Netflix and I have had a rough relationship over the last six months. First she develops split personality disorder, then she says I never take her anywhere nice or buy her expensive presents, then finally she becomes nearly impossible to communicate with. But we’re committed to one another. She knows what I like and I know how to push most of her buttons. Now.
This fickle creature is taking a serious step towards legitimacy in the entertainment business. Like HBO did to cable, so Netflix is trying to do to the internet. She is trying to bring premium, exclusive, and more importantly, profitable programming to the internet, and her first endeavor, Lilyhammer, is a spiritual spin-off of HBO’s long-time bread-winner The Sopranos.
Tony Soprano’s favorite club owner Little Steven Van Zandt has sold out his new boss and the witness protection program has oblige Olympic aficionado’s request to relocate him to Lilyhammer. The land of vikings and death metal. Where it’s dark nine months out of the year. But we soon learn you can’t teach an old capo new tricks and soon our favorite wiseguy is bringing mafioso ways to this quiet little city.
The unique location gives Netflix opportunity take premium television in a direction not seen beyond the juvenile art school dabblings of IFC. The show makes heavy use of subtitles. Of course in Norway people do not speak English as their first language. They speak Norwegian. So it stands to bear that they should speak Norwegian to Little Steven’s character. As a reflection of mafia classics like The Godfather, which was and English-speaking film with subtitled Italian for crucial scenes, Lilyhammer is a subtitled Norwegian series with English for crucial scenes. Though it’s not as cut and dry as that. The Norwegians speak their native tongue while slipping into English for common phrases here and there while Van Zandt understands Norwegian perfectly but speaks English as if he were still sitting in front of Satriale’s smoking a cigar with the boys.
Much of the show is very subtle tongue-in-cheek humor poking fun at both the mobster genre and Norwegian culture. There are plenty of nods to gangster clichés in first hour and a half alone, but they are nothing more than that. Nods. Whether it’s a few guys picking up some “olive oil” that “fell of the back of a truck” or bashing in the skulls of every disrespectful punk he comes across, the signature scenes are there without feeling tired. The storyline is original and the characters are engrossing. Even the underlying conflict with the police department goes in a completely unexpected direction.
One of the hallmarks of the Sopranos was the unique and high-caliber soundtrack due in part to a number of the cast and crew’s affiliation with the music industry. Little Steven’s connection tied him not only to great music, but to New Jersey itself as member of the E-Street Band. Not only is he a fine musician, but he has an encyclopedic knowledge of rock history which he is more than willing to share with a wide audience through his radio program Little Steven’s Underground Garage. I stumbled across the show while spinning the radio dial during one of my frequent gallivants through the countryside from one small town parade to another working for a newspaper. The show is an eclectic journey through rock history full of fascinating personal anecdotes and trivia. In fact I would go so far as to call Little Steven the Paul Harvey of the rock world.His love of music I’m sure was a prerequisite for Lilyhammer because the show is chock full of beautiful tunes.
Of course plenty of people have tried to make profitable television style programming on the internet, that is nothing new. But many shows were very short, YouTube style videos shot on low budgets. My personal favorite being net_work. Netflix has serious backing and an established, paying audience. The format does seem prohibitive from a traditional “water cooler discussion” standpoint. As near as I can tell the show launched with eight full episodes immediately available for streaming. There is no telling just how many episodes your friends have seen which can ruin a good plot discussion. The very fact that I’m not certain exactly when the show premiered is another potential problem. But to be fair I am by no means a traditional viewer. I’ve been watching shows on my own time without commercial interruption for the past five years and in that time I’ve lost all concept of tv schedules. So will this frozen gangster’s paradise be a springboard for a new and greater ways to waste time in front of a television? Or will it slip out of the public consciousness like a luger missing turn seven? If anyone is in a position to establish a real alternative to traditional network and cable television it’s Netflix. Perhaps last year was just a minor bought of growing pains and 2012 will show us a bright and shining future for streaming entertainment.
Now if you’ll excuse me, this whole discussion has shone a glaring spot on intellectual pursuits, or lack there of, as of late. Now where did I put my copy of 1984?