Lilyhammer Review: A Sopranos/Killing Mashup that Fails to Deliver

LILYHAMMER: Tuesday 11th September, BBC4, 10pm

On paper, BBC Four’s Lilyhammer appears to be the by-product of a focus group comprised entirely of Guardian-reading culture snobs. A mashup of the The Sopranos and The Killing, the show sounded right up my street. Unfortunately, some ideas are best left to imagination…

Lilyhammer stars Steven van Zandt (Silvio from The Sopranos) as reformed New York gangster Frank ‘The Fixerâ€? Tagliano, exiled deep within Norway’s Scandinavian snowscape after testifying against the Mafia in a trial. He presumably brokered some sort of agreement to avoid imprisonment for crimes against unimaginative nicknames- it’s textbook fish-out-of-water stuff.

The show opens with the ruthless killing of Frank’s dog during a botched attempt on his life in a New York bar. It’s funny stuff, but for me this is where the show falls down, as it expects viewers to buy into the flakiest of premises –that Frank turns his back on a life of crime because someone shot his dog.

After going into the witness protection programme, Frank chooses the little known town of Lillehammer for his exile, due to his fond memories of the 1994 Winter Olympics there. He’s certainly got balls- I for one would not bugger off to Norway because it looked nice on the TV twenty years ago- and it’s beyond me as to why he didn’t at least tested the waters with a two-week holiday first.

The picturesque location is certainly beautiful and mysterious, but doesn’t add any substance to the proceedings. The show provides proof (if it were needed) that not all subtitled programmes are automatically more ‘worthy’ or cerebral than, say, an episode of Cash in the Attic.

However, choice of location aside, sadly the exposition is rushed, and the show is dearly lacking in nuance and characterisation. Viewers are not privy to any family or friends Frank leaves behind, and weirdly he does not betray any signs of mental woe. It’s essentially The Sopranos as devised by the writing team responsible for New Tricks.

Frank spends most of this episode bumming around Lillehammer as ‘Giovanni Henriksen’, doing his bit to help out the locals. Instead of running drug cartels and ordering hits on shady rivals, he now runs a sports bar and spends his evenings hunting wolves with Lillehammer’s Neighbourhood Watch.

Watching the show, I can’t help but feel that of all the actors in The Sopranos, Steven van Zandt was surely the most limited. As Tony Soprano’s trusty number two Silvio, the actor was surrounded by a host of three-dimensional characters, allowing him to thrive in a solid supporting role. Not forgetting the fact he only has one facial expression, bearing the look of a man who’s just pissed all his money away on the roulette wheel in a sterile out-of town-casino.

But following this new outing, I couldn’t help but repeatedly ask the same question: why has an entire narrative arc been built up around Silvio? It succeeds as a bit of light-hearted fluff, but if you’re after something that requires you to engage with your brain, it’s possibly best avoided. Things may pick up as the series goes on, but on the basis on this first episode, I’m not that hopeful.