Ah, jeez. Here we go again. That’s the tagline for the upcoming TV offshoot of “Fargo,” as well as the potential reaction in Minnesota, which once again will be presented to the rest of America as the Land of 10,000 You Betchas.
Premiering Tuesday on cable network FX, the series wasn’t written by native sons Joel and Ethan Coen, but it shares the sensibility of their 1996 Oscar winner, including the notion that our state is overpopulated by passive-aggressive rubes.
So far, citizens of Bemidji, where most of the action takes place, aren’t raising heck. After she watched a seven-minute excerpt on the Internet, Kristi Miller had only one concern: The accents sounded vaguely Irish.
“Are they making fun of us? They kind of are,” said Miller, a lifelong Bemidji resident who bought Brigid’s Pub two years ago. “But we need to make fun of ourselves. Nothing is sacred.”
The biggest grumble from Brigid’s patrons is that the 10-part series was filmed in Calgary, where the tax breaks were lucrative and the snow abundant.
In fact, creator Noah Hawley never visited Minnesota. For regional references, he relied on staff writer Matt Wolpert, who spent his childhood summers in the Sioux Falls, S.D., area.
“It was little things, like everyone talking about how the cold front is coming in,” said Wolpert, whose mom made Hawley a needlepoint piece with “Uff da!” on it. “Nobody in L.A. knows what hot dish is.”
Mastering the long ‘o’
One of the cast’s greatest challenges was mastering the Minnesota accent or, more precisely, Hollywood’s version of it. Martin Freeman watched Minnesotans on YouTube. Colin Hanks applied a combination of a Chicago and Canadian twang.
Peter Breitmayer, who plays a Duluth lieutenant, had an easier time of it. He spent much of his childhood and early acting career in the Twin Cities before moving to Los Angeles in 1996, the year “Fargo” was released. Good timing.
“After the movie came out, everyone wanted to do things with Minnesota accents,” Breitmayer said. “I got so much work out of that. It was a pretty powerful thing for a while.”
It was also hurtful to many residents. “It’s a movie that people who don’t live here seem to enjoy, but for us it’s a little bit of an embarrassment,” the late Bonnie Cumberland, then mayor of Brainerd, told the Star Tribune. “I have a lot of ‘you betchas’ in my vocabulary, but not that much. We try not to do people in with wood chippers.”
But Breitmayer points out that wacky Minnesota stereotypes — think Ole and Lena — were in place long before the Coen brothers appropriated them. He recalled when his California-raised grandmother first visited Minnesota.
“She honestly thought we lived in igloos and huts,” he said. “She brought a bottle of Jack Daniel’s with her because she didn’t think she could get it there.”
One actor familiar with Minnesota thinks that the series’ characters are fairly accurate.
“You can definitely find those kind of people up there, depending on where you go,” said Billy Bob Thornton, who shot “A Simple Plan” in Wisconsin and Minnesota. “I mean, maybe not every banker, but I guarantee you: They’re there.”
Fame for Bemidji
Hawley insists he’s not out to hurt anyone’s feelings. He’s just trying to stay true to the spirit of the Coen brothers, who gave their blessing by signing on as executive producers.
“I think the regionalness and the sort of stoicism is very important to both the drama and the humor,” he said. “But if we’re making fun of someone, it’s about the character, not the place they come from.”
Those are comforting words for Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht, who is optimistic that the fallout will bring more positives than negatives.
“It’s quite likely I’ll take offense at some of the sketches and stereotypes, but I’m trying to have a good sense of humor about it,” she said. “Besides, it gets Bemidji’s name out there. Any media attention is good.”
Neal Justin • 612-673-7431