On paper, BBC Fourâs 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 imaginationâ¦
Lilyhammer stars Steven van Zandt (Silvio from The Sopranos) as reformed New York gangster Frank âThe Fixerâ? Tagliano, exiled deep within Norwayâs 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- itâs textbook fish-out-of-water stuff.
The show opens with the ruthless killing of Frankâs dog during a botched attempt on his life in a New York bar. Itâs funny stuff, but for me this is where the show falls down, as it expects viewers to buy into the flakiest of premises âthat 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. Heâs certainly got balls- I for one would not bugger off to Norway because it looked nice on the TV twenty years ago- and itâs beyond me as to why he didnât at least tested the waters with a two-week holiday first.
The picturesque location is certainly beautiful and mysterious, but doesnât add any substance to the proceedings. The show provides proof (if it were needed) that not all subtitled programmes are automatically more âworthyâ 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. Itâs essentially The Sopranos as devised by the writing team responsible for New Tricks.
Frank spends most of this episode bumming around Lillehammer as âGiovanni Henriksenâ, 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 Lillehammerâs Neighbourhood Watch.
Watching the show, I canât help but feel that of all the actors in The Sopranos, Steven van Zandt was surely the most limited. As Tony Sopranoâs 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 whoâs just pissed all his money away on the roulette wheel in a sterile out-of town-casino.
But following this new outing, I couldnât 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 youâre after something that requires you to engage with your brain, itâs possibly best avoided. Things may pick up as the series goes on, but on the basis on this first episode, Iâm not that hopeful.