LOS ANGELES – There’s not a single “you betcha” uttered in Sunday’s premiere of “Get Shorty,” but the distance between FX’s “Fargo” and the Nevada-based dramedy isn’t as far as you might think. Epix’s latest entry in scripted programming also is inspired by a big-screen hit, and features colorful gangsters and lovable losers taking one last stab at the American dream.
The similarities weren’t lost on creator Davey Holmes when he pitched MGM executives this reboot of a 1995 John Travolta film based on an Elmore Leonard book.
“Basically what I wanted to say was, ‘You know how ‘Fargo’ just kind of started over and you could recognize aspects of the characters? We should do that,’ ” said Holmes. “And I went to set my water down on a coaster on the coffee table, and it said ‘Fargo’ on it, and I realized, ‘Oh, they did ‘Fargo.’ That’s good.’ ”
Both series also share a knack for keen, inventive casting. Chris O’Dowd may only look like Travolta after a three-day doughnut binge in the rain, but he oozes just as much charisma in the role of the movie-obsessed heavy (now known as Miles Daly, not Chili Palmer) who would rather be making old-fashioned romantic weepers than sticking a gun in the mouth of debtors.
“It’s like visiting a bar at a different time of the week,” said O’Dowd, who waited to watch the Travolta film after shooting for the first season wrapped. “The movie’s kind of like going to a bar on a Saturday night when everybody’s looking well. And we kind of visit the bar at 3 a.m. on a Thursday, when the floor is kind of sticky. You’re fighting with your girlfriend. And the bar bill’s about to arrive and you can’t afford to pay it.”
O’Dowd’s character stumbles across a bloodstained script during a mob hit, and spends much of the first episode trying to convince straight-to-DVD producer Rick Moreweather to bring it to the screen.
Played by Ray Romano, Moreweather has the same DNA as Martin Freeman’s passive-aggressive salesman and Ewan McGregor’s jealous parole officer in “Fargo.” It’s a role that helps further Romano’s goal of establishing himself as a go-to character actor after a career built on comedy.
“After ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ I didn’t want to do a sitcom again. I always wanted to keep comedy in my work, but I was more attracted to maybe something dramatic,” said Romano, who has been getting rave reviews for his performance in the movie “The Big Sick,” where he holds his own opposite Oscar winner Holly Hunter. “It’s very hard to get people to forget that character they’ve seen for nine years. Am I surprised? I guess the answer is yes, because I’m surprised I can do anything. I’m very insecure about all of this, and it’s a learning process.”
With the dark-comedy overtones, viewers are guaranteed to be reminded of “Fargo” — and one other TV series.
“ ‘The Sopranos’ was life-changing for me,” said Holmes, whose credits include producing the Showtime series “Shameless” and playing keyboards for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. “These characters don’t just fall into clichés. The details are so human. Without even having to be funny in sort of a jokey way, the juxtaposition of human frailty with tough guys is very funny. It has a human warmth to it. You can become invested in characters even while they’re basically behaving like sociopaths. That’s a wonderful ride to go on.”