SERIES-OPENER IS FUNNY AND TOP-NOTCH
Things do not work out exactly how Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano expects they will when he enters the witness protection program and asks to be sent to Norway.
Why Norway? Because Tagliano (Steven Van Zandt), who becomes Giovanni Henriksen in his new life, was a big fan of the 1994 Winter Olympics there. Fresh powdery snow, fresh air and pretty women… What could go wrong?
A lot, apparently, in this Mafia-comedy.
Giovanni, who asks people to call him Johnny, finds himself chilled by the winter and stuck in a less than suitable lifestyle. This includes a drab one story home, a small electric car and going without a job befitting a man of his background in the “restaurant business.”
Yet, they don’t call him “The Fixer” for nothing.
Tagliano, or Henriksen, didn’t exactly come to Norway without insurance. He brings a vest stacked with greenbacks and a revolver hidden in the urn filled with the ashes of his dearly departed West Highland White Terrier named Lily.
Things seem to turn around for Henriksen when he starts embracing his old moniker. He makes friends with a pretty blonde teacher named Sigrid Haugli (Marian Saastad Ottesen) and her son Jonas by putting a hit out on a wolf that kills the family pet sheep.
And Henriksen solves his work issues with other tricks he learned during his gangster days. It doesn’t take long for Henriksen to get back in the “bar and restaurant” business, but it also doesn’t take long for him to raise the attention of Lilliehammer’s chief of police, who coincidentally is also his neighbor.
As you might imagine from the set-up, Lilyhammer provides a lot of laughs. There is plenty of fish-out-of-water schtick, but it works. Van Zandt, who you have also seen in The Sopranos, does a great job playing the gangster with a heart of gold routine.
His constant wise-guy mugging in front of the camera is probably a bit overblown at times, but it is cheeky enough to skip by, especially when Henriksen is staring down a sheep standing in the middle of a snow-covered country road.
Henriksen is likable from the start. That’s a credit to Van Zandt and the sharp writing. Lilyhammer‘s first five minutes include a mob funeral, a gunfight that takes the life of Lily and a federal witness protection deal. It doesn’t diddle-dally around.
Before long Henriksen is disposing of a body at the bottom of a frozen lake and playing coy with the local police during a wintry countryside interrogation. Things are sure to get complicated from there, but Henriksen seems to handle complicated well.
As new friend and business partner Torgeir Lien (Trond Fausa Aurvåg, The Bothersome Man) notes of Henriksen, “You’re the fuckin’ classiest immigrant I have ever met.”
All eight episodes of the Netflix original series Lilyhammer are streaming on Instant Watch.