Ali, Fargo & Longmire

tom smith | make green bay weird | july 2016

This column is dedicated to the memory of Muhammad Ali, a man who entertained the globe with his incredible skills as a pugilist and his gift of gab. Many consider Ali the first rapper and current professional wrestling promos owe him mucho gratitude. Ali mixed it up with some of the giants of the professional wrestling world during his career. The Monday after he passed on, WWE Raw was very apropos that the current best professional wrestler on the mic, Enzo Amore, cut a promo on an opponent that was all Ali quotes. Ali was a man of his convictions and backed it up with his actions. The majority of the greatest boxing matches in the history of that sport contain the name Ali. Ali used his fame for the greater good of the planet, and the combination of his work for human rights and charity may be unmatched (at the very least he's a top contender). During my lifetime, there might not have been a more famous human being. He was a constant, now he is gone. Ali took part of my childhood with him. Ali beat Superman. Wisely, he never raced the Flash. I remember where I was when I read Superman versus Ali. It was at Shopko East while my mother was shopping next door at Sure Way. Speaking of that fight, I noticed that ESPN did not mention that fight once, not even once. Ali inspires me to continue to progress as a human being and that might be the greatest thing he has done for me. Pretty sure boxing will never see a superstar like him ever again.

Modern society is starting to ruin television for me. This is not a good thing because I am very passionate about that medium and I'm not embarrassed to admit it. I have had a lifelong love affair with television for a number of reasons, and one of those reasons is the power television has to connect us to other members of society with a shared experience. That is why the Super Bowl is such a huge cultural phenomenon, not because it's a great excuse to eat guacamole. I myself never need any excuse for the consumption of guacamole. Sorry, but I find it irritating that some great television program that you are heavily invested in has a great cliffhanger season or midseason finale and you can't talk about it because it was on cable and people haven't watched their recording of it yet, or they have to wait to see it on Hulu, or it's not on Netflix yet, or it hasn't been released on DVD or blu-ray yet, or the site they illegally download or stream it from is currently out of commission or their uncle in Idaho tapes them a Beta copy and it has not arrived in the mail yet. No wonder watercooler sales have plummeted in the last five years.

The series finale of “M.A.S.H." would not have had the impact it did if it had aired under those conditions. The television conditions of my childhood are quickly eroding and I don't like it. Not only can I not have conversations on the television I watch, which isn't great for someone who at times has a disconnect with society, but I feel myself and others are missing out on some great television. This is a subject to tackle in earnest at some other time, but I believe we currently may be in a new golden age of television. So what I am saying is if you the reader are missing out on some great television, I am saddened and I feel I might be part of the problem. So, of course I want to be part of the solution and this is where I start.

I highly recommend, no, I implore you, no, I demand that you watch the television program “Fargo" Season two (also known as Fargo Year Two). This season aired last October 12 weekly to December 14 (10 episodes) on the cable network FX. I watched the first episode and a half and loved it, but for some reason the rest of the series got put on the backburner until this May (see, I was part of the problem also, as I had the entire season just sitting recorded on my DVR). So, I catch up with “Fear the Walking Dead," (which I also recommend big time) rolled up my sleeves and got down to Fargo Year Two. I must mention before I go any further, watching season one of “Fargo" is not necessary at all. In fact, I have yet to watch it myself (don't worry I have a blu-ray of it on order). You also do not need to have watched the movie “Fargo." The Coen Brothers, who made the movie “Fargo" are executive producers of the television series “Fargo" and the creator of the “Fargo" the television series is Noah Hawley. Year two of “Fargo" is a prequel to the events of season one of “Fargo." Season two is set in March of 1979 as opposed to season one which is set in January of 2006. There is some crossover in characters (portrayed by different actors), as I said, it's not imperative to have watched season one before season two, in fact, with some of the knowledge I picked up on season one of “Fargo" from watching a documentary that is a blu-ray extra with season two (yes, I liked season two so much I purchased it on blu-ray). I think it is best to watch season two before season one. I am actually ecstatic I watched season two first. I have a history now of watching the prequels first. I have not watched “Breaking Bad" yet (yes, that's me, part of the problem again losing my religion) but I am currently watching and loving “Better Call Saul" and plan on not watching “Breaking Bad" until after the entire series of “Better Call Saul" is completed. I might be the only member of the human race who is doing that. “Better Call Saul," for sure, would be one of the reasons listed in an article I would pen about the fact we are in a new golden age of television.

Another thing I must mention “Fargo" is a television series, but it really comes off as a mini-series. Remember how big those were in the '70s and early '80s? “Shogun," “Roots," “Holocaust," “The Winds of War," those were big time television events that had the nation a buzz. Current conditions will never allow that to happen again. You also could view “Fargo" as a really long movie. I am planning to set aside a Sunday sometime to view the entire season in one sitting. “Fargo" is categorized as an American anthology, black comedy, crime drama television series, but it also has been compared to a Greek tragedy and I think that is spot on. Why do I love this show so intensely? Why am I hoping for a presidential executive order authorizing troops if necessary to make true lovers of television watch “Fargo"? Having the show set in 1979 sure helps, I was eleven in March of 1979, turning twelve in July and I dig being transported back to that time in my life. The show does a most excellent job of nailing the motif of that era. Lots of wood paneling, rotary phones and I even spotted a view master. The way the show is filmed and edited captures '70s cinematography perfectly. Lots of split screen shots and special lens are used to garner a '70s film stock effect. The attention to detail is superb in every aspect of the show. The writing is brilliant, captivating and unpredictable.

The casting for the show is also another jewel in the Crown that is “Fargo." Jean Smart as Floyd Gerhardt, Kirsten Dunst as Peggy Blumquist, Patrick Wilson as Lou Solverson, Jeffrey Donovan (anything about “Burn Notice"?) as Dodd Gerhardt, Bokeem Woodbine as Mike Milligan, Ted Danson as Sherriff Hank Larsson, Bruce Campbell as Ronald Reagan and Zahn McClarnon as Hanzee Dent.

Zahn, in my opinion, is the superstar of the cast and his acting makes his character very sympathetic even while he is committing heinous acts. Zahn also is a recurring character on the also outstanding television program “Longmire" as Chief Mathias and between these two bodies of work he is hands down my current favorite television actor. Another reason for my love of this show is the marriage of perfect '70s musical choices to what is going on visually. Never thought I would be amazed by the placement of the song “Children of the Sun" by Billy Thorpe. The use of “Reunion" by Bobbie Gentry gets a gold star from me. They also have a couple of current musical acts record songs arranged like they would be '70s AM radio hits. Blitzen Trapper performing “I am a Man of Constant Sorrow" (comes off a little like Steely Dan) and White Denim doing “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) in a sort of disco tinge. Last but not least, what I also really love about “Fargo" is that the point of this season was to show how certain groups of the '70s — Black Power, Woman's Lib and the American Indian Movement that hoped to get a metaphoric seat at the table get brushed off by the oncoming corporate America of the Reagan years. Just watch the damn show!

Live long and float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

Since 1984, when he first began selling records at Galaxy of Sound inside the Port Plaza Mall, Tom Smith has been part of the Green Bay music scene. Promoting his first show 1986 and hitting his stride with the Concert Café (1995-2001), Smith continues to promote shows in Green Bay. He first honed his journalistic chops while serving as a student DJ at WGBW, interviewing such icons as Motörhead and the Ramones. Today you can find him championing live music and managing The Exclusive Company in Green Bay.

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