TV

No Show On Television Does Character Names Better Than ‘Fargo’


It started with Lorne Malvo. I remember reading the name of the character Billy Bob Thornton would be playing in the first season of FX’s take on the Coen brothers’ snowy crime drama Fargo and thinking to myself, “Wow, that’s a pretty great name.” It just rolls right off the tongue, but in a mushmouthed, recently-given-Novocain-at-the-dentist kind of way. Not a hard, staccato consonant to be found. Say it out loud right now, slowly. Really draw it out. Lorrrrrne Mallllllvoooooo. It’s kind of fun, right?

This has become a theme for the show, which is in now production on its third season. Scroll down through the list of characters on IMDb. It’s littered with names that are borderline perfect, from cops with the last name “Solverson” to dangerous sibling henchmen named Wayne and Gale Kitchen. This is about as good a use for the next 90 seconds as you’re gonna find.

What I appreciate most about it all is the attention to detail. They don’t have to do this. Fargo would still be a great show if all of its Solversons had been named Smith and if Billy Bob Thornton’s character went by, like, Ron Douglas. But doing it adds a little fun flourish to things, and it provides a nice goofy balance to a show that also features some of the most brutal depictions of violence on television. I like to think Noah Hawley and the writers take pride in the character names and spend almost as long workshopping them as they do the plot. It’s been worth it, if they do. The names aren’t the best part of the show, I suppose, but they are a heck of a garnish, like the ring of salt on a margarita, and no, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if a future season featured a character named Margarita Saltington.

Okay, let’s tick off some other great names from Fargo. There was Glenn Howerton as a personal trainer named Don Chumph. There was a teenage girl named Noreen Vanderslice who worked in a butcher shop. There was Nick Offerman as a bearded drunken lawyer whose name was — I swear to God — Karl Weathers. With a K. That’s just really strong work out of everyone involved.

Even the less on-the-nose-y names have been wonderful. A weak-willed cop named Gus Grimly. Gerhardt brothers Dodd, Rye, and Bear. Constance Heck, Kitty Nygaard, FBI agents Pepper and Budge. Every one of them a little treat for the viewer. The only small complaint I have about any of it is that I don’t think we ever learned the name of the shady dude who sold drugs, surveillance equipment, and what appears to be clean urine out of his van in season one. I think about this almost constantly.

And this brings us to season three, which, based on a number of recent casting announcements, will continue this trend. Let’s run down the list:

  • Ewan McGregor as both Ray and Emmit Stussy (the latter of whom is “The Parking Lot King of Minnesota”)
  • Carrie Coon as Chief of Police Gloria Burgle
  • Mary Elizabeth Winstead as recent parolee and competitive bridge player Nikki Swango
  • David Thewlis as shady businessman V.M. Vargas
  • Michael Stuhlbarg as Sy Feltz
  • Jim Gaffigan as Deputy Chief Donnie Mashman

And more. Scoot McNairy from Halt and Catch Fire plays a stoner named Maurice LeFay, which is the rare situation where an actor’s real name might be better than the one his or her character has on Fargo. In fact, I kind of hope Maurice LeFay’s dealer is named Scoot McNairy. Maybe we can retroactively make that the name of the van guy. Maybe they’ll bring him back for season three. The nice thing about Fargo is that these are insane ideas but you still can’t really rule them out. There was a freaking spaceship in season two. Everything is on the table.

POP QUIZ: Which name from Fargo is your favorite? I didn’t see any way they were going to top Noreen Vanderslice, but I can’t lie, some of the season three names are really quite magical. The two top law enforcement officials in town being named Donnie Mashman (!) Gloria Burgle (!!) brings me more joy than any of you can possibly understand (they sound almost like commands from a caveman crime boss, “Donnie, mash man!,” “Gloria! Burgle!”), but not even those can touch Nikki Swango. Nikki Swango! I think part of it is the thing where she’s described as “a recent parolee and competitive bridge player,” because that is the perfect backstory for a person named Nikki Swango, but even without that, completely devoid of context, it’s a great name. It might be my favorite name of any female character on television since Justified had a foxy Kentucky grifter named Jackie Nevada. That’s high praise.

Yes, there are other television shows that feature great names, too. Mike Schur has a long history of giving the world some doozies on the shows he’s worked on, from Robert California on The Office to Jason Mantzoukas’ unhinged undercover police officer Adrian Pimento on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. But no show is as committed to the practice in both quality and quantity as Fargo, and I think that’s something we should all take a moment to appreciate.

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