I’ve been keeping an eye open for Lilyhammer since word of its over in Norway. The complete first season of Steven Van Zandt’s sleeps-with-the-fishes-out-of-water comedy series was released onto Netflix this evening, in its eight-episode entirety. Always here to service our faithful followers, I dove into the first episode and brought back my observations.
The premise is simple: After the Big Boss croaks, Frank Tagliano (Van Zandt) is stepped over in the line of succession. After an attempted whacking of Tagliano in which his favorite bartender and his dog are both mowed down in the crossfire, Frank rolls over to the Feds and puts the new boss away. The conditions: Frank get put into Witness Protection and sent off to Lillehammer, Norway. Lillehammer is Frank’s choice, and he never expresses why.
Apart from that little wrinkle, pretty straightforward mobworld exposition, Lilyhammer wastes no time in bulldozing through it. By the time we reach the end of the opening credits, Frankie has become Giovanni Henriksen, and is walking the streets of Lillehammer.
Once in town, Frankie doesn’t waste any time trying to keep a low profile. When he reports to a job agency, he immediately lays down a bribe to the agent to grease the wheels in obtaining a liquor license, and is immediately confronted with an off-putting lack of corruptibility. Frankie recants the bribe under the agreement that he enrolls in a job program.
As Frankie becomes involved with the cast of characters in Lilyhammer, it is obvious from the outset that he intends to apply his base of knowledge from the mean streets of New York to the snowy hills of Norway. There is some pretty fertile ground for relatively obvious comedy here, and that ground is tilled immediately. Frankie roughs up a couple of punk kids who are messing with an old man on a train. Frankie puts out a hit on a wolf that has killed the sheep of one of his new friends. Frankie runs afoul of the local law enforcement. That’s the good stuff, all played for laughs.
And there are some pretty decent laughs at that. Unfortunately, the storyline is contrived to get things on the fast track for Frankie. Look, I can forgive Frankie meeting his love interest on the train on the way into town, and I can even forgive that she happens to be a Norwegian teacher. What is a bit harder to swallow is that she’s a Norwgian teacher who happens to be looking for a job, and that Frankie just so happens to stumble onto an opportunity to land her such a job (and at the same time, his liquor license) before we even get to the end of the first episode. I mean, tease me, Frankie!
Van Zandt brings his frowning mug to the table. People who want more of Silvio Dante (of The Sopranos) won’t be disappointed, and those looking for a little something more, well, they won’t be completely disappointed either. Van Zandt breaks out of the caricature now and again to let a little light in, and it suits him well. I think if he gets a few episodes under his belt, Van Zandt stands to be a pretty viable leading man. But I warn you: if you’ve come looking for subtle nuance, you’ve come to the wrong place.
The supporting cast of the show is made up of veteran Norwegian actors, who all conspire to form a backdrop that makes Van Zandt look all the more capable. In this regard, I think they are pretty successful. There are a lot of the old countryfolk stereotypes at play, but again, we’re not reinventing the wheel with this one.
Despite all of Lilyhammer‘s drawbacks, there is a novel enough premise here to bring me back for more. The good news is that no matter how much it ends up stinking, I’m already an eighth of the way through it. I get the feeling that once Frankie gets settled in a little bit, we’re in for a pretty strong show.