The Banish Cable Television Revolution Is Being Televised: Report From 20 Paws Ranch
Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano is a former New York mafiosi and restaurant owner who after testifying against his mob boss joins the witness protection program. Intrigued by Lillehammer after watching the 1994 Winter Olympics, he is relocated by the FBI to the picturesque town in northern Norway under the assumed name of Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen.
That is the outlandish premise of Lillyhammer, Netflix first original series. And while the series abounds with cliches, it is hilarious as Johnny, played to perfection by Steve Van Zandt and backed by an all-Norwegian cast, soon discovers that being an unemployed immigrant is not easy. Johnny resorts to his old ways, which include buying a restaurant and getting what he wants through intimidation, when necessary, and sometimes worse.
Van Zandt is, of course, a legend. He played Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, is the longtime rhythm guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and has his own solo career.
Reviews have been mixed since all eight 45-minute episodes of Lillyhammer became available through webstreaming in February. Some critics were put off by the cliches (one local tells Johnny that “You seem to know a lot about guns and pistols for a restaurant guy”) and others found the subtitles annoying. Meh.
Van Zandt, who co-produced Lillyhammer, has described it as a “dramedy” and there indeed are dramatic elements. A local constable believes that Johnny is a terrorist in Norwegian mufti who was released from Guantánamo Bay and is up to no good, the mob boss he ratted out gets wind of his whereabouts, and other shenanigans. But it is over-the-top funny with only dollops of violence.
“We’re pushing the envelope as far as violence is concerned,” Van Zandt told an interviewer. “[The Norwegians] just don’t have any — they don’t allow it. You can have sex in prime time there, but violence is not cool.”
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When I shuttered the pied-à-terre and I moved to the mountain retreat fulltime, I bid an unfond adieu to a $50 a month cable television bill. Beyond Turner Classic Movies, The Weather Channel and occasional sports, the other 80 or so channels had gone unwatched.
For about $1,000 — or less than two years worth of cable — I bought a 37-inch HDTV, a Blu-Ray DVD player, wireless Internet router and a Roku, a marvelous little box through which we webstream movies, television and other content that are mated to a 10-year-old Sony amplifier-tuner and Bose speakers and an eight-year-old MacBook laptop. Oh, and two ridiculously expensive HDMI cables, which are Digital Age counterparts of RCA cables.
Roku streams Netflix, Amazon, Crackle and dozens of other channels, including the estimable TED Talks. Netflix sets us back $16 a month for both DVDs and webstreaming, while Amazon is substantially free because we are Amazon Prime members, and Crackle, TED Talks and many other channels are just plain free.
There will be some additional expenses en route to webstreaming nirvana.
Speaking of the Olympics, we will want to watch the London Games this summer, but not what NBC Sports wants us to watch, which is lots of swimming, gymnastics, track and field and . . . did I say gymnastics? We will be able to cherry pick events and watch them at our leisure. Without commercial interruption.
Shaun Mullen is an award winning journalist and blogger. “Report From 20 Paws Ranch,”
which is the name of his mountain hideaway, usually appears on Mondays.