This past week Netflix began hosting a new web series on its instant queue streaming service, an American-Norwegian produced immigrant mob show called Lilyhammer, starring Tony Sopranos’ very own sneering sidekick, Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt, guitarist of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, as he’s known in real life). The show is Netflix’s first foray into supporting fresh web series content on its streaming service, to be followed later in the year by the David Fincher produced, Kevin Spacey starring show, House of Cards.
Lilyhammer’s plot centers around a New York mobster who is nearly killed after a disagreement with the family’s new boss. He then flips immediately and asks to pass his witness protection days in Lillehammer, Norway. The set up, while kind of thin, doesn’t really matter, as our protagonist is on a train to his new hometown within the first five minutes, where we’re treated to perhaps the most immediately arresting quality of the show, filmed entirely on location in Lillehammer.
Norway’s love-letter to The Sopranos, at least upon its initial viewing, seems to come off a bit Sopranos-lite. Tonally, in terms of the first episode, it’s hard to tell where exactly it stands. On one hand it seems like a rather mildly serious story about an immigrant struggling to understand and resolve social issues within his new, foreign community. On the other hand it takes on a sort of Northern Exposure-style, big personality in a little town attitude toward generating amusing situational comedy. In general it seems like an impossible fit for big network American television; nearly three quarters of the shows dialogue is spoken in Norwegian (subtitled in English), which might be off-putting to most casual television audiences.
Where websites like FunnyOrDie have built a loyal viewer-base due to their persistent, exclusive short-form content, into the future, it will be the same kind of quality exclusives that will ensure the loyalty of Netflix streaming subscribers. The success of Lilyhammer could mean a great deal for the future of streaming television in general. Netflix adopting original web series gives these quirky shows, which might never find a place on standard cable networks, a fighting chance against the often bland broadcast lineup. Streaming content’s growing presence in the living room set up could give longer form web content new life and a much broader viewership. As the big networks continue to rehash the same crime scene investigation show every year, the web series may emerge as a great middle ground where new and fresh television experiences are born.