Blogging Season 1 of Lilyhammer by Netflix


Netflix decided to wade into traditional “network” territory and produce their own “TV” series called Lilyhammer. The first season has 8 episodes total.

Stevie (Little Steve of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band fame) Van Zandt stars in the series as a classic mobster guy who… goes to Lilyhammer, Norway via the Witness protection program. What follows is “fish out of water” story line that is amusing and engaging if not almost believable.

When Steve Van Zandt’s Lilyhammer premiered on Netflix in February of 2012, few people realized it marked the beginning of a brand new era of television.  Lilyhammer ended up going for 3 seasons but its long term impact on Television will last for a very long time.

Episode 1: Reality Check

The episode is appropriately named “Reality Check” because Giovanni has to adjust to a complete change of life – presumptively more so than the typical mobster who goes into the witnes protection program. He decides to go to Northern Europe to Lilyhammer Norway – site of the 1994 winter Olympics. Our first thought was – can you really relocate outside of the U.S. in the witness protection program?

A few key facts about the episode:

  • Johnny was formerly Frankie the fixer Tagliano a mobster from New York City
  • Johnny (Frankie) doesn’t like his new bean counter boss and knows he has to get out soon so testifies against Aldo Delucci
  • His new name is Giovanni Henriksen
  • He definitely isn’t going to abandon the “mob” way of life

Some fun notes from the episode:

  • Johnny is wearing a “I Heart NY norsk” snow hat
  • He quickly learns the Norwegians eat Sheep’s Head when he finds one in the road
  • He is given a Small electric car do drive – in the icy snow
  • Johnny rescues a sheep in his electric car
  • Is the hero for killing the big bad wolf
  • Johnny has on a nice winter jacket replete with pink “splotches” very becoming a former mobster

This episode is all about setting the stage for the show. We find out quickly that Giovani was actually “Frank the Fixer” – a classic enforcer mob guy who looks, talks and walks the part. Note that Van Zandt was also in The Sopranos and plays mob guys real well. Johnny stand out like a big sore thumb.

One thing you have to get used to in this series is the constant switching between Norwegian and English. According to Wikipedia most of the population is fluent in English. Reading subtitles is important and you will miss many of the more funny moments and nuances if you don’t watch closely. Also you get to enjoy a few conversations where you would swear the Muppets swedish chef was one of the characters…

The fish out of water had to deal with the snow, local officials, down scaled living and much more in his quest to setup the lifestyle he is used to living as a New York mobster – the master of his domain. He has to deal with also moving to a rural setting replete with wolves.

Fridtjov Såheim who plays the local “welfare” official Jan Johansen is hilarious and provides a fun balance to Johnny’s heavy demeanor. Johnny has to interact with with him as a new immigrant and if he wants to get his bar license. He soon learns there is even more “government” and rules in Norway than back home. He also uses his mobster ways on Jan to ultimately get his way…

Reality Check nicely sets up who all the players are and what the settings is and leaves you some solid anticipation of how this New York mob guy will navigate his way through the Norwegian culture and establish himself in Lilyhammer. Lets hope the rest of the series is engaging as the first episode.

Episode 2: The Flamingo

The way the episodes are introduced is a nice reminder of the change for Johnny. Its starts with New York, mob type music then to Lilyhammer and Norwegian type music.

The episode starts out with a truck pulled over on the side of the road askew and full of reputed liqueur (which is actually La Masla Suave – an olive oil from spain no less). Some of it then gets stolen and a local gang aint too happy about it. We soon find out the goods are being offered to Johnny and his new bar.

Meanwhile Johnny’s “girl” Sigrid who has caught his eye is now teaching “New Start” for immigrants which Johnny helped her get and is of course participating in. Jan tells the immigrants about the activities they have including theater, self defense and ice scating. They all seem so excited (not). One of the Arab immigrants disrespects Sigrid and Johnny takes care of it…

We soon find out Johnny’s long-term plan – turn Lilyhammer into a new Vegas with him as Bugsy Segal. Johnny wants some great looking “broads” for his new bar and so begins the building of the arctic Vegas. Meanwhile the police begin to wonder about Johnny.

We soon found out the locals aren’t all that different that anywhere else. The police are suspicious, the local tough guys are just that – tough and bad, Arabs are viewed the same as in any western culture with suspicion, etc.

Best line “You look like Nancy Kerrigan before she got whacked” to Sigrid while she skates. Second best line “Guess what you harry potter F*** lunch is over.” to the Doctor who looks like Harry Potter and is on lunch and can’t help Segrid with her broken leg. Some good stuff.

We also begin to see the emergence of Torgier as Johnnys enforcer, fixer, and all around lackey. We also seem him get beat up pretty good.

The second episode does a nice job of introducing all the key characters that will be involved in the following episodes and the interactions that should make Lilyhammer fun to watch. It will be interesting to see where the “dark skinned” italian being confused with middle eastern terrorists goes and Johnny establishing him self as the new local heavy weight in town.

Episode 3: Guantanamo Blues

The episode opens with a classic mob “enforcer” type scene. A client of the club hasn’t paid – that ain’t good… thus ensues another “how you can have fun as mobster with snow and ice scene”. Meanwhile back at the police ranch the suspicions grow that Johnny is indeed an escaped Guantanamo terrorist.

We are now introduced in more depth to one of the key characters, Julius Backe who manages a new luxry moutain condo build out which Johnny clearly has set his sights on as the right kind of living for for him. But an environmental “tree hugger” type stands in the way of getting the necessary property. Somehow we think his mind will be changed….

Julius immediately stands out as cultured, well groomed, art lover, listener to classical music. He will prove to be a fun and comic relief character to the rough and gruff mobster Johnny.

THe fun doesn’t stop with Johnny not being allowed to drive because he only has a class “M” license for motorcycles, Jan is doing another fun cross-cultural experience and the Tree Hugger is put on notice.

The really big surprise happens with Johnny’s new girl and honestly was quite unexpected this quickly into the series. The implications are interesting for the rest of the show…

Johnny now has to get a Norwegian driving license and soon has to deal with the “big government” bureaucracy of Norway – he ain’t happy. We are pretty sure Johnny will find his way out of doing 6 months of driving tests…

Meanwhile Johnnys #2 throws a dead chicken into the tree huggers bed while Johnny continues to study for his driving exam. Truly hilarious.

Johnny begins to capture the heart of Sigrid’s son as being the cool guy, giving great gifts, etc. The scene with Johnny at the table for the boys birthday party is pretty much a classic. The juxtaposition of the old mob guy and the young boys is classic.

The episode wraps up with a toy gun causing havoc at a public event and a baby magazine – all pretty engaging and hilarious. Van Zandt is clearly is in his element as an actor.

Some great quotes from this episode “that half a Michael Moore” – referring to the skinny tree hugger who is 1/2 the size of Michael Moore. Remember what Confucius said “Man with generous offer often end up with umbrella up his a**” to the Tree Hugger after an “offer” has been made to buy his property.

Episode 3 brings us fully into the new world of the mob in Lilyhammer. The mob way of doing things is starting to have its impact on the locals including the police, the women, the enemies and the the business men the mob want to be involved with – game on.

Episode 4: The Midwife

As the title insinuates, this one is about Johnny’s new reality that Sigrid is going to have a baby. It opens with Johnny and Sigrid at the Doctors office for her baby check up. A ponytailed guy comes in who Johnny thinks is the Doctor but turns out to be the mid-wife – Johnny ain’t happy… Johnny wants a “regular” mid-wife – a woman of course.

Johnny then wants to go to the Doctor in charge – who is a woman of course – he explains the problem is the mid-wife is a man. The head Doctor isn’t amused. We knew there was going to be some tough mob guy and doing baby type stuff hilarity – but the whole mid-wife thing was unexpected.

We next see the police board grilling the the two police offers who thought Johnny was Al Qaida and disrupted the big race. Hovland has been suspended for six months. The “arab” issue seems to be a recurring them as we will see later in the episode.

Johnny next finds out he has been reassigned to another city for their babies birth because of his unhappiness with a male mid-wife – he isn’t happy because his girl will not be happy. Johnny then enlists his new real estate development partner, Julius, to help fix things at the hospital.

While that is happening Julius finds out his son has converted to Islam… he ain’t happy. We then see him cutting off his son’s beard – an insult to a muslim.

We then see Johnny, Sigrid and her son over at a another families having dinner. The man is the “mom” while the wife is the manager of the local mall. The role reversal is funny. The scene of Johnny talking to the stay at home husband is a classic one – the mobster as the psychologist is classic.

Johnny’s riff on woman being food – e.g. “sugar, honey, cup cake” gets pretty vulgar – a bit shocking. Lets hope the kid wasn’t actually there or saw it. Its funny but really seems fairly out of place for the series. It could have been done just as funny but in a less crass way.

We next see Geir Laila with Geir in some very skimpy underwear looking very white and very depressed for his suspension. Laila is sending him to Graceland to because of his love for Elvis.

We next see a poker game and the stay at home Dad shows up ready to play some poker with the guys. Meanwhile Geir is in the airport and continue his suspicion of anything that looks “muslim”. He is suspicious of an Indian Sikh. He turns out to be friendly and Geir and him hang together.

The rest of the episode carries out the story line with Johnny of course resolving his hospital issue and mid-“wife”. Geir does begin to get a lead on Johnny not being who he is.

This episode gets us fully engaged into the the local culture – the baby turns out to be an excellent medium to progress Johnny’s fish out of water story line and have some fun with how things are done in Norway versus in the US. Very funny and enjoyable.

Episode 5 – My Kind of Town

Johnny is delivering booze to parolee Thomas Aune, Frank is given the idea of investing in art as a means of laundering his money. In a hilarious series of events Torgier goes to buy art of ‘the kind that you can sell for more than it costs to buy’. Geir is off to New York to investigate whats going on with Johnny and stumbles upon a tranny and a couple detectives who help him pursue his case. Johnny’s enemies get a lead on where he is in witness protection.

Episode 6 – Pack Your Lederhosen

Johnny has been making money – lots of money and buys a luxurious penthouse. He asks Sigrid to move in with him. In the meantime we learn that Geir is dead. We also find out that Johnny’s mafia hitman buddies are in Norway on his trail. Johnny also learns he has certain rules to follow in his new residence – and he issn’t too happy about that.

Episode 7 – The Babysitter

Johnny knows he is in trouble and beefs up security when Arne his doorman is beat up. The police chief is beginning to suspect Johnny might be up to no good. Lilyhammer is celebrating National Day and Johnny is highly suspected of being up to no good.

Episode 8 – Trolls

Johnny tries to save Sigrid’s son which leads to a big shoot out and lots of revelations that change both of his lives – the old New York mafioso and the new Lillyhammer heavy.   The comedy of the script coupled with the mug face of Van Zandt is priceless and leaves us wanting more.

Seasons 2 and 3

Lillyhammer continued for two more seasons with the lovable Van Zandt and his Norway gang going through their antics and shenanigans New York style in the cold of Norway.  It’s well worth watching to see the beginning of non-network TV.