“This is a true story. The events depicted took place in Minnesota in 2006. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.”
So begins each episode of “Fargo” (10 p.m. Tuesday, FX), which doesn’t remake the 1996 Coen brothers’ classic but presents new characters and crimes set in the world the film introduced.
It’s the second truly must-see new series of 2014, following HBO’s “True Detective.” And, like “True Detective,” it’s a limited series presented as an anthology. If “Fargo” returns for a second season, it will be with new stories and characters.
Mild-mannered Bemidji, Minn., insurance salesman and henpecked husband Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) has a run in with the high school classmate who bullied him relentlessly. After being menaced for a bit by him and his two dimwitted sons, Lester gets spooked, runs into a window and breaks his nose.
Talking to a stranger (Billy Bob Thornton) in the hospital waiting room, Lester paints the encounter as a three-on-one attack.
“I gotta say, if that were me in your position,” the stranger says, “I woulda killed that man.”
After a moment or two of fidgety bluster, Lester responds. “Heck, you’re so sure about it, maybe you should just kill him for me.”
From there, Thornton’s Lorne Malvo is unleashed like a malevolent force of nature.
Sure, he kills people. But he also has a mischievous streak. Checking into a motel, Lorne hears the owner berating an employee. Pulling that employee aside, Lorne tells him a story about the time he urinated in a guy’s gas tank and the car never ran the same. Then, when he sees that employee doing just that to the owner’s car, Lorne alerts her so she can catch him in the act.
Lorne’s the sort of evil trickster you could easily see the Winchesters hunting on “Supernatural.”
If The CW could afford Billy Bob Thornton.
The rest of the cast includes Bob Odenkirk, Oliver Platt, Kate Walsh, Glenn Howerton, Adam Goldberg, Keith Carradine and newcomer Allison Tolman as what feels like a kindred spirit of Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson.
But as fine as they all are — and Freeman is delightful as the twitchy, nervous Lester — Thornton is fantastic.
Over the years, it’s been easy to forget just how good Thornton can be.
By bringing forth Lorne’s seductive coolness, though, he’s back in a big, splashy way.
Will you be impressed? You betcha.