Inside Television: Fargo shows the way forward


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The Independent Culture

Here is further evidence of TV's increasing cultural prestige: A new television adaptation of the Coen brothers' cult 1996 film Fargo has been announced as an addition to Channel 4's spring schedules.

The Coens are attached as executive producers and it will star Sherlock’s Martin Freeman in a role similar to that played by William H Macy in the film, and Billy Bob Thornton as new character Lorne Malvo. No word yet on who’ll take over the film’s most memorable character, heavily pregnant Minnesota police chief Marge Gunderson.

Wringing as much revenue as possible from any half-decent story idea isn’t an unusual entertainment practice. In fact, in this notoriously risk-averse industry, it’s practically a guiding principle. But the usual pathway of promotion for these stories leads from small screen trial to big screen triumph. This year will see the release of a sequel to The Inbetweeners movie (the first film holds the box office record for a British comedy film’s most successful opening weekend) and the first Veronica Mars movie. The teen detective series was cancelled in 2007, but loyal fans used Kickstarter to crowdfund a film version into production.

These two examples have been unusually well-received for TV-to-film adaptations. Many others - The X Files, The Avengers, Kevin and Perry Go Large - have been disappointing. The usual difficulty is creating a sense of cinematic spectacle without compromising the setting and characters which made the show popular in the first place. TV writers adapting in the other direction should have more freedom. They might use the same characters to tell a prequel or sequel story or simply set events in the same world (as does Channel 4’s Fargo), and whatever story they tell, they’ve got at least 10 hours of screen time to tell it in.

There are no fundamental creative reasons why great films shouldn’t be turned into great TV series. Instead, the obstacles has always existed mainly in heads of a viewing public who see cinema as a noble art that should not be tampered with and TV as exactly the kind of vulgarian medium to attempt such tampering. It’s notable that, until recently, the most successful film-to-TV adaptations have either been based on films that passed below the radar - Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Friday Night Lights - or aimed at an audience distinct from the one who would have viewed the original film. The Pink Panther, Beetlejuice, Rambo and Ghostbusters were all turned into animated series for children.

The excellent Hannibal on Sky Living and the intriguing Bates Motel on Universal have shown what film-to-TV adaptations can do with more iconic material. Now that filmmakers as well-regarded as the Coen brothers have given their blessing to a TV version of their best work, the stigma around these adaptations must surely start to fade.

Chezza and SiCo: Reunited

Is getting back together with the ex ever a good idea? After four years of seeing other people, Cheryl Cole, Her Royal Highness of Geordieland, and X Factor boss Simon Cowell have announced they’ll be reuniting on his moribund reality singing contest.

Cole has made valiant attempts to cast her return to X Factor as a power move. “It's not nice to see a grown man cry, so I finally succumbed,” she said during an interview. It was supposed to sound regal, but coming from the woman who won a nation’s respect by ditching her love rat husband, it sounded sheepish instead.

SiCo has at least promised he’s “not going to put somebody next to her who she hates,“ on the judging panel, but can she trust him? As Cheryl herself once sang “Promises made, promises made / Started to fade, started to fade” 


The Walshes, BBC iPlayer

Your new favourite sitcom started on BBC4 this week. The subject matter, a working class family of four living in the suburbs, might sound over familiar, but since this was co-written by Father Ted’s Graham Linehan and Edinburgh Festival favourites Diet of Worms, you can be assured of the quality.

Famous, Rich and Hungry, BBC iPlayer

Talking Point of the Week: Can the likes of Boris Johnson’s sister Rachel and Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Theo Paphitis develop any real empathy for Britain’s hungry during a three-day stay at a struggling stranger’s home? Or is this just a kind of televised poverty tourism? Expect a Channel 5 ‘row’ to follow imminently.

Great Canal Journeys, 4oD

The beautiful scenery and gentle pace of this four-part travel series combine to create an hour of tranquil meditation. It’s also an excellent advert for the health benefits of matrimony. As they negotiate the many locks of the Kennet and Avon canal in southern England, our hosts Timothy West and Prunella Scales demonstrate perfect teamwork.

Ablisa’s X Factor Audition, YouTube

In 2010, best friends Abby and Lisa, AKA Ablisa, auditioned for X Factor. The baffling orgy of ignorance and violence which followed has rightly gone down in X Factor history. This clip is also a great opportunity to remember Cheryl Cole at her best. Note, in particular, her look of pained confusion at 3’18” her attempt to surreptitiously stick her fingers in her ears at 3’52” and, at 5’12”, her abject horror.