It may not be blessed with the slick production values or flashy star power of “House of Cards.” And it may not have the buzz of “Orange Is the New Black.” But “Lilyhammer” will forever carry the distinction of being Netflix's first original series.
The fish-out-of-water crime dramedy starring Steve Van Zandt debuted in February 2012, a full year before “Cards,” and drew enough attention to warrant an eight-episode second season, which launches Friday on the streaming service.
Van Zandt, known for his role as Silvio Dante in “The Sopranos” and as the longtime guitarist for Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, plays former New York mobster Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano, who has traded life in the big city for the snowy slopes of Norway after being placed in the federal witness protection program.
Living under the alias of Johnny Henriksen in the town of Lillehammer, Frank runs a nightclub and is the father of twins. But in Season 2, his past life comes back to haunt him as his former mob associates learn that Frank is still alive.
“The nice thing about the second season is that we've got the exposition out of the way,” says Van Zandt in a phone conversation. “Now, we can get into lots of interesting things, including this drama coming from New York. And we can have the character delve deeper into this culture that he finds so crazy.”
“Lilyhammer” is a major hit in Norway, where the Season 2 opener aired on TV in October and was watched by just over half of the country's population.
“They've never had anything like it. They love it,” Van Zandt crows.” You'll see people tweeting, 'Don't bother me right now, I'm watching 'Lilyhammer.' ”
Still, the show doesn't have the kind of lavish budget usually associated with a major hit in this country. Van Zandt calls it a “bare bones” operation. The crew has only one trailer, which the star shares with others, and the actors stage their own stunts and fights. Van Zandt composed the Season 2 score himself for free so there would be extra money to license songs. As for the food buffet, he says their “version of craft service is a pot of coffee, some crackers and a sausage.”
Still, Van Zandt insists that working in Norway has its benefits. He raves about the acting talent there (“They blow your mind”) and the country's commitment to quality of life.
“They follow a strict 9-to-5 schedule,” he says. “They don't live to work like we do. They work to live. On the other hand, good luck getting them on the phone after hours.”
As for his own work schedule, it remains a varied and busy one. He's overseeing the Rascals' reunion musical, “Once Upon a Dream,” which launches a second Broadway stint next week. In late January, he'll go back on the road with Springsteen in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand for the final leg of the band's two-year Wrecking Ball tour.
During their recent trek through Europe, Van Zandt and other E Streeters were stunned by the huge and incredibly passionate crowds that greeted them in stadiums and arenas night after night.
“Bruce was already ridiculously big overseas, but, believe it or not, he's still getting bigger there,” he says.
But don't ask Van Zandt what Springsteen, who releases a new album next month, has planned next. He jokes that he's usually among the last to know.
“You might know before I do — or just seconds later, thanks to Twitter,” he says. “This part of the tour could be it for a while, or it could be the beginning of something new. You never know. But you can pretty much assume that Bruce always has something brewing.”CHANNEL SURFING
In other Netflix news, the streaming service will debut its first original series for kids — the animated “Turbo: FAST” — on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24. Then, on Feb. 14 comes the biggie: Season 2 of Emmy-winning political drama “House of Cards.” ... “Scandal” fans, be aware that Thursday's episode (10 p.m., ABC) is the show's “winter finale,” and the overheated political drama won't return until February. After last week's freakishly twisted hour, can it get any more insane? ... If it's binge viewing that you crave, take note that AMC is planning major marathons of its two biggest shows — “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead.” The “Bad” marathon will stretch over four days (noon, Dec. 27-30) and will feature every episode from all five seasons. The “Dead” craze will start at 9 a.m. Dec. 31 and run straight through 5 a.m. Jan. 2.
When: All eight episodes become available at 12:01 a.m. Friday.