Norwegian-American series Lilyhammer involves no drag but it’s not without its own comedic tone.
Steven Van Zandt was cast by David Chase in The Sopranos, despite never having acted before. His other gig is as a guitarist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. But his role as strip club boss Silvio was deemed so successful that he landed the lead role in Lilyhammer (the incorrect spelling is meant to convey western misconceptions about how to pronounce the Norwegian town).
Here he plays New York Mafia boss Frank ‘The Fixer’ Tagliano, who becomes targeted by a rival mob boss and decides to testify against him, in a deal that gives him witness protection. But rather than take the traditional route of a hideaway in the Bahamas, he opts for Lillehammer, Norway. He remembers its sleepy charms when watching the 1994 Winter Olympics and nobody is likely to look for him there.
Before long he takes plane and train to reach this most curious destination, and a series of amusing encounters begins.
Frank is the epitome of a mob boss barely able to crack a smile, quick to resort to standover tactics to get his way. On the train to Lillehammer he sees a Scandinavian thug giving the other passengers grief. Frank follows him to the carriage toilet and threatens him with life and limb if he doesn’t apologise. The thug complies. It’s a nice scene where he uses his power for good rather than evil.
Lillehammer itself is endless snow (it would be hell to film in this stuff). His villa is the barest accommodation and there’s a dead animal head on his doorstep -shades of The Godfather. Despite having fled to the edge of the world Frank has also ended up living next door to the chief of police, Laila Hovland (Anne Krigsvoll). He does his best to be friendly, under his new identity Giovanni Henriksen.
There are also amusing moments when he tries to bribe a local bureaucrat when trying to establish his own bar, and he is instantly attracted to young mother Sigrid Haugli (Marian Saastad Ottesen), triggering an awkward romantic pursuit.
With its mix of snow-bound settings and offbeat characters, Lilyhammer is a kind of ‘Northern Exposure meets the mob.’
Van Zandt is a pretty perfect fish out of water in Frank, a burly bloke of a man with a heart of gold ticking underneath his gruff exterior. The show dances between English and Norwegian language and pitches straight to an audience looking for something left-of-centre or arthouse.
This is a show that never takes itself too seriously, combining wiseguys and wisecracks in the ice.
Lilyhammer premieres 8:35pm Saturday on SBS ONE.