With 1996's Fargo (8 p.m., AMC), Joel and Ethan Coen found mass acceptance without sacrificing a scintilla of their indie cred - no small accomplishment in an era when popular and critical tastes were becoming increasingly polarized. This, the brothers' sixth film together (they both write; Joel gets the directing credit), follows the classic Coen formula: a bunch of doofuses get together and try something either illegal or stupid (often both). They find themselves in way over their heads and don't have a clue what to do next. Doofus No.1 in Fargo is embezzling used-car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), who figures the only way he can get enough money to stay out of prison is to hire some goons to kidnap his wife, then persuade his father-in-law to pony up the dough to get her back. Doofuses No. 2 and 3 are the guys he hires to do the job (manic Steve Buscemi and quiet Peter Stormare), who bungle things rather murderously. There's lots of snow (it's winter in Minnesota, after all), a tenacious and pregnant cop (Frances McDormand, who richly deserved the Oscar she won) and an overused wood chipper, all in service to a sensibility that's so deliciously askew, it's irresistible. Tragic, poignant and irresistible ... now there's a mix you don't see every day.
Also today, Barbara Stanwyck is a journalist desperately trying to make like the perfect rural homemaker she portrays in her newspaper column (she's really a New Yorker who can't boil water) in 1945's delightful Christmas in Connecticut (4 p.m., TCM). Her bluff gets called when her unsuspecting publisher invites a war hero (Dennis Morgan) over for Christmas dinner.