Fargo: Episode 1, The Crocodile’s Dilemma

Wow, that sure was a doozy there.

The first episode of FX’s “Fargo” sure did not beat around the bush. It sucked me in fairly quickly into this fictional Bemidji.

First off, their “Bemidji” is flat, lacks trees and looks like North Dakota. To me, this artistic license did not bother me as it did to other Bemidjians. The show caught the small town, Midwest attitudes, and that Minnesota Nice passive aggressiveness we are too polite to acknowledge.

The first episode takes place about 99 percent in Bemidji. We meet at the start Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) driving at night through Bemidji. He hits a deer, and crashes. A naked man jumps out from his trunk and hightails it.

This was the first couple of minutes.

We then meet Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), a Bemidji insurance salesman who seems to dislike his wife, who with a cheery voice cuts him down in that Minnesota Nice passive aggressiveness.

After an unfortunate encounter with his old high school bully that lands him in the emergency room, Lester meets Malvo. This chance encounter spirals the show and Lester’s world down a blood soaked path that by the end leaves three dead bodies in Lester’s life. His old high school nemesis, his wife and Sheriff Vern Thurman.

Malvo seems to feed off bringing anarchy to this “Bemidji.” He not only starts messing with Lester’s head, he pits the sons of the bully he murdered against one another by pretending to be an estate lawyer and slyly convinces a kid to urinate in his mom’s gas tank, only to call the mother to warn her that some kid is urinating in her gas tank.

The dark humor was fun. The Minnesota accents were toned down from the one’s in the film. The awkward pauses and the “aw jeez’” moments worked just fine.

The show is much more violent than the film. The violence did at times become a little bit much (Lester killing his wife).

I have read from critics that the show relied to much on the formula of the film. I didn’t get that impression. I felt the show brought the film’s ideas to a darker place. I find Lester much less sinister than the film’s Jerry Lundegaard, who purposely sets things in motion for his own greedy needs.

I somewhat felt bad for Lester, though his actions toward the end changed. But I did not find him as conniving as Jerry Lundegaard. But we still have nine more shows to go.

Observations:

* Norm’s Pizza instead of Dave’s or Kieth’s.

* The Bemidji Fire Department apparently has a  ”slippery” sidewalk.

* No signs of Paul and Babe yet.

* JELL-O Salad does not sound appealing.

I will probably update this in the next day or two. Ninety minutes of a story with this many characters is a little much to process right away.

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Join the conversation for premiere of ‘Fargo’

Ah jeez, here we go.
You can join in the conversation for the debut of the new, much-anticipated “Fargo” television series at 9 p.m. Tuesday on FX. The fictional town of Bemidji plays a large role in the series, organizers have told us, including the entire first episode.

Join me here at Off the Record and also on Twitter, as well as editor Matt Cory, who also will be tweeting during the broadcasts. You can follow us here or follow Cory on Twitter at @bemidjieditor and me at @JosephBemidji. We will be using the hashtags #bemidjiinfargo and #fargoinfargo, as our colleagues at The Forum in Fargo-Moorhead also plan to cover the premiere of the show live.

Ya, it should be a great time, don’t ya know. You betcha!

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‘Fargo’ Looking Pretty Good; My Plans For The Show

The first seven minutes of the upcoming “Fargo” TV series has been released, and it certainly looks, sounds and feels true to the source material that was the 90s flick by the same name.

We find out that Martin Freeman’s “Lester Nygaard” works and apparently lives in a fictionalized Bemidji. We see a Bemidji water tower, but no sign of Paul and Babe — yet.

The funny accents are back (brace yourselves fellow Minnesotans for the mockery). We see Lester and his wife talking — more like her using the old fashioned Minnesotan passive aggressive way of cutting him down. Also, she brings up something called “JELL-O salad” which as a lifelong Minnesotan I cannot say I have ever heard of (but then again, I refer to casseroles as “casseroles,” not “hot dish”).

I don’t want to spoil the whole first several minutes, so let’s just say we learn that some of the show takes place in Bemidji, and Billy Bob Thornton’s character has questionable baggage in the trunk of his car.

With that, here are my (and others’) plans for “Fargo.”

Starting April 15, I will be live tweeting each episode. I will try to avoid spoilers, but I cannot promise they will not slip through. My Twitter handle is @JosephBemidji.

After each episode, I will write up a blog about it. The blog will more than likely contain spoilers. Who am I kidding, they will most definitely  contain spoilers. I plan to have the blog up about an hour after the show is over (though with my work duties this may not always be the case).

Since I don’t exclusively blog about “Fargo,” each one regarding the show will be headlined “‘Fargo: Episode 1, NAMEOFEPISODE.”

That is the plan for now. This sounds like it will be a fun little experiment .

 

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Minneapolis Comic Con: My first nerd convention

I enjoy a lot of dorky things. Science fiction, quoting oddball comedies and writing blogs about pop culture to name a few.

But I have never been to a convention that appeals to my dorky likes. My wife, Gina, has been to Star Trek and Stargate conventions. We almost went to a Twin Peaks convention (one of my favorite TV shows) but the plans fell through.

Come May, this will be changed.

We are going to the Minneapolis Comic Con, and from what I’ve been reading up on, it looks like it will be a big push to make it and annual event for us folk in the north.

When the wife first told me about this, there was no question I would want to go. We used our tax returns to purchase three-day event passes and requested time off from work.

The first celebrities of who would be attending that were named were cast members from “The Walking Dead,” Lou Ferrigno (“The Hulk”), Ralph Macchio (“Karate Kid”) and William Shatner.

Yes, the original Captain Kirk will be there. And I will have to get my photo taken with the man.

Having recently checked again for updates, looks like The Ultimate Warrior (WWE’s most insane wrestler mentally in my opinion), Nathan Fillion (“Firefly”) and Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund.

I cannot state enough how jazzed up I am for this.

My wife wants me to dress up as some sort of character for the event, but I’m not sure if I want to. We will see.

Costume ideas so far are: Walter White  (“Breaking Bad”), a member of Devo, Ad Rock from the Beastie Boys or something related to “Arrested Development” or “Community.”

Either way, I’m pretty excited for this. My inner geek simply cannot wait for this convention to come.

 

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My Bemidji roots

I was not born in Bemidji, but I do have some strong connections to here growing up.
In the late 1970s, my grandparents (Gene and Delores Froemming) owned and operated the Singer Sewing Shop that was located downtown.
They relocated from Alexandria, where my grandfather was a door-to-door salesman. After my father and uncles grew up and moved out, my grandfather decided to branch out and operate his own store.
The decision as to where, according to my dad, was not difficult. Grandpa was a big outdoors man who loved hunting, fishing and camping. And he apparently had always wanted to move to the Bemidji area. So he did.
His first month here, he lived in the family’s airstream camper (he had nowhere else to live). Eventually, he bought a house and the business did well.
For me, growing up the family always made trips up here. As I written before, I’m originally from the St. Cloud. I’d say we’d visit about two or three times a year.
On those visits, my grandpa would take me and my brother fishing — his favorite passtime. The rule was if we caught a fish, we would have to clean the fish.
I refused to do that as a little kid. My brother was forced to do it for me (to be fair, I don’t think my parents wanted me at age 5 to be slicing up fish with a sharp knife).
My grandparents ran their store until about 1998 I believe. I remember helping clean out their business’ basement, which had some odd souvenirs (my favorite was the Ike Eisenhower election memorabilia ).
The last time I visited Bemidji was in 1999, when my grandpa first got sick (apparently he got a get-well card from Joe Lueken because he was a regular at the store). He suffered a stroke that he never really recovered from. My grandparents moved down to St. Cloud to be taken care of shortly after.
Cut to more than a decade later, when I applied for a job here at the Pioneer. I remember after getting the job, my dad was excited because I was finally moving somewhere he was willing to visit (before, when I was living in Worthington in southwest Minnesota, my parents visited me two times in the two years I was there).
My first week here, I lived at a hotel because, like my grandpa about three decades earlier, I had nowhere to live. Granted, the hotel was probably nicer than an airstream, but still.
My family also have a cabin about 40 minutes from here that was built on land my grandpa bought in the 70s. It’s on Mallard Lake, an area when I tell people here about, they get a confused look on their faces. It’s not surprising, Mallard Lake was a lumber town that became a ghost town a long time ago.
What also stood out to me when I first started working here was how much Bemidji had grown. I mean, obviously cities grow over time but from my last visit in 99 to 2013 I was pretty impressed.
When I started working here, I would sometimes ask folks who have been here for a long time if they remember my grandparents. In the past year, I have not met anyone who has.
I would like to know more about my grandparents’ life here, but from what my dad told me, they were not super-sociable.
But those are my roots here in Bemidji.

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Death of A Record Store

It wasn’t a question of “if,” it was a question of “when?”

From 1999 through 2010, I had worked in record stores in St. Cloud. The bulk of those years were at a used CD/DVD/Vinyl store called CD Warehouse.  The last two years were at the famous Electric Fetus. Working in record stores was truly a blast.

But it was easy to see in a post-Napster world that digital downloading was going to wreck record stores. I remember just customer traffic alone had declined a lot from 1999 to 2002. And it never really recovered.

Which is a shame. There is a certain magic feeling of going into such a store and be exposed to all sorts of music you probably would never have thought of experiencing. I mean, in 2001 was Target and Walmart playing White Stripes or the Strokes in their businesses, let alone even promoting them? Probably not, but you could probably be pretty certain you would be able to hear such new music at a place like the Electric Fetus.

Now, come May 23, the iconic store I grew up with in my hometown of St. Cloud will be closing its doors for good. As I told St. Cloud Times reporter Ben Katzner on Saturday after I saw the news: “It was depressing. It’s sad. It’s one of the staples I usually go to when I come back to St. Cloud.” (SIDE NOTE: I reached out to the Times to share my feelings about the closing).

I bought a lot of music from the Fetus. I can thank the store (and the employee discount I got) for my awesome vinyl collection (which includes The Monks’ “Black Monk Time,” a band with connections to the Bemidji area).

That store was a staple of the St. Cloud area. People from all over world would visit the store. I saw some great live in-store shows, most notable seeing the Meat Puppets perform three feet from me and getting to meet the band after their show.

So I have many great memories of both working there and buying music as a customer there. I loved that store. It’s my first stop when I visit family and friends in St. Cloud.  I made some great friends during my time there. A good friend of mine helped get me a job there in the first place.

It’s sad. It will be missed. I will have to make one last visit before the doors shut forever. I could go to the other two Electric Fetuses (Duluth and Minneapolis have store), but those will never be my Electric Fetus.

Thanks for the music.

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‘Fargo’ coming to the small screen; Bemidji will be representin’

I have to admit, I’m pretty psyched for the TV adaptation of the Coen brothers classic 1996 film, “Fargo.” Not just because I am a huge fan of the original film, but also because I’m a huge fan of the Coens in general.

What I am also excited for is that one of my comedy heroes, Bob Odenkirk, will be not only in it, he plays a Bemidji cop in it as well.

Most probably know of Odenkirk as the criminal lawyer from “Breaking Bad.” I know this is going to really age me, but I remember him first from  ”The Ben Stiller Show” and most of my friends remember him from “Mr. Show with Bob and David.”

I will be interested to see Odenkirk play a Minnesotan, and kind of more interested in hearing if he will speak in that very pronounced Minnesota accent that made us Minnesotans sound like drunk Canadians in the film.

I remember when the film came out. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Then people started imitating the thick Minnesota accent on TV all the time. It got quite annoying. In fact, it got very annoying. I can understand how some people have negative feelings toward this film and probably toward the show, based on this piece of Minnesotan history.

Also, Key & Peele will be playing FBI agents hunting down Billy Bob Thornton’s antagonist character and supposedly they end up tracing the character to Bemidji. So, it will be interesting to see how the show will recreate Bemidji. Obviously, if they mess up how Paul and Babe look, there will probably be a lot of strongly worded letters about that.

So far, there is only some tidbits and rumors floating about the plot, so we will have to wait until April to see how “Fargo” looks on the small screen.

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An Open Letter to Winter

Dear Winter,

Just knock it off. Stop. We get it and we’ve had enough of you. This winter you have been a real pain. You overstayed your welcome last year by creeping into May and this year you’ve smacked us around with so many below zero temps that people are getting real cranky.

You think this is funny? Do you get a real good chuckle out of people bundled in five layers of winter coats as they endure frozen winds burning their faces as they try to jump-start their car batteries? Winter, you make me sick.

Winter, I think you officially overstayed your welcome after December. And I normally love the wintertime. But this year you really pushed me beyond my limits. It’s so cold out that our cat sleeps in our bed at night because he’s freezing in a heated apartment!

Oh, you think you are clever. Hey look, the sunshine is out! Come on outside! Except for some reason, when the sun is shining brightly, that means it’s much colder than usual outside! I mean, how do you make the appearance of a ball of fire that normally represents warmth into a symbol of cold? It’s like some maddening Pavlov experiment!

There, winter, I’ve said my peace. I’m sick and tired of waking up, looking outside and seeing your smug snow littered all over the ground. I think it’s time for you to go.

Sincerely,

Joseph Froemming

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Harold Ramis

The news of Harold Ramis, whose comedic bent was a huge part of my childhood,  passing away put a dark cloud over my day. Growing up, he was Dr. Egon Spengler from “Ghostbusters.” He was the straight man to Bill Murray in that film and in “Stripes.” His deadpan still makes me laugh out loud when I watch those films.

In high school, I saw “Animal House.” It wasn’t until after I had graduated I found out Ramis was a writer on that film. I then started looking into this brilliant mind (remember, this was a pre-imdb, pre-wikipedia world).

“Caddyshack,” “Groundhog Day,” “Meatballs” and “Back To School” were all films I loved and watched repeatedly growing up and I had no idea this man was a part of them until I was 19.

After I got off work Tuesday morning, I went home and re-watched “Ghostbusters” for the umpteenth time. Yet, this time was different. I was watching Egon say “I feel like the floor of a taxi cab,” and “I collect spores, molds and fungus” and while it was still funny, it was depressing knowing that this milestone in comedy was no longer with us.

When Ernie Hudson was asked after the news about Ramis’ death about the prospects of the  long rumored third ”Ghostbusters” film, he replied “Harold was the glue. There wouldn’t a ‘Ghostbusters’ without Harold Ramis. Harold Pulled it together,” Hudson told TMZ. “And I know I probably wouldn’t be in the business had I not had the chance to work with Harold at that time in my career. He taught me a lot, not overtly by trying to teach me, just watching him work and how he dealt with things. He will be missed.”

Indeed, his unique voice will be missed.

 

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Winter

I watched some curling, pond hockey and people dressed like the band Kiss jump into Lake Bemidji today. It was the Winterfest, an event that takes place in the outdoors. And it’s all on the lake.

I’ve done a frozen lake jump before. Back when I lived in southwest Minnesota. It’s a shock to the system, I blacked out for a second or two and then felt great for a week. Why? I have no idea.

But this got me to thinking about this winter. This winter has been brutal. Like, “Hoth from ‘Empire Strikes Back’” brutal. I can honestly say at this point, I’m officially done with winter.

Maybe it’s because we had an extended winter last year. I mean, there was still snow on the ground in May.

This month marks one full year since I moved to Bemidji. And it’s felt like it has been nine months of winter. And here in Bemidji, I know if it’s going to be subarctic outside based on the sun. If the sun is shining, then watch out because sunshine equals the coldest day you’ll ever experience.

It was so cold in January I had to pour four bottles of HEET into my gas tank just to unfreeze my fuel lines. In one night.

So, I’m officially done with winter. It has overstayed its welcome, as far as I’m concerned. I hope we see an early spring, because I’ve had enough of this weather.

Anyway, here’s a picture of people dressed like Kiss jumping into Lake Bemidji (photo by Monte Draper for the Bemidji Pioneer):

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