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'Get Shorty' takes a 'Fargo' view of dramatic life

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LOS ANGELES | “Fargo” isn’t just a movie and a TV series. It’s now Hollywood shorthand for a drama with comedy.

Like “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad,” producer Davey Holmes says, “the humor comes out of situations. These shows aren’t in the comedy bin, but they’re very funny.”

When he went in to pitch a television version of Elmore Leonard’s “Get Shorty,” he was about to use the “Fargo” connection when he noticed the studio head had a set of “Fargo” coasters. “He knew what I was going for.”

While Barry Sonnenfeld directed a “Get Shorty” film in the 1990s, it had a much brighter tone than Holmes wanted. So, he switched things around, made it a little seedier and came up with a parallel premise set in a darker world.

In the EPIX series, “Get Shorty,” Irish actor Chris O’Dowd plays a hit man from Nevada who tries to become a movie producer in order to leave his past behind. He meets a washed-up producer (played by Ray Romano) who, reluctantly, becomes his partner and tries to help him through the maze of Hollywood.

Naturally, the criminal past keeps slipping back.

Both O’Dowd and Romano tried to stay away from the film version so they wouldn’t be influenced by it. After shooting ended, O’Dowd enjoyed it and wished he had seen it earlier. “I would have just stolen everything they had done.”

Tonally, Holmes says, the two are very different. The film was bright and glossy; the series is dark and gritty.

“It’s like visiting a bar at a different time of the week,” O’Dowd explains. “The movie’s kind of like going to a bar on a Saturday night when everybody’s looking well. And we kind of visit the bar at 3 a.m. on a Thursday when the floor is kind of sticky.”

Shot in Albuquerque and Los Angeles, the 10-part drama peels back plenty of layers and lets the cast and crew get a sense of the world “Breaking Bad” inhabited when it shot in New Mexico. Now home to “Better Call Saul,” Albuquerque is becoming a filmmaking hot spot.

“It really looks like the middle of nowhere,” Holmes says. “I love the big sky. There’s a real contrast with Los Angeles.”

The series has many cinematic hallmarks, too, O’Dowd says. “There are these five-minute tracking sequences and music that sounds like ‘Birdman.’”

The Coen Brothers analogies aren’t difficult to find, either. “But it zips along so fast it doesn’t let you stop to breathe,” O’Dowd says.

Because Holmes and company hope for a second season, it’s likely “Get Shorty” will find a different setting for subsequent outings.

O’Dowd’s character, however, will remain the touchstone.

Leonard’s stories, Holmes says, are open to many interpretations. “He’s just a fantastic storyteller. If there’s something we hold on to, it’s this tough guy coming to Hollywood who has an innocence about him. He meets lots of people in Hollywood who are jaded and, yet, he thinks the business is all so simple.”

“Get Shorty” airs at 9 p.m. Aug. 13 on EPIX.

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