able to recognize some direct or not-so-direct allusions to Coen Brothers movies, which has been a fun hallmark of the series since Day 1. Now four seasons in, Hawley says he realizes he shares a certain sensibility with Joel and Ethan Coen. So maintaining that darkly absurdist, Coen-esque tone has become less a manufactured obligation and more of a natural inclination over the years.

“On some level, I’ve stopped doing that OCD litmus test of ‘Is this Coen?’ he says. “If the setup feels Coen, then the punchline will feel Coen as well. But I also feel that I’ve also earned my own voice within these stories.”

Season 4 of Fargo airs Sunday, Sept. 27 on FX Canada.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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