In "Lilyhammer," whose eight parts debut Monday as an exclusive Netflix stream, Steven Van Zandt retrieves his Silvio wig from the "Sopranos" costume box to play Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano, a New York mobster who retreats into witness protection in Lillehammer, Norway. He remembers the town from broadcasts of the 1994 Winter Olympics as a place of "clean air, fresh white snow, gorgeous broads" and figures it will be the last place anyone would think to look for him. You know how that will go.
To say that this is the first original series from the video rental giant is not to say that it originated with the company. It was made by a Norwegian company for Norwegian television, where it premiered at the end of January to an estimated one-fifth of the nation, and Netflix acquired it for exclusive distribution over here. With two other high-profile series on deck — a long-awaited fourth season of "Arrested Development"and the David Fincher-Kevin Spacey production"House of Cards" — Netflix is making its small bid to become the next HBO.
Created and written by Anne Bjørnstad and Eilif Skodvin, with a third writing credit going to Van Zandt himself, "Lilyhammer" is from the Norwegian point of view a fish-out-of-water story as seen by the water. It's a Norwegian story, with Norwegian issues Frank is used to highlight. Among other things, he's an immigrant in a country where immigration is a subject of great controversy and a lawbreaker in a land built on rules and regulations. (The Norwegian premiere was held up nearly a month while the show was scrubbed of illegal product placements.) Only the first hour was made available for review, and it remains to be seen whether Frank's flexing of New York muscle — which, initially at least, he uses more to restore order than to create chaos — will enrich or corrupt his new community. And, of course, what the community will do to or for him.