Sunday, June 22, 2014


Poster for Season Two

I don't watch much television, but I have become a fan of the Norwegian-made, Netflix-screened series Lilyhammer.  A third season of eight shows is scheduled for release later this year.

Commonly described as a "fish out of water" vehicle, it is actually more a clash of cultures with a lot of humor and a certain amount of violence.

The setup is this:  A New York mobster, placed in the federal witness protection program, is relocated to Lillehammer, Norway, which he remembers fondly from TV broadcasts of the Winter Olympics there in 1994.

In the first scene of the series, the newly renamed Giovanni "Johnny" Henriksen travels by train to his new hometown and witnesses some bullying among the passengers.  He administers justice as you might expect a "made man" to do, but in a manner quite shocking to fellow passengers.

Matters proceed from there.  The Norwegian creators set the stage in Norway's ultra-polite and nonviolent environment, and the mobster and the Norwegians play off each other.

Not all the Norwegians are admirable, and the mobster, while violent, is not all bad.  The setting is beautiful, and the characters are interesting and fun.

The mobster is played by Steven Van Zandt, who again takes up the wig he wore for his role as nightclub owner Silvio Dante in the one of the biggest hits in television history, The Sopranos, which ran for six seasons on HBO.

In Norway, the Lilyhammer series also has been a smash hit, watched by 50 percent of all television viewers when new episodes are released. It has been distributed broadly, and the last I read, has aired in 130 other countries.

One thing I like about Lilyhammer is that it gives Americans a look at a different country.  Previously here, imported television series have ranged from the BBC's Edwardian drama Upstairs, Downstairs, to the BBC's Edwardian drama Downton Abbey, interspersed with a number of pretty good police procedurals.

In return we have given the world two hugely popular television series -- Miami Vice and Baywatch.  We can only imagine what people in other countries think of us.

Netflix is trying new things in its effort to keep relevant after subscribers grew tired of ordering DVDs in red envelopes through the mail.  Its most highly regarded effort, the excellent House of Cards series, is a much darker American remake of a British series by the same name.

But back to Lilyhammer.  American critics are generally positive if not thrilled with the show, and American audiences are somewhat more enthused.  Viewers on the Imdb website give it a rating of 8.3 out of 10.

The only regular criticism I could find from American viewers was that they didn't like having to read subtitles to understand the Norwegian characters' dialogue.

Not everyone here is a cineaste.

Note: For those who do not subscribe to Netflix, Lilyhammer can be viewed online.

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