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5 things you need to know about Season 3 of "Fargo"

Ewan McGregor as Ray Stussy in season 3 of "Fargo." (Chris Large/FX)

Pay no mind to what the calendar says. Television is about to be hit with a blast of cold, wintry chill.

Yes, "Fargo" is finally back and that's a reason to rejoice, don't yah know?

Inspired by, but not beholden to, the 1996 Coen brothers film, "Fargo" earned raves and awards for its first season in 2014. Arguably, it was the best thing on TV. Then, unlike some anthology series (Hint: HBO's "True Detective"), it rose to new heights in Season 2.

After a hiatus that lasted for more than a year, creator Noah Hawley's snow-capped crime saga returns with new actors and new stories tied to desperate Midwestern folks who tend to hatch pathetic schemes that go horribly awry.

But some things don't change: "At its core," says Hawley, "the show has always been about the idea of what people will do for money."

Season 3 focuses on combative brothers Emmit and Ray Stussy, both wonderfully played by Ewan McGregor. They've been locked in a lifelong sibling rivalry -- a competition that will lead them down a very dangerous path.

We've seen two episodes that FX made available for review and we're happy to report that we're hooked. And now, without getting into spoiler-alert territory, we'll pass along five things you need to know about Season 3:

1. A sense of place: This year the darkly comedic mayhem unfolds in two Minnesota locales -- St. Cloud and tiny Eden Valley (with a population of just over 1,000). It's set in the year 2010, making it the most contemporary installment of the series. Season 1 was set in 2006 and Season 2 in 1979.

"I felt it was important to tell a story that felt a little more modern," says Hawley, who wanted explore the impact technology has upon the narrative, and how the real estate crash affected one character in particular.

2. Up close and personal: Hawley describes this year's saga as "more intimate." The cast is smaller and, at least early on, the scope isn't as expansive as it was in Season 2, which erupted into an all-out war between crime syndicates.

Also, there aren't the obvious character connections that there were between Seasons 1 and 2.

"This year, I wanted the story to stand on its own two feet," Hawley says.

Still, he teased that there will be a connective nod to the past that longtime fans will appreciate.

"It won't be early, but it will come."

3. Pulling double duty: Playing brothers Ray and Emmitt proved to be an epic challenge for McGregor, mainly because the men are so different. Emmit, the eldest of the two, is a golden boy -- the handsome and wealthy "Parking Lot King of Minnesota." Ray is a balding, potbellied and down-on-his-luck parole officer.

McGregor was required to gain weight to play Ray, which he says was kind of a bummer because he was in such great shape after running religiously and exercising while filming "T2 Trainspotting."

"From October until January, when we started filming, I just started eating whatever I wanted," he says. "I made sure that I had carbs with everything and French fries with everything. I didn't have any technique other than eating a lot. I think if you spoke to a dietitian, I probably did it all wrong."

So how did he hide that weight when he needed to be Emmit?

"I wore Spanx."

4. Paging Marge Gunderson: Following in the footsteps of Frances McDormand and Allison Tolman, actress Carrie Coon joins the franchise's canon of female law-enforcement officials.

She plays Gloria Burgle, the earnest Eden Valley police chief and newly divorced mother of a 10-year-old son. Coon compares the character to Marge Gunderson, the cop played by McDormand in the 1996 film.

"She really represents a small-town aesthetic and a sense of community that she feels has been eroded by forces outside of herself," the actress says, while noting one major difference: Her personal life is falling apart.

"She is trying to hang onto who she is inside of what's happening in the macrocosm in the world she's policing," she adds. "I think she is representing decency and ethics. How successful she (turns out to be) is what I think the show is asking this season."

5. Bridge gets some love: Remember bridge -- the complicated card game played by teams of two? Now mostly enjoyed by your grandparents, its glory days have long faded, but it earns some camera time in "Fargo."

Ray's alluring girlfriend Nikki Swango (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a competitive bridge player and urges him to join her in a regional tournament as a way to earn some quick cash. For research, the actors attended a bridge tournament in Calgary, Alberta, and actual players were used as extras in the bridge-playing scenes.

"It's the first time in history bridge has looked sexy," McGregor jokes. "Noah Hawley has achieved the unachievable."

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