Review: Lilyhammer

What happens when a Mafia boss snitches on his own? I think most of us have a good idea, cement galoshes, getting a set of clubs, or swimming with fish come to mind. If a snitch is lucky, Witness Protection is an option, if the snitch can elude the Mafia and those in league with organized crime long enough to relocate. But, what if relocation is not to another city in the United State, but to another country, a country who still revels in Olympic fame.

In 1994, Lillehammer, Oppland, Norway hosted the Winter Olympics. You may not remember. I didn’t. I had a vague recollection of the Lillehammer Olympics but if you had asked me to find Lillehammer on a map I would not be able to immediately tag the city.

Lillehammer is about 2 hours drive north of Oslo, the capital of Norway, in the county of Oppland. Lillehammer today has a population of less than 30,000 residents, though I am sure in the days of the 1994 Olympics a few more people were present. Climate averages a balmy 45F in the summer, about 30F in the winter. Dress accordingly.

How in the world did a TV series featuring a New York crime boss snitch end up setting in Lillehammer?

Frank Tagliano (Steve van Zandt) is the heir-apparent to a New York crime family. When the godfather dies, the syndicate’s accountant was able to insinuate himself into the power structure and usurp the usual chain-of-command. Upset by the turn of events, Tagliano decides to snitch on members of an Italian crime family. Tagliano is convinced after an attempt on his life to seek witness protection. Rather than stay in the United States, Tagliano decides to satisfy a dream of his and relocate to Lillehammer, Norway, home of the 1994 Winter Olympics. Tagliano developed a deep affection for Lillehammer watching the Winter Olympics. Soon, he is on the frozen Norwegian landscape living with the unlikely name of Giovanni Henrikson, a man of Italian/Norwegian ancestry.

“Lilyhammer” is not a comedy, er, perhaps it is, in the sense of a dark comedy. What would one expect when one of the most corrupt people in New York is transplanted to one of the most honest countries in the world? An effing clash of cultures in the vernacular of a New York mafia boss is what happens.

Tagliano tries to bribe the Norwegian equivalent of the business bureau so he can get around the typical bureaucracy. When bribery doesn’t work, he blackmails the official with pictures. Lillehammer is simply not prepared for someone who works to circumvent the bureaucracy of a clean and reverent society and therein lies the awkward humor.

Tagliano joins the neighborhood watch program. While he is taping up his bat to keep it from slipping from his hands, the watch leader lets him know the program is 100% non-violent. “What do you do when you get the bastards?” Tagliano inquires. “We talk to them,” replies the watch leader. “Really? You think that would have worked against Osama?”

Out on a walk one morning, Tagliano runs across the head of sheep on the sidewalk in front of his house. Now, typically, the head’s of animals are viewed as bad omens by the Mafia. Tagliano gets his feathers ruffled, believing the New York Italian mafia has already found him. However, a woman steps up and collects her dinner from the snow. “You’re gonna eat that?” Tagliano asks, obviously disgusted. “It’s my dinner,” says the woman, who turns out to be the police chief, and his neighbor.

Lilyhammer is filmed on location in Lillehammer, with Norwegian acting talent. Norwegian culture is ever-present, from the theme of non-violence, to the health care system. When Tagliano gets his girlfriend pregnant he balks at having a male mid-wife assigned to him. And, Tagliano’s new Lillehamring business partners have no idea how to “encourage” people. Turning mild people into non-passive aggressive-types necessary for Tagliano’s business practices wears him out.

Lilyhammer is a mash-up of “The Sopranos,” on which Steve van Zandt played “Silvio Dante,” and “Northern Exposure,” on which Steve played no characters 😉

The show is a great watch, produced by Netflix studios and Steve van Zandt. Streams for free on Netflix, the first show produced by Netflix. If Lilyhammer is any indication of future programming then they are onto something.

If Steve van Zandt’s name rings a bell, he is also a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band. Lilyhammer is in hiatus as Steve is on tour with The Boss.

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