Juno Temple, Jon Hamm and Jennifer Jason Leigh star in the new season (along with a group of other excellent TV day players with bright futures), which is as sparkling as the snow that covers the cold Minnesota streets in October. It hits the sweet spot for an anthology: Familiar but still utterly unique, surprising even devoted fans at every turn and making you beg for more. Too much TV these days is good enough, passable, semi-entertaining fare that might put you to sleep at night; “Fargo” Season 5 will wake you right up. And that’s before all the gunshots and explosions.
Set in ye olden times of fall 2019, “Fargo” takes place in Minnesota and North Dakota this year after an ill-thought-out excursion to Kansas City in Season 4. The series follows a seemingly soft-spoken, meek mom and housewife Dorothy “Dot” Lyon (Temple), who makes Bisquick pancakes and attends school board meetings. But after she’s arrested during a brawl at one meeting, her secret past starts to catch up with her, violently.
Without spoiling too much, that past involves Hamm’s Sheriff Roy Tillman, who might as well have “alpha” and “MAGA” tattooed on his forehead, and his idiotic son Gator (Joe Keery, “Stranger Things”). They’re helped by semi-delusional hitman Ole Munch (Sam Spruell). Not helping Dot’s increasingly desperate situation is her blithe and loaded mother-in-law (Leigh), who hates Dot but loves her son (David Rysdahl) and granddaughter (Sienna King). Investigating the chaos that Dot leaves in her wake, perhaps in vain, are state trooper Witt Farr (Lamorne Morris, “New Girl”) and local police officer Indira Olmstead (Richa Moorjani, “Never Have I Ever”).
Temple, who hasn’t often gotten the chance to show her range in other roles, like Keeley on “Ted Lasso,” is a bonafide star in “Fargo.” In the six episodes made available for review, she nails a Minnesota accent and brings an intense physicality to her performance. Temple carries the majority of the series on her petite shoulders; you’ll wonder where Dot is and what she’s doing every time Temple isn’t on screen.
The usually A-list-heavy “Fargo” doesn’t need many other big names, but, of course, Leigh and Hamm are always a pleasure to see. Hamm seems to relish getting to play a villain after years of antihero work on “Mad Men” and his recent comedic stylings in films and series like Amazon’s “Good Omens.” Leigh, who has a particular affect as an actress that is something of an acquired taste, slithers into her role with cool ease, drawling out her vowels and literally turning up her nose as the rich and proudly snobby CEO of a debt-collection agency.
Besides great performances, this season of “Fargo” is simply riveting. The series has always trafficked in tasteful yet shocking violence, and the many savage scenes are impossible to look away from. The visuals are startling, as creator and director Noah Hawley continues to use simple aesthetics to his advantage. Snow, Halloween decorations, a strobe light − these things are all benign in life, yet terrifying in “Fargo.”
Season 4, which starred Chris Rock and aired in September 2020, just didn’t feel or smell like “Fargo.” The anthology series gets its charm from strongly drawn characters (both good and evil), violence set against the frozen tundra of the American Midwest and a poisonous and quick wit. The other superb seasons all had something to draw you in and a more distinctive point of view. The 1950s-set Season 4 felt like any old crime drama, the “Fargo” of it all was extraneous.
Season 5 benefits greatly from comparison. You get the impression that no one could tell this particular story other than Hawley and Temple.