Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lilyhammer Review: "Silvio" from The Sopranos Relocates from Jersey to Norway

 photo credit: TonyFelgueiras via photopin cc

Bruce Springsteen band member Steven Van Zandt, a.k.a. "Silvio Dante" from The Sopranos, stars in the new fish-out-of-water, Norwegian-produced comedy drama Lilyhammer, the first venture by Netflix into original series content.

Van Zandt plays New York gangster Frank Tagliano who enters the Witness Protection Program after he testifies in court against a mob rival who tried to wack him. Van Zandt also gets a writing, executive producing, and composing credit in the series.

With the same scowl, vocal style, hunched shoulders, excessive f-bombs, and hideous hairpiece that were on display in The Sopranos, the Tagliano character hides out in Lilyhammer (Lillehammer), Norway, with a new identity, Giovanni Henriksen.

In the process, "Johnny" Henriksen manages to find shortcuts through the Norwegian socialist bureaucracy. In so doing, the show raises an interesting question. What's worse--an ineffectual government functionary or a crooked "businessman"? Further, if a former crime boss corrupts everyone in his path with a "direct-action strategy," is that an upgrade?

As Lars Walker writes at the American Spectator website...
Imagine a television comedy about an American who moves to an exotic foreign country. He utterly refuses to assimilate, flouts the local laws, beats up people who offend him... acts in pretty much every way as the stereotypical Ugly American, and yet comes out as a sort of a hero?
And imagine that this series was produced, not by some jingoistic American company, but by people from that very foreign land. And what if most of their countrymen loved it?
Big Hollywood's John Nolte lauds the show for its perhaps inadvertent counter-balance against political correctness that would likely never find its way into American television:
Every year Norway holds their own 4th of July, and when Johnny sees that his girlfriend’s son has written a speech about tolerance, peace, love, and multiculturalism — he tells the kid not to apologize for Norway, but to be proud of his country and to stand up for it. The end result is one of the series’ highlights.
Whether the series will "go left" in future installments to make up for its departure from PC orthodoxy remains to be seen.

The subplots and characters in Lilyhammer are interconnected like--to some degree--Curb Your Enthusiasm. And although those in the Witness Protection Program have sometimes gotten into further trouble with the law in real life, would someone on the run from the mob really get mixed up in all kinds of high-profile schemes?

The eight-episode series, which apparently set ratings records in Norway, takes a darker, less-comedic turn in episode five, and becomes somewhat unbelievable by the series finale. It has been renewed for a second season, however.

Perhaps the most charming aspect of the show is how the generally friendly and quirky Norwegian characters switch seamlessly between their native language and English.

Lilyhammer does not necessarily pack a wallop or hit the nail on the head, but if you subscribe to Netflix streaming, it's definitely worth a look.