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Canberra Today 3°/9° | Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

‘Minnesota nice’ shines in face of Fargo horrors

Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in Fargo… frequent use of “oh, geez” and “you betcha” mild language persists even in the face of horrendous crimes and extreme violence.

“Fargo’s cult status and success is in capturing the essence of the American Midwest, while telling darkly humorous tales,” says Whimsy columnist CLIVE WILLIAMS.

Fargo has become cult viewing but for those who came in late, the following is a brief explanatory history.

Fargo is an American dark comedy crime drama television series created and primarily written by Noah Hawley. 

Fargo is mostly set in Minnesota and North Dakota. The show was inspired by the 1996 film of the same name, written and directed by the American filmmakers, brothers Joel and Ethan Coen.

The TV series premiered on April 15 2014 and follows an anthology format, with each season set in a different era and location, with a different story and mostly new characters and cast, although there are minor overlaps.

Each season is heavily influenced by various Coen brothers’ films, with each containing references to them.

Fargo is in particular known for its distinctive word patterns, which contribute to the series’ unique linguistic charm. The characters’ long vowels and sentence structure originate from the Norwegian, Swedish and German-influenced English spoken by late 1800s settlers.

Here are some key elements of Fargo, with examples:

Repetition of format: We are told at the beginning of each fictional episode: “This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in [location] in [year]. 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”.

“Minnesota nice” is a cultural descriptor for the behaviour of people from Minnesota, implying polite friendliness, an aversion to open confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a fuss, the exercise of emotional restraint, and self-deprecation.

Fargo characters often use excessively polite language, such as Lester Nygaard’s frequent use of “oh, geez” and “you betcha”. This mild language persists even in the face of horrendous crimes and extreme violence.

Regional accents: The midwest elongation of vowels and unique pronunciation is evident in phrases such as “you’re darn tootin'” or “dontcha know”.

Colloquialisms: Characters frequently use colloquial expressions, such as Lou Solverson’s “That’s a heck of a thing” or Molly Solverson’s “yah, sure, you betcha”. Characters also use folksy expressions such as “oh, for Pete’s sake” or “you’re talking crazy now”. These expressions contribute to the down-to-earth and regional nature of the dialogue.

Dark humour: Humour often arises from characters making light of serious situations. Lorne Malvo’s deadpan response, “Well, that’s debatable”, when asked if he’s the devil, exemplifies the show’s use of dark humour.

Moral ambiguity: Characters use polite language to discuss morally complex situations. For instance, when Lester Nygaard says, “I’m just not sure I’m comfortable with it”, regarding murdering someone.

Cultural references: The series incorporates references to midwestern culture, as seen when characters make references to local customs.

Distinctive character voices: Each eccentric character has a unique way of speaking. Malvo’s concise and cryptic dialogue contrasts sharply with the verbose and bumbling speech of Deputy Bill Oswalt – known for his long-winded and elaborate speeches, such as his explanation of the fictional “Sioux Falls Massacre”.

The combination of all these elements contributes to the series’ cult status and success in capturing the essence of the American Midwest, while telling darkly humorous tales.

It all results in compelling viewing!

On a lighter note:

  • Ted was squatting at the gym until someone opened his locker.
  • A hole in one is a great achievement – unless of course you’re the CEO of Boeing.
  • My wife says I never buy her jewellery. I have to say in all honesty, that I didn’t know she was selling it.

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Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Clive Williams

Clive Williams

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