Netflix: Episode One
Yesterday morning was like every other, except when I sat down with my coffee and logged in to Netflix, I was assaulted by a surprisingly welcome ad. If you logged in to Netflix since then, you probably know what I’m talking about. And for those that haven’t, you heard it here first: Netflix’s first original series is now up for viewing.
Premiere Date (US): February 6th, 2012
Format:60 minute television show (although I guess webvision is more appropriate, considering).
Category: Fiction Comedy/Drama
Premise: Mobster Frank “the Fixer” Tagliano turns states evidence on the family and is relocated (at his own request) to the town of Lillyhammer, Norway. Once there, Frank must adjust to his new life as an immigrant while making friends with the town’s quirky population and learning to survive the subzero winter.
Original Broadcast Channel: None (the future is here!)
Off the Wire Location: Netflix (duh), Season 1 Episodes 1-8
I might be jumping the gun here a little bit because I’ve only had a chance to watch the pilot episode so far, but based on that one episode I can say with certainty that I’m going to at least watch the rest of the series, and probably enjoy it as well.
As with most pilots, there were rough patches. It took me a while to accept Steven Van Zandt as the hero of the story because he plays the stereotypical Italian mobster so well that it’s almost campy (such as his role of Silvio on The Sopranos). For the first quarter of the episode, I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep watching just because I felt like I could not establish any kind of real emotional connection with Frank.
However, after Frank leaves New York and arrives in Norway, that mobster facade fades into something more genuine. He is still very over-the-top Italian, but because he’s not a mobster anymore, his interactions with people aren’t predetermined by the cold, suspicious distance that his former position required. He is learning how to be among people all over again, not as a mafioso but as a human being. By the end of the episode, I was almost happy they began his character with such camp–it allowed the character to change throughout the episode instead of being just a one-note “mob guy,” which would have sold the entire premise short, and it’s a journey that will continue to be interesting to watch as the series goes on.
Another notable quirk of this series, at least for the pilot, is that a majority of the dialogue is actually in Norwegian. Though Netflix is an established company, this is their first series, and it’s pretty risky to have that many subtitles. I’m impressed that they took this risk–it’s definitely different from what everyone else is doing–but if I were producing the show, I’d be worried it would turn people off to watching it, especially when you consider the lack of familiar faces and scenery as well (it appears to have been filmed in Norway with mostly Norwegian actors).
When it comes to web programming, 9 times out of 10 there is little to no production value. We’ve all seen web series with bad writing, shoddy sound, and sets that look like the director’s mom’s garage. However, since Netflix is already an established company with a recent revenue stream, Lilyhammer does not suffer from the budgetary restrictions that most web productions do, and consequently the production value is high, even compared to a lot network television shows. I’m a sucker for a good score and a sense of place, and Lilyhammer has both. The music transports you to a small European town where everyone knows everyone. The visual quality of the blue-white forests and the dimly light orange tavern gives you a sense of contrast between indoor and outdoor, warm and cold, that anyone in the Midwest can tell you is very palpable in the winter. It’s more than watching a show–it’s taking a 43-minute mini-vacation to another place entirely.
When I heard that Netflix was doing a web series, I assumed it would be similar to some of the other web-based shows I’ve seen so far (my forerunning predictions were mock-documentary style sitcom a la The Office or over-the-top sex comedy, probably animated). But I was very wrong, and glad to be so. Lilyhammer raises the bar for web programming, bringing it to a level of “legitimate” entertainment to rival the networks and, yes, even some cable channels’ lineups.
If you ask me, it’s about time.