‘Fargo’ Fail: FX Drama Gets Northern Minnesota Dead Wrong

Celebrated series nails the drama, not the local details

Let’s start with the accents.

No one in northern Minnesota has an accent like the one used by the show’s actors. If this acrid, nasal, unhuman brogue were heard anywhere in Minnesota, actually, it would be because the folks talking this way were impersonating characters on the show.

Think about it for a second. Prince doesn’t talk this way. Nor does Garrison Keillor. Nor did Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphery or Walter Mondale.  Nor does Al Franken, Liz Winstead or Mitch Hedberg. The most famous person from northern Minnesota of all time—Bob Dylan—sure as heck doesn’t talk like this.

While we’re talking language, let’s move on to the phrases the actors overuse. People in northern Minnesota don’t say “ah, jeez.” Ask yourself, if someone that far north were to, say, drop a boat anchor on their foot, would their first reaction be to say “ah, jeez?”

I can assure you, the exclamation would be far more vulgar. Also, people in Minnesota do not use “Yah” as frequently as in the movie or the series. And the “You betchas” in the series are actually “You bets” in the northwoods.

Fargo | Trailer | Netflix

“Fargo” the TV series isn’t an accurate depiction of Bemidji’s people. The First City on the Mississippi is nestled between three Ojibwe Indian reservations–Red Lake, White Earth and Leech Lake. Every time I’ve ever been in Bemidji, and I mean every time, I’ve seen tribal members all over town.

They’re as common as white people. But Native American representation in the series was scant at best.

Show writers didn’t do their due diligence on the city itself, either. In one, Mssrs. Wrench and Numbers discuss why Bemidji has no library, to which their local handler responds by saying he doesn’t know why.

Actually, Bemidji has three libraries—the county library downtown, the Bemidji State University Library, and the old Carnegie Library on the shore of Lake Bemidji. Though the Carnegie currently serves as an arts and crafts center, that’s THREE libraries.

The show is filmed in Saskatchewan, which is likely for cost purposes, but the terrain in that part of the world isn’t close to the Bemidji area. In actuality Bemidji rests squarely within the northern Minnesota boreal forest–an area rich in timber wealth, liberally dotted with freshwater lakes and teeming with car-threatening wildlife. But the show makes out Bemidji to look like one of the worst places Alexander Payne could find in “Nebraska.”

Nebraska Movie Official Trailer

Bemidji also happens to be home of the largest Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues in the state–something that’s only seen on the arm patches of the Bemidji Police and in a parking lot toward season’s end.

The real deals are a located within spitting distance of Lake Bemidji’s shores. And they’re much larger than the ones in the show.

The customs are wrong, too.

When the cops as played by the wonderful Alison Tolman and Bob Oedenkirk visit Martin Freeman’s Lester Nygaard to question him about his wife’s murder, they’re shown inside the house. They sit down in the kitchen and are given grape juice to drink. Grape juice.

This is preposterous. At that time of year–and most any other time of year for that matter–guests in a northern Minnesota home are offered coffee. The level of error equates to an Englishman giving a guest a glass of water after dinner instead of a gin and tonic. It’s unthinkable.

Ten of Malvo's Best Moments | Fargo | FX

It’s not surprising Hollywood got so much wrong, but one would think native Minnesotans Joel and Ethan Coen would have more knowledge of their home state and the writers of an otherwise great TV series would have done a tad more research on Wikipedia.

Now, Minnesotans have much in common with people in other parts of the country who are routinely misrepresented on the big screen–namely Southerners and Bostonians, dontcha know. All we can hope for moving forward, though, is that season 2 of “Fargo” gets Sioux Falls right.

Bill W. Alleye is a native Minnesotan.

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