Norway’s probably the last place you might expect to find Steve Van Zandt, much less Steve Van Zandt playing a mobster.
But that’s just where the E Street Band member (and former “Sopranos” co-star) turns up in “Lilyhammer,” his new fish-out-of-water dramedy series, which made its debut today on Netflix.
U.S. viewers may feel a bit out of water, too, at first, the Norwegian-made show having helpfully included English subtitles for even the dialogue that’s in English as well as the profanities in Norwegian we might otherwise have failed to notice. (In fact, the descriptive captioning appears to be the type used by the hearing-impaired.)
Van Zandt’s character is in witness protection — in Lillehammer, Norway — under the unlikely name Giovanni (“Call Me Johnny”) Henriksen. The name wasn’t his choice, but the venue was, the town having caught his eye during the 1994 Winter Olympics.
His plan is to open a sports bar, but he quickly encounters the kind of Scandinavian bureaucracy that seems to be the show’s real target.
Johnny’s mobster rules are the very antithesis of a highly regulated state with a strong safety net but seemingly even stronger restraints on free thinkers.
Or so “Lilyhammer” suggests, depicting the culturally insensitive mobster as just the kind of man of action his new community seems to need, more like Clint Eastwood in snowshoes than Silvio Dante.
I have to wonder what the Norwegians thought about all this.
The entire eight-episode season -- each runs about 47 minutes -- is currently available for instant streaming on Netflix, which is trying every thing it can think of to convince subscribers to stay put (next week, Hulu adds an original political comedy, ‘Battleground,” to its lineup).
From what I’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t say “Lilyhammer” is worth signing up for Netflix to see, but if you’re already paying for it and you like Van Zandt — and Norwegian knits — it’s certainly worth a look.