Netflix Originals Review: Lilyhammer

About Lilyhammer:

As of late, exclusive online content is the way to go instead of trying to get a TV network deal. That way, you can still get the show out to millions of viewers let alone across the world. Such online services include Netflix and Hulu in which they both have exclusive series. I have to say that I am satisfied with some entries in the Netflix Originals lineup. One such series I took a chance on, in which I feel am glad I did, is called “Lilyhammer” which stars Steven Van Zandt as Frank Tagliano aka Johnny Henriksen.

Van Zandt also serves as one of the series' writers.

This series is a collaboration between the talents of Norway and the United States with a bit of talent coming from the UK. Lilyhammer originally aired on TV networks across Norway and Netflix early 2012 with the second season coming onto Netflix late 2013; but, the show would be put onto Netflix and an exclusive series meaning that you can only get it on that subscription service. At first, I thought the flow was a bit slow. There was a moment where I almost stopped watching the first episode and decided to watch something else; but, I stuck with it. Since then, I felt that Lilyhammer was pretty hilarious in a dark comedy kind of way. But, this is a dark comedy that isn't that dark.

I saw that there is nudity in the series; but, the nudity is quite limited.

Watching Lilyhammer got me interested even more in TV programming that came out of Europe. I do look forward to the third season of Lilyhammer. Lilyhammer does a great job of keeping funny while making the series come off as intelligent at the same time. The writers do their best to make things understandable to the audiences as they create one funny cultural clash. This is perhaps one of the most intelligent TV series that I have come across.

Anybody that enjoys shows like “The Sopranos” might enjoy watching Lilyhammer. It has the feel of a Mafia series but has an original feel at the same time. During an interview on G4's “Attack of the Show,” Van made a comparison between production in the United States and production in Norway. He talked about how Norway's government supported production of the show; also, Van Zandt talked about how many popular actors in Norway wanted to get on board with it.

Storyline:

Lilyhammer starts out like any typical mafia show. It begins in New York City in which there's a memorial service for the late leader of one of the mafia groups. Frank talks with Aldo Delucci, who is merely a bookkeeper, who becomes the leader of the organization. After a few words, especially words that Aldo doesn't like, things seem to be all right. However, things are not all right as Aldo puts a hit out on Frankie.

Later in the day, while Frank is having a quiet drink with his pet dog Lily, a gunman enters the bar. Frank managers to kill the assassin; but, his dog Lily and the bartender are killed in the action. Enraged, instead of trying to kill Aldo, Frank comes forward and rats out Aldo to the FBI and testifies against him and his organization. By request, Frank is placed in witness protection; but, he chooses to go to Lillehammer in Norway due to his dog's name being Lily and the town being the location of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games.

Being in witness protection isn't what it's cracked up to be. It showed how smart and resourceful Frank is if he wants to rise to the top again. One such scene is wearing a kevlar vest with stacks of hundred dollar bills inside. Understanding the point of witness protection, Frank (as Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen) doesn't like it one bit as he has to start from the ground up again. By fate, along with not being able to do away with his old habits, Frank slowly rises to the top while slowly and gradually embracing Norway's culture.

He slowly rises to the top and uses his experience and knowledge (due to his many years in the Italian Mafia) to climb up to the top. While Frank's not above to using force, he exercises proper judgment in how and when to use it. In a short amount of time, Frank establishes his own bar called Flamingo which ends up as a popular nightclub and Italian restaurant. Flamingo, throughout the series, becomes a very important location to the plot as this is Frank's place of business and hub of shady dealings.

Lilyhammer presents itself as a very fresh concept when it comes to an original story. It does parallel the French movie, by Luc Besson, called “Malavita” which stars Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfieffer. But, the parallels end with witness protection. While Malavita has a lot of action and death, Lilyhammer keeps the action and death to a minimum. As a result, Lilyhammer remains an intelligent drama that relies more on story and character interaction rather than violent action. Whenever there is violent action, the show keeps it funny.

There's also a strong sociopolitical message as well as it tackles issues such as immigration and gun rights. But, the message focuses on the aspect of immigration as it plays an important role to the story with Frank's cover being an immigrant from the US.

Characters:

Lilyhammer's cast is very diverse for a show that takes place in Norway. The diversity of characters in the show had caught me by surprise. For a moment, I thought it would be one Italian dude and a whole bunch of white dudes. After watching the first episode, I was taken by surprise. When watching season 2, I was taken by surprise even more.

Frank – Portrayed by Van Zandt, Frank is the protagonist of the story. Due to him just leaving the mafia and keeping to his old habits, Frank serves as being between antihero and hero. While money is his religion, Frank does have his own set of morals and ethics. He fits the spectrum of the type of person that wants to avoid trouble and bloodshed as best he can; the only time Frank will engage in violence if the situation sees fit. Other than that, Frank prefers to handle things by diplomacy. If his opponents are weak, Frank won't hesitate to use force; but, he believes in moderate force unless he's been wronged. While not the comedy relief, Frank can be rather funny. He serves as an excellent protagonist.

Torgeir – Torgeir is one of the first people that Frank meets upon arriving in Norway. The two bond over hunting a wolf that killed a sheep on the farm belonging to an acquaintance. Since then, they have become inseparable to an extent. In his own way, Torgeir is one of the characters that serves as the comic relief to the story of Lilyhammer. While not good at it initially, Torgeir slowly grows into Frank's second-in-command when it comes to operating Flamingo and conducting business operations. He can be a child-at-heart on many occasions. While Torgeir claims to be a man, he comes off as a closeted metrosexual.

Roar – Roar, Torgeir's brother, is the first person that Frank meets. While his regular job is a bus driver, Roar slowly becomes an important part to Frank's operation. While Torgeir can act like a kid at times, Roar acts as comedy relief due to his stupid antics usually ends up being the main problem to solve in most episodes.

Arne – Arne, part of a biker gang, becomes Frank's friend and Flamingo bouncer. While he can hold his own, Arne is the most childlike. As the series progresses, Arne becomes an important friend to the group and an important member of Frank's organization. He's also an example of how Frank uses diplomacy to make initially hostile people into his allies and closest friends.

Roy – Roy, initially coming off as an enemy by proxy due to the antics, is the leader of the town's biker gang. Due to a business arrangement made by Frank, Roy jumps on board. As the series progresses, Roy serves as muscle and intelligence. While he won't hesitate to knock someone down, Roy serves as a facet of wisdom. Due to his age and experience as a gang leader, Roy's wisdom becomes invaluable. As the series progresses, Roy shows some humorous quirks as well.

Jan – Jan, in the first season, ends up as Franky's “b!tch” out of circumstances. Serving as the NAV worker that Frank interacts with, he thinks he's in the clear. At first, he seems to be clean and straight; but, he buckles to Frank's will when incriminating evidence surfaces up against him. Due to an agreement, Jan becomes Frank's source inside Norway's government and source of employees. As the series progresses, he becomes invaluable. Also, Jan is the subject of many subplots which involve immigration and getting the immigrants to assimilate into Norwegian culture.

Sigrid – Sigrid, a single mother with a teenage son, ends up as a friend and eventual love interest to Frank. Later in the series, she serves as the mother to his two twin baby sons. Being a political activist and a pro-immigration supporter, Sigrid serves as the polar opposite of Frank. While Frank is willing to do things illegally, Sigrid chooses the legal path. She serves as Frank's sense of morality to an extent.

Laila – Laila, Lillehammer's chief of police, serves as Frank's “frenemy” in the first season. By coincidence, she is Frank's neighbor before he moves. When revealed as the chief of police, it makes Frank's predicament difficult. However, Laila soon sees Frank to be a “necessary evil” in taking care of the person that killed her partner.

While most of the characters are Norwegian, Lilyhammer shows characters of different ethnicity and nationalities such as an Indian hacker and an African openly gay chef who's skilled in Italian cuisine. Lilyhammer has one of the biggest culturally diverse extended casts that I have seen. The show made it work let alone effectively integrate it into the main story.

Setting:

Most of the series takes place in Norway with some parts of the series taking place in the United States. The series definitely knew how to show the contrasts between the two. More importantly, Lilyhammer presented different aspects of Norwegian society from the lower class to the upper class. You get to see different facets of Norwegian life and culture. You got to see rural, suburban, and urban Lilyhammer in the series.

Music:

The opening music had caught my attention. At first, it plays with the feel of New York City. Then, it cuts to the music you would hear when going to Europe. The music, when playing, effectively gives the feel of transitioning from New York City to Norway.

I liked the part how at the Flamingo the live music is diverse. Lilyhammer likes to keep things hip and diverse when it comes to music. So far, I felt the music used fitted the feel of Lilyhammer.

Overall:

Lilyhammer is one of the most original TV shows that I had come across. I am looking forward to the show's third season. If you like watching mafia shows, give Lilyhammer a chance. The show keeps to the format of any typical mafia show; but, the writers make it different from any other mafia show at the same time. There's no senseless violence or killing in the series; many things are kept intellectual which includes the violence and killing as long as there's a reason for it. If you are looking for a Netflix original show to watch, pick Lilyhammer.

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