‘Fargo’: Creator Noah Hawley on Chris Rock, Season 4’s Themes and the Show’s Future

FX Networks TCA Winter Press Tour, Panels, Los Angeles, USA - 09 Jan 2020
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Fargo” creator Noah Hawley thought the FX series was done after its Season 3, which aired back in 2017. Three years later, “Fargo” is back with a new take and a new cast, led by Chris Rock — and this time, Hawley isn’t dismissing the possibility of future seasons.

But once again, he will entertain the idea of more “Fargo” installments at his own pace. “There’s something great about not having the pressure to deliver on a timeline,” he told Variety on Thursday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour. “It’s such a Herculean effort to tell such a multi-faceted, multi-prong story with as much thematic depth that by the time I’m done with that last hour, I’m pretty much empty.

“Certainly at the end of the third season, I thought, ‘I’ve said everything I have to say about this world and these themes.’ And then a couple of years later I went, ‘yeah, I can do that,'” Hawley said.

Now, with his tongue somewhat in cheek, Hawley said that future “Fargo” seasons could go anywhere. “I always joke that it’s going to be the Space Station Fargo in the year 5100 and there may be a moment where that doesn’t feel like a terrible idea,” he said. “Or it’s 1725. That’s always exciting. But you don’t want to do that as a gimmick. There has to be something really to say about basically decent people who are probably over their head.”

Said executive producer Warren Littlefield: “Whenever Noah says, ‘I have an idea and I’m ready to go back to Fargo,’ my heart soars.”

Season 4 of “Fargo” takes place in 1950, and serves as a bit of a prequel to Season 2 and the character of Mike Milligan, a member of a Kansas City crime family whose origin story plays a big role this time around.

“Fargo’s” producers are notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to details each season, but here’s the approved log-line for the season: “In 1950 Kansas City, two criminal syndicates jockey to control an alternate economy of exploitation, graft and drugs while fighting for a piece of the American dream. As tensions rise, the crime heads trade their youngest sons in an attempt to strike an uneasy peace.”

The first episode, “Welcome to the Alternate Economy,” was written and directed by Hawley. The story centers on said “uneasy peace” between two Kansas City crime syndicates, as well as the story of the Smutny family.

Hawley wrote the part of Loy Cannon, the head of the city’s African American crime family, specifically for Rock. The comedian said he was a fan of the series’ first three seasons.

“I thought it was easily the best thing on TV,” Rock said. “When I got the call, I thought he wanted me to host something for his charity. I was pleasantly surprised.”

Hawley said the season explores how the history of America is the history of the entrepreneur, someone who starts with nothing, then works hard to achieve success and struggles to hold on to it.

“I don’t know the world of standup comedy but it felt like it embodied that spirit,” Hawley said of why he immediately thought of Rock for the show. “Plus, he’s funny.”

The season also discusses assimilation, the exploitation of cheap and free labor, and the struggle for marginalized groups working to break their way into mainstream.

But in “Fargo” style, there’s plenty of dark humor along the way, and Rock compared the tone’s humor to Martin Scorsese movies. Combine that with the season’s themes, and it’s similar to some of his comedy routines.

“Racism’s been very good to me,” Rock quipped.

“Fargo” is still in the middle of shooting — the show is set to premiere in the spring — and Rock said it’s been a different experience for him.

“It’s not like comedic acting, where you wait for close-up and give 13 different versions of this funny thing,” he said. “It’s like the New England Patriots, you have to run the route and the ball will be there. It’s not just about running fast. The challenge is getting the part down but getting some of my personality in there.”

“Fargo” filmed its first three seasons in Alberta, but moved this year to Chicago, which doubles for 1950s Kansas City. “Everything has to be period,” Hawley said, noting the amount of detail work going into this season.

In one other switch from previous seasons, the show’s moral center won’t be a cop, but instead the character of Ethelrida Pearl Smutny, played by E’myri Crutchfield. Other stars on stage at the TCA included Jack Huston (as Det. Odis Weff), Jason Schwartzman (as Josto Fadda), Ben Whishaw (as Rabbi Milligan) and Jessie Buckley (as Oraetta Mayflower).

MGM TV and FX Prods. are behind the show, which Hawley, Littlefield and Joel & Ethan Coen executive produce.