By Brian Lowry, CNN
(CNN) — Once you get past the kick of seeing Juno Temple nailing a Minnesota accent, FX’s fifth season of “Fargo” plays like a thin version of the concept, while owing a sizable debt to director David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence” with its story of a seemingly ordinary family person hiding a secret past. Just like the past is sometimes best left buried, the same principle applies to anthology series short on inspiration.
Bearing scant resemblance to her “Ted Lasso” persona, Temple stars as Dot, a midwestern mom who gets arrested at a local political melee, placing her fingerprints into the criminal database and opening her up to those who have been searching to find her.
The idea that Dot might have a secret life certainly comes as news to her milquetoast husband (David Rysdahl), while proving a little less surprising to her wealthy mother-in-law, the proprietor of a debt-collection empire. The latter is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh with a sneering drawl that sounds like an exaggerated impression of a 1940s gun moll, cranked up to an 11 or 12 when a nine would surely do.
“I’m not your mom,” she snaps at Dot. “You’re married to my son.”
Presided over by producer Noah Hawley, who has wrung an impressive amount of mileage out of the Coen brothers’ concept, “Fargo” finds its heavy in Roy Tillman (Jon Hamm), a North Dakota Sheriff who is on Dot’s tail. Hamm milks a fair amount of humor out of the character – a Marlboro Man-type figure who adheres to his own code – while padding his very busy TV resume, which in short order has included “The Morning Show,” “Good Omens” and the upcoming animated series “Grimsburg.”
Tillman’s eccentric circle includes his dimwitted son (“Stranger Things’” Joe Keery), who isn’t nearly as tough or clever as he seems to believe; and a hitman named Ole Munch (Sam Spruell), who takes the plot in farcically bizarre directions.
Arguably, “Fargo” peaked in its second season, featuring Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons, with subsequent iterations proving diverting enough without reaching those heights.
To the extent the latest version delivers a modest kick from its trademark mix of deadpan humor and explosive violence, is it possible to enjoy this season (six of the 10 were made available) strictly on its terms? You betcha.
Thus far, though, this feels like a case of an established formula gradually yielding diminishing returns. And while conjuring a mystery about who and what made Dot run and who will survive her sudden exposure, this time the show plays a little too much like an accent in search of a series.
“Fargo” premieres November 21 at 10 p.m. ET on FX, streaming the next day on Hulu.
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