Scandinavia always struck me as being a rather pleasant part of the world.
The sunlight glistening on snowy ground; bars warmed by both open fires and community spirit shielding the lonely traveller from the crisp winter cold; supremely confident and healthy-looking youths strutting along clean streets. It seemed a very heaven.
That was until The Killing and The Bridge pricked the illusion. Now I’m worried I might have been misled all these years, and Scandinavia is rife with crime and desolation.
Now we have Lilyhammer, a new Norwegian-American comedy which launched on BBC4 last night, in which rural Norway looks gloomy and freezing.
Set, naturally enough, in Lillehammer, the town’s only available bar looks like it’s of very limited interest. Nobody looks confident or healthy, and there’s barely a spring in anyone’s step, let alone a strut. I’ve been hoodwinked.
Unfortunately, so has New York Mafia handyman turned snitch Frank the Fixer.
His own fond memories are based on enjoying the Winter Olympics of 1994. So much so that he’s off there to get away from his old mob mates, who are no doubt furious that he sold them out to the FBI amid a family dispute.
“It was beautiful,” Frank the Fixer sighs (well, grunts. Your average TV Mafia boss isn’t really prone to sighing). “Clean air, pure white snow, gorgeous broads. Nobody’ll be looking for me there.”
Inevitably, things aren’t quite so rosy once Frank lands in Europe.
Played by former Sopranos star Steven Van Zandt, our man Frank – or Giovanni Henriksen, as he is to be known from now on – is the classic fish out of water.
The Mafia boss is stranded in the wilds of the Norwegian countryside, quickly coming to the realisation that his adopted homeland isn’t quite as pristine as the Olympics led him to believe.
“What the hell are you doing in Lillehammer?” his taxi driver laughs.
You have to wonder whether he’s really thought all this through.
Perhaps the Feds were right – Barbados would have been a better option after all.
Instead, here he is, the remains of his beloved Westie on the side and his freezer stuffed with pizza boxes full of cash.
Nobody will even accept a simple, honest bribe! What’s a former organised crime boss to do?
Still, you can’t keep a good Mafioso down, and no sooner is he on the train out of Oslo than he’s whacking a young hoodlum’s head against the toilet wall, and in the space of the first 45 minute programme he has plenty of time to get back to winning ways.
He’s blackmailing public officials, relying on favours to get away from problems with the police, and secreting pistols around the house.
By the end of the first episode our Jonny – as he now insists on being called – is already building himself a happy little niche in Lillehammer. Not to mention a decent situation for a television programme.
For a show billed as a comedy, it’s somewhat short on belly-laughs, but there’s an interesting premise underpinning Lilyhammer which would justify giving it another whirl.
As we leave episode one, Frank/Jonny is just starting to build himself a tidy nook in this new corner of his world, but all the while is stacking up a steady stream of local enemies.
There may be a bit of work to be done, but if Frank can give Lilyhammer another try, why shouldn’t we?