“Lilyhammer” – An American in Skandynavia [Review]

Lilyhammer series


Title: “Lilyhammer”

Release Date: 2012 – 2014

Cast: Steven Van Zandt, Trond Fausa, Steinar Sagen, Marian Saastad Ottesen


Watching the Netflix series “Lilyhammer”, I had a great time, smoothly and instantly flowing through three seasons of the comedy production. Surprisingly, by the end I was not bored with the very specific character of the main character – an American mafioso who, as a participant in the witness protection program, chooses the titular Norwegian town as his new home. Frank Tagliano’s completely ill-considered decision, motivated only by the fact that in 1994 he watched the Winter Olympics taking place there, must of course bring with it a number of problems. And it is precisely these cultural misunderstandings and the clash between the American mentality and the Scandinavian social utopia that are as enjoyable to watch as picking the tastiest mickey out of a cake.

“Lilyhammer” – a classic Netflix production

“Lilyhammer” is already a serial classic in a sense, as it is Netflix’s first original series. The American-Norwegian production premiered in January 2012 on Scandinavian station NRK1, and a month later also appeared on the streaming platform as the company’s first “exclusive content.” Consisting of three seasons, the series depicts the hilarious story of a certain Frank Tagliano (played by Steven Van Zandt), a New York mobster who, tired of mafia hookups, decides to rat out his hated uncle in exchange for participation in the witness protection program. He is thus given a new identity and the opportunity to choose his whereabouts. Driven by sentiment for the 1994 Winter Olympics, the protagonist chooses the small Norwegian town of Lilyhammer. So, as Giovanni Henriksen, he goes to Scandinavia, pretending to be a restaurateur, intending to expand his business there. He takes with him the money and ashes of his beloved dog Lily, who died in a failed attempt on the life of a gangster. The name of the female dog is significant here, by the way, as it is a phonetic reference to the title of the series. She is, as it were, the embodiment of the gangster’s most deeply hidden weakness – what is most important and valuable to him.

“Lilyhammer” – American order versus Scandinavian utopia

Frank’s American temperament and, of course, his gangster mentality very quickly collide with the Scandinavian social order. A world where prisons resemble holiday resorts, the concept of bribes is not in the minds of officials, and children are raised by eliminating all negative emotions from the perspective of the former mafioso looks like a trip to an alternate reality. However, it becomes apparent very quickly that even in an earthly paradise, an insidious spirit can very quickly mess up and tempt others into evil. It seems that it is this archetype of Eden and Satan destroying the original order that constitutes the most basic narrative myth to which “Lilyhammer” refers.

Lilyhammer series Netflix review

The most interesting thing about this confrontation, however, is that appearances in many situations can prove to be very deceptive. After all, at first it seems that Netflix’s production is a satire on American culture, all the flaws of which are to become visible like a criminal’s footprints on the white snow of the Scandinavian wilderness. Meanwhile, a closer look at “Lilyhammer” reveals quite the opposite: it is the Norwegian order that is discredited time and again as an ill-fitting human nature utopia masking or even compounding real problems. In any case, the confrontation of two different cultures comes off as really fractious and interesting, and most importantly, hilarious.

The series “Lilyhammer” and Steven Van Zandt

Of course, all this would not have been possible without the excellent performance of the main character – Frank. Steven Van Zandt is every bit the character exaggerated and at the same time bringing together the features of the famous Italian gangsters from “The Godfather” or “Goodfellas”. Many scenes and situations here are even literal references to the classics of gangster cinema, which can certainly be fun for lovers of the genre, just as the subsequent parts of “Scary Movie” appeal to fans of horror films. Personally, I was surprised that such an overtly caricatured character did not irritate me at all – although after the first few episodes I was sure that sooner or later I would not be able to stand her. Meanwhile, the plot ingenuity, humor, and extremely engaging depiction of snowy Norway make for a truly varied mix that allows you to have fun and make interesting observations at the same time.