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Hoo boy, 'Fargo' works on TV

Lorne Malvo, Billy Bob Thornton's sinister hitman in "Fargo" (9 p.m. April 15, FX; 3.5 stars out of 4), doesn't have doubts. He doesn't ask himself the question posed on a poster in the FX series' first episode: "What if you're right and everyone else is wrong?"

His answer, unequivocally, is "I'm always right." (I really like this guy.)

Lorne's confidence makes him a singular character in the 10-episode limited series—a man with a plan and the cojones to carry it out. Thornton is phenomenal in the role, stealing every scene he's in and making "Fargo" a captivating pleasure from the moment he appears.

In the premiere, Lorne passes through small-town Bemidji, Minn., leaving a frozen body in the woods before meeting put-upon insurance salesman Lester Nygard (Martin Freeman) in a hospital waiting room, where Lester explains he's been beaten up by the same bully who tormented him in high school.

"If that was me, I would have killed that man," Lorne says.

The encounter sets all sorts of wheels in motion, plunging the series into the same intoxicating brew of dark comedy, hilarious satire and pulpy violence that washed over the 1996 film of the same name from Joel and Ethan Coen. The Coen Brothers serve as producers for the miniseries, which remains true to the style of their film—from the breathtaking cinematography to the claim this is a true story and right down to the seemingly slow-burn plotting that could turn off some viewers.

But questioning viewers should stick around; writer Noah Hawley is telling a different, more expansive tale with new and fascinating characters who deliver the goods. Oh, howdy.

Besides Lorne and Lester, there's inquisitive Bemidji Deputy Molly Solverson (Alison Tolman) and her dimwitted fellow officers Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) and Gus Gimley (Colin Hanks); hitmen Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench (Adam Goldberg and Russell Harvard); recently widowed ex-stripper Gina (Kate Walsh); supermarket kingpin Stavros Milos (Oliver Platt), and personal trainer Don Chumph (Glenn Howerton).

Thornton might get some of the best lines, but Freeman, Tolman and the rest of the cast infuse their characters with distinct and utterly absorbing personalities.

Creating a show inspired by such an iconic movie was a dangerous idea. Skeptical fans might complain it's a cash grab with recycled material. But "Fargo" the TV series—confident as Lorne Malvo—stands firmly on its own. You betcha it does.

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