41© The Author(s) 2018
K. Toft Hansen et al. (eds.), European Television Crime Drama and
Beyond, Palgrave European Film and Media Studies,
The Rise of‘Bright Noir’
Redemption and Moral Optimism in American
Contemporary TV Noir
Lou Solverson: We’re just out of balance.
Betsy Solverson: You and me?
Lou Solverson: Whole world. Used to know right from wrong. A moral
(Fargo, ‘Fear and Trembling’, season 2, episode 4)
Seated on the porch of their home, the Solversons reect on evil and its
masks, consequences and origins. Such ruminations have always been
implicit, and sometimes explicit, in lm noir since its emergence.
However, as the above scene illustrates, Fargo (FX, 2014–) addresses evil
from a classical moral perspective, as opposed to the anti-heroism and
cynicism of angry, contradictory protagonists that have characterized the
rst decade of the golden age of television ction (Martin 2013; Lotz
2014; Vaage 2015). Fargo is unlike other ‘quality TV’ crime series—such
A. N. García (*)
Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain
as The Sopranos (HBO, 1999–2007), The Wire (HBO, 2002–2008) or
The Shield (FX, 2002–2008)—because the Solversons demonstrate hope,
the ‘cousin’ of optimism.
Fargo embraces optimism, which, as dened by the anthropologist
Lionel Tiger, is ‘a mood or attitude associated with an expectation about
the social or material future—one which the evaluator regards as socially
desirable, to his advantage, or for his pleasure’ (1979, 53). During the rst
two seasons and against all odds, the Solverson clan exhibits an anthropo-
logical hopefulness that, far from being naïve, is characterized by courage
and reason; they rely on patience and persistence to rectify and overcome
This article explores how some recent American TV crime dramas (and
to a lesser extent, some British)1 that can be specically labelled as noir
address the issue of hope and redemption by undermining one of the main
thematic and ideological features that both spectators and critics tend to
assign to noir narratives—i.e., the logic of hopelessness, of ‘no way out’,
to paraphrase Porrio’s classic article (1996). Or, as Turnbull puts it, ‘A
useful full-form of the acronym ‘noir’ may therefore be: Negative Outcome
Is Requisite. In other words: It’s only going to end in tears’ (2014, 29).
In what I have coined as ‘bright noir’, several recent, inuential and popu-
lar TV noir series offer stories in which brave protagonists achieve a
positive outcome and defeat evil while fullling a higher purpose or attain-
ing an honourable end.
To approach this idea, the article rst recalls that existentialism and
moral alienation became essential features of lm noir, which remains a
controversial term. It then explains the sociological and artistic reasons
that have led to this wave of morally hopeful noir. Finally, this thesis will
be demonstrated with in-depth analysis of key series from recent American
TV crime ction, with particular attention given to Justied (FX,
2010–2015) and Fargo.
A MorAlly Grey AreA
As Steenberg recently summarized, ‘noir is a worn and frayed category—
much discussed by scholars, critics, and lmmakers themselves’ (2017,
62). This article does not intend to widen the uidity of the term, but
rather to focus on one particular strand of the TV crime drama, broadly
characterized by moral ambiguity, a mood of unhappiness, and a bleak
realism. Nowadays, noir is ‘a fusion of nostalgia and imitation that can
A. N. GARCÍA