‘Hoot’ or insult? ‘Fargo’ television series debuts on FX

Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard Matthias Clamer/FX
  1. Listen Memories of “Fargo” from Fargo

    April 15, 2014

Some laugh about it, others loathed it, but “Fargo” is the classic movie that put Minnesota stereotypes out there for the country to laugh about.

Minnesotans have been living with the legacy of the dark comedy of the Coen brothers’ 1996 film, and it’ll be back Tuesday night in a new 10-part TV series from FX.

The characters and storylines won’t be the same as the movie but the show features an A-list cast including Billy Bob Thornton and  Martin Freeman. A dialect coach has been working with them on their “uff-das” and “you betchas.”

MPR News asked people around Minnesota and North Dakota what they thought about the movie, the TV show and how it will all reflect on the state. Dozens of people responded on social media and through the MPR News Public Insight Network.

Even if they haven’t seen the movie, many Minnesotans say the movie put the region’s accent on the map — for better or worse.

“It should be a hoot,” said Anne Passe, 75, of Wabasha, Minn.

Passe said the Fargo accent came up on her recent trip to New Mexico. “The question is always, ‘Where are you from?'” Passe said. “‘Minnesota,’ we reply. ‘Minnie soowta,’ they answer. I say that we keep a wood chipper in the backyard and that ends the conversation regarding our home state.”

Amanda Thompson, 39, of White Bear Lake said  she saw the movie when she was in college at Moorhead State University, and will never forget, “A woman sitting in front of me at the theater actually said (in her beautiful Fargo accent), ‘Ooooh, now we doooon’t sound like dat!'”

And Thompson thinks that’s a reason to be proud.

“I love that as soon as we open our mouths that you can tell what kind of people we are … patient, humble, kind, sincere, truthful,” she said. “And I love that we know when to keep our mouths shut .”

The movie depicted residents in a good light, Laurie Lind, 54, of Fargo, said, although she didn’t enjoy the language or graphic sexual references in the movie. They were depicted as hard-working, mostly clean-talking, salt-of-the-earth types, she said.

“The ‘out-of-towners’ … were the vile, filthy, indecent, dishonest, criminally-minded scummy sorts. All of which, I thought, was a very funny premise to the movie. ‘We are good people, ‘they’ are all just plain old no good,” Lind said.

John Hoff, 49, of Minneapolis says he plans to watch the series, and says he’s surprised people think the movie mocks the Midwest. Instead, he said, it “portrayed Midwesterners as pure, moral, hardworking, reluctant to give offense, and immune to the harsh conditions of winter.”

Allison Tolman as Molly Solverson Matthias Clamer/FX

For Sarah Doire, the movie had a bigger impact. “The movie is the reason I chose to apply to college in Minnesota without ever having visited the state, or even the Midwest,” she said. “I’ve now lived in Minnesota, happily, since 1998. I personally love the movie, and owe it a lot.”

A few people told MPR News that while they enjoyed the movie, they don’t plan to watch the series. Others will watch out of curiosity.

“I will watch it — mostly to see how they treat the material,” said Doug Melby, 51, of North Dakota. “It’s gotta be hard to adapt what some consider a masterpiece.”

He thought the movie depictions were accurate. “The only concern is that I hope people don’t think we have that type of violence here,” he said.

Bill Schulz, 77, of Fergus Falls, Minn., said he might check the show out once or twice.

“From what I hear, it is just another show designed for people on both coasts designed to ridicule and demean all those gun-loving Bible thumping Neanderthals in flyover country,” he said. He grew up on a farm in Otter Tail County in rural Minnesota, and attended schools in Fargo, then lived all across the country when he joined the Navy.

Mark Olson, 57, who calls himself a lifelong Fargoan — 57 years and counting — said he’ll watch it for sheer entertainment. He said the movie was great, but didn’t have anything to do with Fargo.

“It wasn’t a documentary,” he said. “Nobody in Fargo speaks like that. That accent is a northern Minnesota accent from a decade or two ago.”

The stereotypes in the movie can produce the kind of powerful social commentary that stereotypes like Archie Bunker and George Jefferson and M.A.S.H. did, said Christine Engstrom, 64, of Cannon Falls, Minn. She said she looks forward to watching the new series.

“The opportunity is there to explore –what does it mean to be ‘nice’ in today’s world — what’s up with that?” Engstrom said. “Deepening the characters over time (think ‘Doc Martin’) will be needed to hold interest, otherwise it will just be laughing at a stereotype rather than holding up a stereotype to invite us to explore our common foibles through exaggerations.”

The movie not only portrayed stereotypes of accents, but also personalities and showed humor in our winter weather, said Kay Beckermann, 42, of Fargo.

“I wasn’t offended by the stereotypes portrayed because if you can’t laugh at yourself, what can you laugh at?” Beckermann said.

Jim McKie, 70, of West St. Paul echoes the notion that people shouldn’t get offended or take the stereotypes too seriously. “Get over it,” he said. “At least you don’t have a Jersey accent!”

Editor’s note: Watch this space Wednesday for a recap of the first episode of “Fargo.” 

  • “Nobody in Fargo speaks like that.”

    Ya, sure, you betcha – (Yes, yes you do).

  • Starquest

    Agree with Onan. To anybody who thinks Minnesotans don’t have that accent, just watch the local news when they interview anyone from outside the urban core, particularly north and west of the Twin Cities. The Coens absolutely nailed the accent, among other things, in their outstanding film.

    I want to check out this series, but it’s got some big shoes to fill, even if it apparently isn’t attempting to do so. It does appear to have an all-star cast; Freeman, Billy Bob and Bob Odenkirk are all great actors.

    Regarding the accent, one of my favourite lines from the film is Jerry’s wife, when she says to their son, “We don’t wantcha goin out fer hockey this year.”

  • morgue

    Ya and Fargo is in North Dakota not Minnesota just saying.

  • Erik

    I never thought I had an accent until I listened to myself talking (I worked a phone job and had to listen to my calls with a supervisor-ugh!). Yep, total Minnesota accent.

    • North Dakota

      Yes we have slight accents, but come one this is ridiculous.

  • David Gordon

    Here is an idea MPR… broaden your survey to people in other demographics, not just the 60-90 bracket.

    • Want to know how we know you didn’t read the article?

      • David Gordon

        Because they included someone who is 42 years old? Want to know how I know you do not understand humor?

        • Sarcasm sometimes doesn’t translate well over the interwebz.

          Plus my “sarcasm detector” froze up yesterday due to the snow and ice.

          Now that I see your original comment for what it was I will give you a hearty “Well played.”

          • David Gordon

            No problem. It happens to the best of us. And I love MPR.

        • rst1317

          Or maybe the problem is that it wasn’t funny?

          • David Gordon

            It was not supposed to be a gut buster. It was supposed to make a point that MPR in general does not do well in reaching out beyond their comfort zone. You cannot deny that in this article the people interviewed are primarily an older generation. They fail to accomplish their goal in this article by limiting themselves so much. Their goal being to understand the cultural impact of the film and tv show of Fargo.
            The humorous part about my comment was simply exaggerating the age group. I think the real problem was that you are not very bright.

  • Erik Hare

    Minnesota’s not too bad of a deal. There are worse places.

  • North Dakota

    I live in North Dakota. For one I don’t know why they call it Fargo when it takes place in MN and I am not impressed how they think we still live in the early 90’s. Did anyone pay attention to the props? The phones are old the cars are old come on people do a little research. I thought this was about as bad as the movie was. I WILL NOT be watching this series.

  • Eliot Bovee

    Everyone in america from a city, be it saint paul, minneapolis, austin, portland, iowa city, cleveland, nashville, orlando etc etc etc sounds pretty much the same. I’m 27 and have lived in The twin cities my entire life, and have gotten around and met a lot of people from a lot of other cities. We all sound the same, with very few variations. People from the suburbs sound a bit different. People from the boonies sound really different. The problem is with the fargo film and tv series is eeryone sounds like they are from roseau, or lindstrom or some backwater. The vast majority of minnesotans sound like everyone else, or at worst…sigh…canadian. Go wild

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