What happens when you take an average gabba goul eating Goodfella; transport him to Norway, and let him try to blend in with the locals? Well antics ensue of course, and that’s the premise of the Netflix original series Lilyhammer. Yes I know it sounds preposterous, but the premise of this limited series seems pretty clearly to have come from some late night drinking.
“We take this mafia guy who joins witness protection, but instead of being relocating to Southern California or someplace, he wants to relocate to… I dunno, Norway?”
“Put the bottle down, you’ve had enough.”
It’s interesting that Netflix, for its first original project, chose this idea over what I’m sure were a multitude of others. I can only assume that someone among Netflix’s higher ups really missed the Sopranos, since this show has all of the markers of a Sopranos’s sequel, Silvio on Ice.
Steven Van Zandt, who played Silvio in The Sopranos, plays much the same character again, only with a different name. When he suspects (via an attempted hit) that he’s on the outs with the new boss, he decides to turn State’s witness against him in exchange for relocation… to Lillehammer, Norway. Why Lillehammer? Eh, he liked the way it looked during the 1994 Olympics.
It’s a bit of a bizarre fish out of water tale, but this fish actually adapts fairly well into the community, quickly becoming a successful club owner in a country where proper permitting and licenses can take years, Van Zandt’s character manages it in days thanks to his ability to bring his mob business tactics to the rigid Norwegian bureaucracy. Naturally, he manages to also attract some unwelcome police attention.
Although that’s part of the cross cultural stranger in a strange land story, the way the show handles the language barrier is also unique. The Norwegians speak Norwegian and Van Zant’s character, Frank Tagliano, speaks English. The conceit of the show is that Tagliano, shown listening to language tapes on his way to Norway, can understand the language, but can’t speak it. So he speaks English, the Norwegians speak to him in their language, and he understands. It’s a weird way to have a conversation, but it mostly seems to work, if you can accept the premise that a guy can understand the language perfectly, but can’t speak a word; so half the show is subtitles. Now some people just will not accept subtitles (yes I’m referring to my fellow Americans) under any circumstances, so if that applies, this show isn’t for you.
More interesting than the show is the business model that got this show on the…air. Netflix intends to use original programming to attract subscribers. Their logic is that the old advertising model that has funded on the air and cable television is on the way out. The multiplication of TV channels and the alternative options to regular television mean that the audience is getting smaller and smaller for each channel. The days of getting 106 million viewers for a single show, like the series finale of MASH, are, with the exception of major sports events, gone forever. As the television audience becomes more bifurcated, the revenues these channels can get for advertising shrinks.
Netflix ignores advertisers. It’s only interested in attracting new subscribers. Will Lilyhammer help with that?
I’m guessing no.
Although it did garner enough viewers to justify a second season, I doubt the show actually did much to pull in new subscribers to the service. However for its next show it’s decided to go after an already established fan base. It’s producing 10 new episodes of the show Arrested Development. Like Community, which I wrote about here, Arrested Development has an established, loyal fan base that could be tempted to sign up for a Netflix account to view the shows. Other properties that Netflix was considering, like Terra Nova, did not. There is even talk about reviving Firefly on Netflix (please oh please!)
When the second season of Lilyhammer comes out next year, I’ll probably watch it. Hey I’m invested in the story now and want to see where it goes, but I don’t think the potential audience for a show like this is particularly big.
That’s why it’s on Netflix.
- ‘Lilyhammer’ to return for second season on Netflix (digitalspy.co.uk)