Back in 2015, I made FX’s anthology drama “Fargo” my No. 1 series of the year. That second season of Noah Hawley’s remake of the Coen brothers’ movie was an extraordinary take on murder and mayhem in the Midwest — and it was remarkably original, too, as it moved beyond the source material. It was perversely funny and yet disturbing, a snow-white neo-noir featuring memorable turns by Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, Jeffrey Donovan, Bokeem Woodbine, Jesse Plemons, Ted Danson, and Jean Smart.
After watching the premiere of the third season of “Fargo,” which airs Wednesday at 10 p.m., I sense that I just may need to put the show at the top of this year’s list, too. It’s as confidently filmed as season 2, with witty musical choices and a falling-air-conditioner-cam, and the plotting promises all kinds of the cosmic surprises that have become a “Fargo” trademark. And then the script is a model of tonal elasticity and a gift bag of twisted and comic pieces of wisdom.
The characters are different this time around, even though they speak with that same Minnesota flatness. Ewan McGregor is masterful in two roles, as the very different Stussy brothers: the down-and-out parole officer Ray and the wealthy “Parking Lot King of Minnesota” Emmit. McGregor defines each brother so clearly, and his makeup is so well done, that my viewing partner didn’t even realize he was watching the same actor in two roles.
Carrie Coon is the requisite warm presence as the chief of police, like Danson and Wilson last season; Mary Elizabeth Winstead is impossible not to watch as Ray’s ex-con girlfriend Nikki; Scoot McNairy is creepy and funny as a very sloppy stoner criminal; Michael Stuhlbarg is compelling as always as a cool deputy to Emmit; and the amazing David Thewlis is completely menacing as a nasty gangster.
Despite all the casting and story differences this season, the “Fargo” big picture remains the same, giving all the season a sense of broad thematic unity: greed and the promise of easy money, crimes that spiral out into an unfolding series of often violent accidents, a glimpse at evil personified, and an America that is as fluffy and pure as the driven snow — until you take a shovel to it, that is.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.