How Lillyhammer Gave New Life to the Gangster Genre

‘Just when I though I was out, they pull me back in’ – not just an admission of surrender from the great Al Pacino in the extremely underrated Godfather 3, but a statement that can be made about the mafia-crime film genre as a whole. No matter how many are made, we lap them up – and for the many reasons, it most likely stems from the fact we all kind of wish we could all be as intimidating as Robert De Niro, or as underestimated as Joe Pesci.


But when it comes down to brass tacks though, a lot of them are pretty much the same. That doesn’t include the greats such as The Godfather, Goodfellas, Casino or Road to Perdition, but there are quite a few that just meld into one film, all borrowing from one another to create tweaks on the same product. That’s not to say we don’t like them, but it’s just hard not to notice the fact I can guess a lot of their content.

But then, when one night, I was desperate for something new to watch, I caught Netflix’s Lillyhammer, which, while sadly now cancelled, gave us a great, zany twist on the whole mafia cocktail.

I wouldn’t be surprised if many people haven’t caught this show, I mean I’ve had Netflix for nearly 5 years, and I only bothered to watch an episode of this just over a year ago. To be honest, I always saw it there, bundled amongst others in the police line up of my Netflix select screen, but I just thought it looked kinda lame. No idea why though, and if I could back to that version of me, I’d tell him to wake the fuck up, because I love this show.

I could write a list of the reasons why everyone who ever loved anything about a mafia movie should watch Lillyhammer, and maybe one day I will, but right now, I just want to share the number one reason why it infuriates me that something as special as this could be cancelled after only three seasons, because it gives us a version of the mafia we can truly route for.

Like I said before, whenever we picture Ray Liotta beating the shit out of a guy for touching his gal pal, or imagine never showing fear when 6 guys are beating you and your brother to death with bats like Joe Pesci in the desert, it gives us this small kind of aspiration, that we could be that brave and bad-ass too.

However, these guys are also pretty horrible people. They murder, cheat, steal and all in all conduct themselves with only the regard for their own inflated egos, serving themselves alone and never considering the consequence. I know I sound like a wet chip, but in real life, the mafia is deplorable. I mean, even the films show the complete barbarism and chaos of what it is to be in the mafia, so realistically, as much as we might want to gesture with our fingers saying ‘get outta here’ in fine suits, organised crime is not very nice.

But here comes Lillyhammer: the story of a high ranking mafioso turning his back on the life of trying to out Italian everyone else and moving to Norway. It is as it sounds. At first quite a few cultural difference jokes, but after a couple of episodes, you’ll realise it’s showing us something completely new – organised crime that can be aspired to. It sounds weird, but at its heart Lillyhammer shows us where the idea of having a crime family looking after a city could go right.

Johnny, played by the brilliant Steven Van Zandt, who you might recognise as Sil from The Sopranos, is the kind of muscle we know and love, never backing down from a fight even if the odds are against him, saying ‘go fuck yourself’ the way it was always meant to be said, and just generally being very Italian. But when it comes to the crime aspect, a lot of it is based more on the good of the many, rather than the good of the one. Of course, there are exceptions, but because of his mafia tricks, he changes many lives, and many of them for the better.

I won’t give too much away because, even if this show is getting older and is no longer running, it’s still full of many great twists of flavour that you might not expect for one of Netflix’s least popular shows. While it’s got some incredibly clever references and easter eggs to the mafia theme everyone loves, it also has a lot of its own, unique ideas and characters.

Jan is a particularly crazy guy

This is a show with a warm heart at it’s center; showing us that sometimes bad things can be done for the good.

Author: diagnosedcinephile

Film critique is love. Film critique is life.

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