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TV review: Fargo is back with blood, ice and brilliance

We are back in the land of blood-stained snow.

Fargo, Channel 4, is a new series inspired by the Coen Brothers film of the same name. Pay no attention to those calling it a 'remake' which implies it has the same characters and plot. This is not a simple re-telling of the movie - that would be pointless as the film itself is still fresh, with packs of die-hard devotees who would balk at the idea of a remake. Instead, the TV series has the same setting, violence and black humour but with a wholly new storyline and characters. It may look like Fargo and taste like Fargo but it's something else entirely.

The story focuses on Lester Nygard (Martin Freeman) who is a timid little man, bundled up against the Minnesota cold in sensible jumpers and anoraks. He is ill-suited to his job as salesman, lacking the required brashness, so can't provide his wife with the good life or even a good washing machine. She nags, badgers, sighs and yaps whilst poor anxious Lester just smiles helplessly across the dinner table.

Out on the icy street he is cornered by the swaggering man who used to bully him at school. Wanting to show off to his teenage sons, the man mocks him, making sexual taunts about his wife, and Lester ends up in hospital with a broken nose.

A stranger, resembling Satan in a winter coat, asks him what happened. This is Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) and as Lester tells his story, and makes his feeble little jokes, he is cool and unimpressed. Lorne calmly leans in to offer his advice. 'In my experience,' he says, 'if you let a man get away with breaking your nose, next time he'll try to break your spine.' He tells Lester bluntly that he should have killed this man.

Lorne is the dark opposite of Lester; he is an assassin, not a salesman, and he is confident, easy and smooth, whereas Lester is softly panicking, with no idea of how to correct his sad course in life. Lorne's advice is simple: kill the man who has humiliated you. Take back control from those who mock you. He says 'it's a red tide, this life of ours. The boss, the wife, wearing us down. If you don't stand up to it, let them know you're an ape, deep down where it counts, you're just gonna get washed away.'

Lester is a sensible man - most certainly not an ape - so goes home, back to his inadequacies and the clattering washing machine which he can't afford to replace and doesn't know how to fix.

Then something happens which forces the ape in him to scream. He is compelled to phone Lorne Malvo for help and chaos is unleashed.

With TV series like Fargo being produced is there any need now for trips to the cinema? It was brilliant, with moments of shock, hideous violence and perfectly timed comedy, whilst a new character has emerged who will surely become the new anti-hero of the moment: the languid and unsettling Lorne Maven, with his dark face and glinting dialogue, makes other on-screen baddies look like mumbling hicks.

So who needs cinema, with its queues and its costs and its munching, texting, elbow-nudging irritants? TV - or, at least, American TV - is producing series which are so complex and rich and engaging that the gasps once reserved for whatever was behind the velvet curtain can now just as easily be provoked from your squashy living room sofa.

Looking at the cinema listings I mainly see Hollywood crap about superheroes, just as there was last summer and every other summer before. I'd rather stay at home with the keen brilliance of Mad Men, House of Cards, Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead. Box sets and catch-up TV mean they don't need to be watched in itsy-bitsy, unsatisfying scraps, one doled out to us per week, but can now be unravelled and relished and enjoyed over hours like any epic film.

All cinemas can offer me is noise, expense and other people's children. I'd rather stay at home with American TV. Now hand me the remote and that jumbo bag of Minstrels.

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