Lilyhammer was an Norwegian-American television series, starring Steven Van Zandt, about a New York gangster, Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano, trying to start a new life in isolated Lillehammer, Norway.
Frank is placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program after testifying in a trial against Aldo Delucci (Thomas Grube), the new Mafia head who had ordered a hit on him after succeeding his recently deceased brother, Sally Boy Delucci… It’s all very serious and all very mafia but the Scandinavian rawness mixed with the humane struggle that the characters face are truly fascinating to watch.
Yes, the series is rather unique indeed…
Frank requests that he would be relocated to Lillehammer, where he believes no one will look for him and from then on calls himself Jonny. He chooses this location as he once watched the winter Olympics as a child and the impressions of great achievements and peaceful snowy landscapes never left his memory. And so it begins…
Many of us know Steven Van Zandt still from his work with the Sopranos, where he played Silvio Dante, the grumpy mafia concierge, a role not unlike this one.
Noteworthy here, is that his wife in the Sopranos is also his wife in real life. Maureen Van Zandt. They married in New York City on December 31, 1982. Bruce Springsteen was the best man at their wedding. This is not just a random fact but rooted in Van Zandt’s past, as he grew up in the New Jersey music scene and was a pivotal member of Bruce Springsteen’s band E-Street. He played the guitar and accompanied the band on numerous tours. Later on in life he became a producer and co-wrote various songs with Springsteen. To mention just one of their collaboration; Van Zandt produced the bands’ most-acclaimed records Hearts of Stone. By that time he has became a key contributor to the Jersey Shore sound.
His musical inclination came in handy as he set to work on the Lylihammer, as he not only plays the lead role but also coproduced, co-written AND as you can imagine, got heavily involved in the writing of the music for the show. It is therefore needless to mention, how marvellous the musical underpinnings are. Truly pleasurable! Van Zandt mentioned that most of the music for the show has been written in his own studio at the Jersey Shore, where also most of the music for E-Street was written.
But why stop at that, dear sheep…?! Springsteen, makes an actual guest appearance in the show! He plays Giuseppe ‘The Undertaker’ Tagliano, the older brother of Van Zandt’s character, in the season three finale. Nice touch, I must say!
As mentioned before, the show is set in Norway and portrays a man who lives and breaths Jersey shore and has little Italy running through his veins. But what is somewhat surprising, he is not fighting his destiny of being away from home and interjects himself mercilessly into his new environment. Much to the bewilderment of his new countrymen. This is absolutely hilarious and well, at times, a bit cringe worthy as it always is when different cultures clash and misunderstandings unfold. The show builds on these cultural integration mishaps brilliantly and very charmingly.
Having had to leave NYC and his old life he is adapting to a certain degree to his new culture but still remaining true to who he is. Hence, building his brand new and shiny mafia empire from scratch. He is doing so in cleverly recruiting people according to character traits and skill set – not according to birth right as it is traditionally done. An interesting notion and this meritocracy system seems to work for Jonny – how very Scandinavian of him. He rewards loyalty, creates a sticky family like bond and in the process offers hope and a dash of the the unmistakable New York glamour in little Lillehammer. He opens a booming night club in the middle of town, which in turn creates employment and Jonny takes on the roles of benevolent advisor for the town people and in true god father style.
Crucially, he does not cross that fine line of going “that bit too far”. For example, he does not sell drugs and he has a sense of some kind of right and wrong (although of course there is a lot of beating people up and the occasional killing…) but he is a very likeable guy overall. Furthermore, the show does take it upon itself to take the mickey out of the bureaucracy in general and how ludicrous certain procedures seem to be. Our main character takes on many government officials, from town clerk to kindergarten pedagogue, all with the same relentless understanding that nothing stands in his way regardless – no matter of the obstacle being in business or of a private nature. It’s truly great to watch and the obscurity and the disproportion of force he uses to get what he wants, hilarious.
The show does not, in true Netflix manner, take into account that the audience may not speak Norwegian. After all, Jonny doesn’t speak it either in the beginning. So we understand exactly what he does. Very little. As the show goes on we are given more and more subtitles to show that Jonny has learned bits and bobs of the local language. What a brave thing to do. And again, it works. Lilyhammer is full of oddities like this. It is strange and quirky and full-on but considering that it is combining little Italy and Scandinavian culture what would you expect.
Lilyhammer was promoted as Netflix’s first “exclusive content offer”. The series has been sold to over 130 countries worldwide and celebrated a great success. Nevertheless, in July 2015 the series had been cancelled by Netflix. NRK (Norwegian TV network), who owns the rights to the series, remained optimistic however, that a deal could be made with another company for a fourth series.
We here at the sheep think it is a great series. Very unusual, well put together and well worth a watch. Especially the intercultural clashes and the unapologetic honesty in that portrayal are very special. Thank you Netflix. Hopefully it will get picked up and redeveloped.
It is definitely unique.