Note: This piece appears in Paste Quarterly #1, which you can purchase here, along with its accompanying vinyl Paste sampler.
Noah Hawley never intended to be in charge of two TV shows at once.
In 2014, Hawley enjoyed critical and commercial success with his FX series Fargo. Inspired by the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning movie, Hawley captured the distinctive tone and quirky spirit of the original while creating something wholly unique.
But Hawley, who’s seen his other shows, including My Generation and The Unusuals, cancelled after less than a season, was still thinking like an underdog. “There’s a freelance muscle that you develop as an artist of any kind, but certainly in the TV business,” he says. “It’s boom and bust.”
Hawley failed to realize he was booming. “I had only made eight or 10 episodes of anything,” he explains. “I had gotten used to this idea that not everything goes and the things that do go don’t last.”
So, when FX approached Hawley about doing Legion, based on X-Men character David Haller (Dan Stevens), he was intrigued, but didn’t fully consider the implications. “I didn’t really realize that Fargo was such a success that sort of anything I said was going to be my next show was going to actually go,” he laughs. “That’s not to say that I wasn’t incredibly passionate about the material, it’s just that my eyes are sometimes bigger than my stomach.”
Suddenly, he found himself working on the third season of Fargo and the first season of Legion simultaneously. “It’s sort of like a marathon and I’m not sure if I’m in the middle or not.”
For Legion, Hawley asked himself what story he wanted to tell inside the existing X-Men universe. “If you build a show around a guy who has schizophrenia, that means, fundamentally, you’ve built a show around a guy who doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not,” he says. “You want that to be the audience experience, too, so how do you do that with visuals and sounds and imagery?”
The third season of Fargo, which is set in 2010, finds two brothers (both played by Ewan McGregor) arguing over an inheritance. “If Season Two was about the death of the family business and the rise of corporate America, Season Three is about what comes
after corporate America. We’re in this 1 percent world where suddenly it’s personal wealth,” Hawley says.
The constant in both cases is Hawley’s relationship with FX, which has afforded him the breathing room to create shows unlike anything else on TV. “There’s a lot of imagery in that first hour of Legion that I don’t need you to understand what it is or what it means,” he says. “It provides you with an experience and a set of emotions.”
Besides Fargo and Legion, Hawley is working on several other series, including an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, under his overall deal with FX. Having his hand in so many projects has been an exercise in letting go. “You sort of have to tell yourself, ‘I’m not there, so there’s no way I’m going to get more than 85 percent of my vision,’” he says.
As busy as he is, Cat’s Cradle is on the back burner for now. “Obviously, one doesn’t enter into the Kurt Vonnegut world lightly,” he quips. “It would be disrespectful to Vonnegut to kind of half-ass Cat’s Cradle.”
Season Three of Fargo premieres Wednesday, April 19 on FX. Legion airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m., also on FX. Read our episodic reviews here.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .