Midwest mystery: 'Fargo' returns with more small-town drama

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Kyla Brewer / TV Media
Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a scene from "Fargo"

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a scene from "Fargo"

Everything seems to come full circle in television. In the 1950s -- known as the Golden Age of Television -- anthology series were everywhere, and they're having a moment again, thanks to series such as FX's "American Horror Story" and ABC's "American Crime." Now, one of prime time's biggest anthology hits is about to transport viewers to snowy small-town Minnesota once again.

This time, Ewan McGregor ("Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace," 1999) tackles the dual role of balding parole officer Ray Stussy and his more successful older brother, Emmit, in the 10-episode third season of "Fargo," premiering Wednesday, April 19, on FX. Inspired by the Coen Brothers' ("The Big Lebowski," 1998) Academy Award-winning film of the same name, the third season features completely different characters and a different plot than the first two.

Filmed in Calgary, Alberta, season 3 of Noah Hawley's ("Legion") dark comedy is set in Fargo of 2010, where, tired of living in his brother's shadow, Ray is ready to make a big move. Meanwhile, Emmit, a real estate mogul known as the Parking Lot King of Minnesota, doesn't seem to have the time of day for his brother. Last May, Hawley explained to that this bitter sibling rivalry is at the heart of season 3.

"There's an old wound between them that sort of gets reopened and relitigated, and that rivalry becomes contentious, and that sort of puts all of the events in motion," Hawley said.

Carrie Coon ("The Leftovers") has signed on as newly divorced police Chief Gloria Burgle, who presumably investigates the ensuing chaos surrounding Ray's antics, which lead to "murder, mobsters and cutthroat competitive bridge," according to an FX release. It's actually Ray's girlfriend, Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, "Final Destination 3," 2006), who has a penchant for competitive bridge. A recent parolee herself, it seems pretty likely Swango is involved in Ray's shenanigans. Ray also enlists the help of stoner friend and potential partner-in-crime Maurice (Scoot McNairy, "Halt and Catch Fire"). Meanwhile, Michael Stuhlbarg ("Boardwalk Empire") stars as Emmit's right-hand man Sy Feltz, while Jim Gaffigan ("The Jim Gaffigan Show") portrays Burgle's deputy, Donny Mashman. David Thewlis ("Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," 2004) rounds out the main cast as V.M. Vargas, described as a mysterious loner determined to partner with Emmit, whether he likes it or not. 

This season's supporting cast includes Shea Whigham ("Boardwalk Empire") as police Chief Moe Dammick, Karan Soni ("Deadpool," 2016) as scientist Homer Gilruth, Fred Melamed ("A Serious Man," 2009) as mover-and-shaker Howard Zimmerman and Thomas Mann ("Project X," 2012) as science fiction author Thaddeus Mobley. Hamish Linklater ("The Newsroom") also has a recurring role as Larue Dollars, an IRS agent.

Michael Stuhlbarg and Ewan McGregor as seen in "Fargo"

Michael Stuhlbarg and Ewan McGregor as seen in "Fargo"

Given the timeframe, it's conceivable that fans could see characters from the first season, which was set in 2006. However, as of press time, no plans for possible crossovers have been announced. That's likely bad news for fans who have stuck with the series since it began in 2014 with stars Billy Bob Thornton ("Sling Blade," 1996), Allison Tolman ("Krampus," 2015), Colin Hanks ("Life in Pieces") and Martin Freeman ("Sherlock"). Not only did the first season consistently draw viewers, it also won the Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries. Season 2, headlined by Ted Danson ("Cheers"), Jean Smart ("24") and Kirsten Dunst ("Spider-Man," 2002), didn't fare quite as well in the ratings department, but was still well received by audiences and critics alike, affirming that anthology series have a place on modern television.

No longer the denizen of public television's "Masterpiece" and other such programs, anthology series seem to be all the rage again, and FX has proven to be a leader in the genre. The network is also responsible for Ryan Murphy ("Glee") and Brad Falchuck's ("Scream Queens") "American Horror Story" series, which has earned 15 Emmys in its five seasons. In fact, Murphy has two other anthology series on FX: the current hit "Feud: Bette and Joan" and "American Crime Story," which made waves in the industry for its dramatic portrayal of the O.J. Simpson trial. Other notable modern anthology series include Netflix's "Black Mirror" and the aforementioned "American Crime" on ABC.

For all its success, it's also interesting to note that FX's hit "Fargo" wasn't the first TV show inspired by the famous film. In 1997, Kathy Bates ("Misery," 1990) directed a television pilot based on the movie, featuring Edie Falco ("The Sopranos") as Marge Gunderson (played by Oscar winner Frances McDormand in the film) and Bruce Bohne ("Patch Adams," 1998), who reprised his role as Officer Lou from the film. However, that pilot's only broadcast was as part of Trio's "Brilliant But Cancelled" program about failed TV shows, perhaps in part because of the lack of involvement of the Coen Brothers, who serve as executive producers for the FX series.

Check out the newest installment of the FX hit as a petty sibling rivalry brings chaos to a small Minnesota community in the season premiere of "Fargo," airing Wednesday, April 19, on FX.