Steve Van Zandt laughed very hard at my fishy analysis of his Netflix series Lilyhammer.
Yes, it's a fish-out-of-water story about a New York mobster moving to Norway as part of the witness-protection program. But the real question being asked with Lilyhammer is, does a fish out of water adapt to its new surroundings, or do the surroundings adapt to the fish?
“No one has ever put it that way, but that's exactly right,” Van Zandt says. “And it's about equal, by the way.
“We let him get away with some things. Obviously we have fun with him working around the bureaucracy, and Norwegians live vicariously through this guy. But in the end, he does have to adapt to them, too.
“That's the fun of having a third element this year, bringing in some English guys. The fish is bringing in some other fish. But you really got it.”
The entire second season of Lilyhammer will be available online on Netflix beginning Friday, Dec. 13. Van Zandt – famous on multiple fronts, primarily for his role as Sil on The Sopranos and as Bruce Springsteen's guitarist in the E Street Band – stars in Lilyhammer as the former Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano, who has morphed into Giovanni “Johnny” Henriksen in his new life.
The first season of Lilyhammer debuted on Netflix in early 2012, and when I interviewed Van Zandt back then, we discussed the novelty and risk of debuting a show through an online service. Now, of course, online series are common, so Lilyhammer clearly was ahead of the curve.
“It's amazing, the transformation in, literally, a year and a half,” Van Zandt says. “The entire world has changed. It has been as big a change as The Sopranos made on HBO, I think, which was the beginning of this new golden era of television. Netflix now is right there with HBO for original programming.
“The film world is for kids, it's all comic books and videogames. Where are you going to get adult programming? And I don't mean just sex and violence and language, but intellect and literature and interesting plots, things you have to think about. All that stuff is on TV, and mostly on subscription TV.
“Look at the lead characters on these shows now. It's all basically the Jimmy Gandolfini/David Chase model, the model being, complex characters. And now we're seeing the expansion of that with this digital, global network.”
Van Zandt faced a few scheduling challenges with the second season of Lilyhammer, largely because Springsteen decided to go back on tour.
“(Lilyhammer's) home network in Norway is not used to doing series that repeat, it's just not part of the culture,” Van Zandt explains. “And the few that do repeat tend to operate on an every-other-year basis.
“So I actually used that to my advantage when Bruce called. The only compromise I had to make was missing the Australian leg of the tour the first time. But I'm going back with them this February.”
No word on whether Steve Van Zandt will be swimming to Australia. Either way, his fish-species experiments continue with Lilyhammer.