Saturday, July 05, 2014

[TV] True Detective vs Fargo

I'm trying to decide which one I liked better. Both were existentially dark crime dramas with splashes of dry humor for relief. Both pushed some stylistic boundaries. Both had remarkable acting. Alison Tollman and Martin Freeman go toe-to-toe with McConaughey and Harrelson by any measure. Throw in a deadpan Billy Bob Thorton and you might have to give the edge to Fargo.

By the way, has it occurred to anyone yet that it's Martin Freeman's world and we're just here by permission. In the British Office he became a paradigm (though it is not better than the U.S. one, as snobs claim); he not only matches Benedict Cumberbatch but becomes an essential Watson to his Holmes in Sherlock; Peter Jackson hires him to be the main Hobbit in his bajillion dollar epic and that turns out to be a low point; and now he gives Bryan Cranston a run for his money as a schlub who becomes a supervillain (and Cranston didn't need to do an accent). Jeez, what a run, eh?

Anyway, back to the comparison. They both had antagonists of pure evil, along with variations of evil. In True, Hart and Cohle did many bad things to get to the purer evil. In Fargo things were even more complicated. Billy Bob was the eternal big bad, but Martin Freeman went over (or was driven) to the dark side, and Colin Hanks wasn't without guilt. The plot and character complexities have to favor Fargo also.

Where they contrast is in the depth with which they view the evil. In Fargo, there are people who are born evil, people who are choose evil, and people who have it thrust upon them. In True, evil just is. Darkness is the natural state of the universe. In fact, there is very little difference between these approaches, just the the one in True is more meta.

Most interestingly to me is that the traditional victory-for-good-but-at-great-cost is where they both end up. In True the big bad is vanquished and Cohle sees something more than utter futility in existence. In Fargo the two big evils are killed and not only does one regretful act of cowardice get redeemed, but the good guys live happily ever after. You would expect folks who like to get arty and push the edges of style and tone would be the sorts of people to leave endings unresolved with respect to moral comeuppance because that seems so much more sophisticated to cynical viewers. Not so in these cases.

Overall, I have to give Fargo the nod. It was both more complicated and more coherent. It struck many chords, whereas True mostly sicked McConaughey and Harrelson on one. I'm glad for both shows and looking forward to more from the same sources. Funny, I would have expected cop dramas to be played out dramatically after The Wire but there's still something left in them.