Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lilyhammer, Netflix's first foray into original programming, already an interesting watch for fans of The Sopranos (and Norway)

     Early on in the first episode of Lilyhammer, Steven Van Zandt, playing a New York mobster named Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano (not unlike his role as Silvio Dante in HBO's The Sopranos), does something that Silvio would never do, even if it meant spending life in a maximum security prison: give all of his information to the FBI to become--what is known in the mob world--a rat. The authorities ask him where he might like to spend the rest of his life in the Witness Protection Program. Florida or somewhere else in the States? Too easy to be found and get whacked. The Bahamas? Frank's not too keen on the "melanoma". No, Frank chooses to be sent to Lillehammer, Norway (the show's title is a play on how Frank pronounces the place), the site of the 1994 Winter Olympics. It seems nice there, he assumes.
     So begins this fish-out-of-water story that could--after the first episode, at least--be titled, The Sopranos 2: Silvio in Snow. And that's not a bad thing: much of the same dark humor, drama, violence and vulgarity is present here, even if the show isn't quite as expertly crafted as HBO's classic. Lilyhammer also looks absolutely great--shot mostly in Norway, it looks as cold and unforgiving as it probably is in real life for someone not used to the conditions. Frank sticking out like a sore thumb is most of the fun: he can understand some of the language, but dumb people will want to avoid Netflix's first show due to the many subtitles. The first episode is about the many funny interactions that occur upon his initial arrival and a myriad of misunderstandings that Frank chalks up to "cultural differences".
     You've gotta hand it to Netflix, though: jumping into the original series realm that is dominated by HBO, AMC and Showtime is a ballsy move but also a necessary one. There's a reason HBO doesn't let Netflix stream any if its wonderful classics or new hits. It feels almost like an experiment: Lilyhammer was released this past Monday, and all eight of its Season One 45(ish) minute episodes (commercial-free) are available for instant streaming subscribers at any time. It's a new and hopefully fruitful undertaking for the company, as my Instant Queue was getting pretty stale in the new-and-exciting-show department. Later this year Netflix brings us House of Lies, directed by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey, and in 2013 we get another new season of Arrested Development before the movie. Here's hoping Netflix continues in this new direction instead of hiking up the price to my Blu-Ray rentals every month. But for now, time to click play on Episode 2 of Lilyhammer.

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