Television Review—Netflix’s Lilyhammer

I’m halfway through Netflix’s first original television series, an eight episode series titled “Lilyhammer” that takes place in Lillehammer, Norway. Episodes are 45 minutes long or about 20k on the bike trainer. It’s solid and hopefully a positive sign of things to come from Netflix. Here’s their brief description.

After he testifies against a Mafia boss, ex-gangster Frank Tagliano enters the witness protection program and asks to be sent to Norway. Despite the peaceful surroundings, it’s not long before Frank strays from the straight and narrow.

I dig it and I’m awarding it an “A-“. Full-disclosure, I lived near Lillehammer for a few months five years ago and have fond memories of a ski weekend there, a memorable dinner party, and a school visit where I was the guest teacher. I’m smitten by the setting so adjust your grade at home accordingly. The scenes of the train station, the white farm houses against the snow, the shops in town, the countryside, the ski jump, the Birkebeiner cross country ski race all take me back to that time.

Besides the distinctive and extraordinarily beautiful setting which makes it worthwhile alone, the show works because of the wonderfully authentic and quirky Norwegian cast. Incompetent cops are played out in American television comedies, but their Norwegian counterparts are good for a new and steady stream of cross-cultural laughs. It’s well written, moves at a nice pace, thoughtfully explores cross-cultural differences, and is decently acted.

I deducted half a grade because Steven Van Zandt, of Soprano fame, is too much of a caricature of an American mobster. He could and should be much more nuanced and subtle. Related to this, it will be interesting to see whether Netflix has learned the lesson of the Sopranos. Somehow, despite Tony Soprano’s incredibly flawed nature, he was likable. He could have a guy whacked, or whack him himself, and cheat on his wife. Then when he walked into the kitchen you’d cheer the fact that his favorite pasta was ready and waiting. An unsolvable television mystery.

Four espisodes in, Frank Tagliano or Johnny Henrikssen, isn’t as likable as Tony. I’m not sure whether he has the necessary charisma and charm to compensate for his buffoonery. Also, his romantic relationship with a much younger woman fails the believability test.

Despite those flaws, I’m looking forward to the next four episodes.

Soprano-related postscript—Is there a more powerful portrait of an addict on television than Edie Falco’s Nurse Jackie?

4 thoughts on “Television Review—Netflix’s Lilyhammer

  1. I’ll add this one to my Netflix queue. Right now I’m in the 3rd season of “Lost”, a series at the time I thought would be short on ideas after a few episodes so had no interest in then, but when it won some Emmy’s, it piqued my interests.

    I lot of it is corny and incomprehensible (how come Locke’s military green T-shirt never gets any more soiled or torn than it does, especially following the implosion of the hatch?) but still keeps drawing me back to see where this wild plot is taking us. I’m even beginning to like some of the characters I didn’t think I would, like Sawyer.

  2. My comment-shy, less handsome brother, offers this rebuttal–Maybe a C +…. I’ve seen most of the drama/action series on Netflix and it’s middle of the road at best. Prison Break, White Collar, and Life are all ahead of Lilly…

    I’ve watched another episode since writing the review and the quality is ebbing. Is it too late to change my grade to B, which is about a C+ when adjusting for my personal connection to the setting?

    • Even a C+ for Lilyhammer is generous in my opinion. The scenery is gorgeous, but everything else falls flat. It was actually the last thing I watched from Netflix. I was tired of all their old boring content and then when I saw this is what they were doing for their original content, I threw in the towel. After that I signed up for the Blockbuster @Home service that my employer, DISH, started offering. I’m actually much happier with it because it gives me a lot more variety. Not only does it have streaming, but also a bunch of movie channels, and movie and video game discs by-mail. Sure, Blockbuster @Home doesn’t have Lilyhammer, but I’m pretty sure I can live without it, in fact, I’d pretty sure everyone can.

  3. It’s really hard to like a series where the main character is so disgusting. I feel that the series tries to make cool the right winged individualism, but anyone with half a brain knows he’s an asshole. Not even a funny one at that.

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