Let's start by having me say that though I've read Fargo (the movie) I've never watched it. That's the thing about having a film degree with a focus on screenwriting—you read a lot of scripts. You see a lot of movies, too, but you read more of them than you see.
The television show has a very similar setup to the movie, which is to be expected, I guess. The film being the jumping off point for the show. Names have been changed (and this is acknowledged in an almost tongue-in-cheek way at the start of the episode) but the story is more or less the same only with a bigger reach. Jerry from the film is now Lester (and William H. Macy is now Martin Freeman), which is fitting if you consider the nickname is "Les" and Lester really is less than . . . He's nice, sure, but beat down and colorless, sort of letting life happen to him. Until he meets Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) in the ER and "inspires" Malvo to murder Sam Hess.
Not that Malvo needs much prompting. He's a hit man who gets a kick out of causing mischief. Billy Bob Thornton does a fabulous job here; he's clearly in his element.
While one big feature of the film version is that Marge (Frances McDormand) is hugely pregnant, the show transfers that onto the police chief's wife. Oh, and Marge is now Molly Solverson (cute play on words with the last name there).
The episode leaves us with things spinning out of control; the murder of Sam Hess spirals into Lester also murdering his wife and then Malvo killing the police chief. One assumes it's only a matter of time before Lester is caught, so I suppose the fun in watching more of the show is seeing how it happens. And also seeing what else Malvo instigates.
The show was, as one would expect with anything Coen, dark with moments of humor and also moments of extreme intensity. I'll admit I much prefer their lighter works (Big Lebowski, O Brother) and I generally avoid anything I know will be very bloody, but I really did like this show. There was blood, of course, but nothing I couldn't stomach. I've set a series recording; I'm curious to see how things play out.