Fargo, like American Horror Story, is an anthology series, so each season tells a self-contained story, though there are some connections and they definitely take place in the same universe (in the same universe as the film, even). One could review each miniseries as its own show; hell, each miniseries could be its own show. There is enough story and character to sustain a multiseason arc and yet by telling it all in ten episodes, Hawley creates a huge sense of urgency and ends up with a more powerful narrative experience.
Season 1 is my favorite of the two so far. In some ways, it is a cheeky remix of the original film, but it is very much its own clever beast. The first episode packs several episodes' worth of plot into one in order to do what seems to be Hawley's MO: set up a status quo that appears to be a story seed and then blow it up to tell a much more interesting story. By the end of the pilot, Hawley establishes the clear Good Guys (the cops) and the Bad Guys (the criminals), and the entire season is a complex game of cat-and-mouse where we both want the Bad Guys to be caught but we are also impressed with their cleverness and resourcefulness. It makes bold, potentially disastrous choices, but by the end Hawley has earned your trust in him as a storyteller. Again, because it's a single season, he has an end in sight and he knows how to get there.
Season 2 expands the scope and has a different vibe, thanks to the period setting. Whereas the first season felt more personal and intimate, the second season introduces warring crime organizations, and it pumps up the violence. Once again, it's still clearly cops vs. criminals, but this time, there's somewhat more depth to the criminals, even if there are way more of them, which means that they don't get to be as fully developed and shine nearly as brightly as the two standouts in the first season. It's a bit better on the non-white and female characters, though; two of the best characters are POC and unlike in the first season where nearly every female character with a couple notable exceptions was a twit, nearly every female character here is fleshed out and compelling. 0This season also makes bold, potentially disastrous choices that don't completely work; an increase in the number of stylistic flourishes signals Hawley's evolution on his way to Legion, where he can be as self-indulgent as he wants. But yet again, the man knows how to construct a story, as the payoff is worthy of the setup.
So what unites these two seasons of Fargo? The show certainly takes its setting and tonal cues from the film and the Coens in general. It's a black comedy, mixing both darkness and decency, and the anthology format means that you can't be ensured of the safety of (almost) any character. It's marked by explosive, sometimes quirky violence, which can often occur when civilians find themselves in sticky situations and discover that they may not be as good a person as they think they are. It believes in a universe ruled by cosmic forces of justice that do not necessarily care about what's fair but do care that human morality is what we make of it. Good and bad are not what we are but the choices we make. And the choices we make will always have consequences. The show also believes strongly in family and the power of genuine decency and human kindness. It adores its characters, who are all incredibly well acted by fantastic actors. On top of all the excellent writing, the show looks and sounds great, with smart musical choices and bravura directing. The use of titles and end credits makes each episode feel like a cinematic experience in your own home.
I am absolutely on the Noah Hawley train now. You've got another great season of Fargo in you? Okay then.