MINNEAPOLIS — The last season of “Fargo” shifted from the Upper Midwest to 1950s Kansas City, where gangsters would shoot you in the knee for ordering lutefisk. The only character with a strong Minnesota connection was Jessie Buckley’s caretaker, who made Nurse Ratched look like Florence Nightingale.
But Minnesotans haven’t been abandoned. Season 5, Tuesdays on FX and streaming on Hulu, gets back to its Minnesota-North Dakota roots in a big way.
Creator Noah Hawley signals the return in the opening shot, a written-out description of Minnesota Nice: “An aggressively pleasant demeanor, often forced, in which a person is chipper and self-effacing no matter how deep things get.”
Those words certainly describe the main protagonist, Dot Lyon (Juno Temple), a stay-at-home mom in 2019, lying low in Scandia, 25 miles northeast of St. Paul. She pretends to be June Cleaver — making pancakes for her 9-year-old daughter is a high priority — but she’s forced to reveal her inner action hero when a man from her past, Stark County Sheriff Roy Tillman (Jon Hamm), tracks her down. She becomes Liam Neeson in high heels.
Other foes include mother-in-law Lorraine Lyon (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who runs the country’s largest debt-collection agency out of Minneapolis, and Minnesota Police Deputy Indira Olmstead (Richa Moorjani), who is just as persistent as Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson was in the Coen brothers’ original 1996 classic.
Fans of the Coens’ catalog will delight in the numerous Easter eggs. Dot’s husband (New Ulm native David Rysdahl) runs a car dealership, just like William H. Macy’s character did in the movie that started it all. Leigh’s accent is eerily similar to the one she applied in 1994’s “The Hudsucker Proxy.” One assassin seems to frequent the same barber that Javier Bardem’s killer did in 2007’s “No Country for Old Men.”
However, camera crews didn’t set foot in the Upper Midwest. As it has for three of the past four seasons, all the shooting took place in and around Calgary, Alberta (Chicago stood in for Kansas City).
Production designer Trevor Smith dedicated three months to tracking down Canadian sites that could double for the Midwest. He convinced the crew and cast to drive more than 90 minutes on a regular basis to shoot in Stavely, Alberta, which stood in for the wide-open spaces of western North Dakota.
A vacated skyscraper in downtown Calgary offered views that came close to capturing the Minneapolis skyline. Lorraine Lyon’s mansion was found in an upscale western Calgary neighborhood.
“We go the distance to make places echo the story’s geographical truths,” Smith said. “It’s an endless battle between the design department and those looking at the bottom line. Sometimes it can be a haul, but it’s totally worth it.”
Carol Case, who has led the costume department for most “Fargo” seasons, kept the Upper Midwest winters in mind when dressing her stars. Hamm’s sheepskin coat, which could have been lifted from the Marlboro Man’s closet, was “super practical, and so warm,” Case said.
Temple’s character in “Ted Lasso” seemed to know her way around King’s Road in London. Not this time. Dot probably shops for clothes at Target.
“Everybody looks at Juno and expects something more fashion-y,” Case said. “We wanted to play against that. Dot is trying to survive under the radar and look like the other moms in the PTA.”
Temple is following in the footsteps of Buckley and Ewan McGregor, an English actor looking to branch out by donning a Minnesota accent. It could pay off. Since 2014, 11 actors have gotten Emmy nominations for their work on the drama. None have won, although the inaugural season did take home the award for outstanding limited series.
“Noah’s writing gives people the opportunity to truly shine,” said U.S. casting director Rachel Tenner, who temporarily lived in Minneapolis when working on the Coens’ “A Serious Man.” “They’re given an opportunity to do parts they’ve never done before and get out of their comfort zone.”
The trick is not to overdo the accent.
“There’s a slight musicality to it,” Tenner said. “You don’t want to be too cartoony. That would be a turnoff.”
Still, some local viewers are bound to grumble about liberties Hawley and his cast take. You won’t hear many “you betchas” but you do get “OK, then,” “I agree with ya there” and “Oh, geez, looks like ya had a heck of a time of it.”