Although you may not have known about it, this past Monday, Netflix released its initial venture into original programming to American subscribers. The entire eight-episode first season of Lilyhammer, a fish-out-of-water dramedy about a mafioso trudging his way through snow-coated Lillehammer, Norway, is now available at the click of a button. But is it worth watching?
Norway seems to think so. One million Norwegians tuned in to watch the pilot of Lilyhammer when it premiered there last month. That’s roughly one-fifth of their total population.
It’s also a very, very weird show.
Steven Van Zandt, the star, co-writer and executive producer of the series, is perhaps better known for his role as “Little Steven,” the guitarist and backing vocalist for Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band. He is also recognizable to American audiences for his first and only acting role prior to Lilyhammer as consigliere Silvio Dante on HBO’s The Sopranos.
Van Zandt’s character in Lilyhammer, “Frank the Fixer,” is a likable mob underboss who turns informant for the FBI and finds himself relocated to Lillehammer. The series fancies itself a Sopranos–In Bruges hybrid as Frank struggles to grasp and adapt to Norwegian culture. By the end of the episode, he’s blackmailing public officials and putting the moves on the only attractive woman around.
Among his other questionable activities in the first two episodes, he:
– Advises a bullied child to retaliate with a mitten filled with rocks
– Immediately fires an overweight waitress for expressing skepticism regarding her uniform, a skimpy metallic skirt
– Refers to an unassuming bespectacled doctor on his lunch break as “you Harry Potter fuck,” then proceeding to beat the crap out of him
– Pushes some guy off Lillehammer’s famed Olympic ski jump
– Insults a friendly hand puppet for no reason other than to be hurtful
Of course, this is all run-of-the-mill hoodrat stuff; so what makes the show particularly weird? It might be rooted in Little Steven’s mediocre acting that has inexplicably caught on with Norwegian viewers (The New York Times implies that he may now just be “the David Hasselhoff of Scandinavia”). Or it might be the character’s love for his little white dog who is tragically gunned down by hitmen in the second scene of the pilot. Or the fact that 80% of the dialogue is Norwegian, and that Frank the Fixer miraculously comprehends all of it perfectly.
Likely, it’s a beautiful blend of all these elements, aided by a hackneyed and predictable script, that makes Lilyhammer what it is at heart: a mindless, often enjoyable piece of entertainment.
Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, stated that initial ratings for Lilyhammer will not be released to the public because it’s hard to determine the success of a show like this — this gives subscribers the chance to start watching not just during this launch week, “but over the course of several years.” Thus, Lilyhammer‘s impact on this new content medium will remain to be seen.