~ why this quirky Norwegian teen drama is pretty much all you need in life ~
If you are an active participator in activities of the internet variety, it seems impossible that you have not heard of SKAM. At the very least, you might have glimpsed a still of Noora or Isak and Even as the header on a brunette, artsy girl’s Twitter account. (read: mine)
For those who aren’t as familiar with the 8th wonder of the world that is this show, allow me to give a brief introduction.
SKAM follows the lives of a group of teenagers living in Oslo, Norway attending a school by the name of Hartvig Nissen. There are 4 seasons in total (series is completed) and each follows a new main character, telling the arc completely from their perspective. And that’s pretty much it. It’s a teen drama, so there’s romance, hookup & sex dynamics, friendship politics, school stress and a fair bit of weed as well. But if you’re expecting a generic Degrassi-style high school show, you could not be more wrong.
SKAM’s arguably most unique aspect in its genre is the fact that it doesn’t beat around the bush. It takes teenage issues seriously, and it’s refreshing to see dialogue and plot lines that aren’t patronising as eff. SKAM takes a head on approach to tackling issues like homosexuality, rape, cheating, eating disorders, racism and mental health. While it might not always get things right, the show runners are to be applauded for their efforts to give teenagers the representation they need. But the show isn’t only pandering to the diversity squad (proud member), it’s addressing these things in a way that is funny, profound and above all, real. Hair and make-up don’t even cover up a lot of the cast’s imperfections, and believe me, seeing acne on a screen without it being made fun of is a scenario you’d never encounter while watching a Netflix original.
The cast of the show plays a big part in this realistic feel; SKAM paves the way in that it casts ACTUAL TEENAGERS TO PLAY ACTUAL TEENAGERS. Shocker, I know. If they aren’t specifically in the teenage bracket, then the actors in the show were relatively unknowns when cast. Josefine’s (Noora) day job was telemarketing, and Tarjei (Isak) skipped a maths lesson to go to the audition. Of course, after the immense success of the show and having reached an international audience, this cast is hardly “unknown” anymore, and their new-found success in the Scandinavian entertainment industry is only more heart-warming because of their humble beginnings.
The real reason SKAM is so unique though, beyond its startling realism and casting choices, is the way it is released and formatted. If you head on over to the SKAM website (look, a link) you will notice that the episodes are not just put out into the world straight off the bat. Instead, varied length clips are released throughout the week, at the exact time that what occurred in the clip is happening. So, if the characters are going to have a date at 7 o’clock on a Thursday, then the clip is released on the website at 7 o’clock on a Thursday. At the end of the week, all the clips are sewn together in one episode and released on the site. Along with the clips, text messages and Instagram posts of the characters are posted on the site, and all the characters have their own social media accounts (that still even now post regularly after the show has ended). The effort that the creators of the show put into to making their characters realistic is unbelievable. While it’s difficult to access all these extras while binge watching – this realistic touch shows in every aspect of the show, from the perfectly crafted dialogue to the costuming and set construction. I was lucky enough to be able to watch along with S4, and believe me, the potential for immersion and obsession is like nothing you’ve ever watched.
This attention to detail continues throughout the show, particularly with the construction of perspectives. The afore-mentioned perspective swap means that the show centres completely around the current main character; and it’s fascinating to watch how the rest of the story weaves around them. Different characters feature more or less, and the cinematography and entire shooting style changes to reflect the arc and personality of the main. This creates a dynamic, shifting tone that varies from season to season and allows deeper insights into each character. The more you watch, (and re-watch) the more you recognise tiny details within the show that are placed purposely to give you more knowledge about how a character is feeling and why they are acting the way they are.
This, I think, is the reason SKAM has such a passionate and rapidly growing fan base – it truly cares about its characters and acknowledges its viewers. The creators of the show know that the audience isn’t stupid – they want us to make the connections between everything from object placement, costume contrast or lines of dialogue. And it only takes a quick Tumblr search to know that as a result of this, fan theories for SKAM are completely unlike any you’ve seen. In fact, Julie Andem, the primary writer and show runner, has been known to follow fan accounts and theories to give her ideas as to where to take the plot – and to see if the fans are picking up on a delicate line of genius that has been hidden in the episodes thus far. Case in point; one of the first scenes of season four carries uncanny parallels to a piece of digital fan art – from framing right down to the costumes. A particular favourite of mine is the theme throughout season three (the best one, I believe). Many scenes closely resemble those in the 1996 version of “Romeo + Juliet”, because of a particular character’s Baz Luhrmann obsession.
Plus, if you’re not from Scandinavia or Europe, then watching SKAM will make you immediately wish you were. Norway is SO COOL and now my only heart’s desire is to attend Nissen, own the most beautiful wool coats and rent a flat with the prettiest people in Oslo. Also “kroner” sounds like some weird foot wart or something and the amount of times they use that word will make you cackle. The eccentrics of Norwegian social culture are super interesting, particularly the Russetiden (graduation celebration) and all the shenanigans that entails. The point is, its awesome to learn about another culture, and you’re guaranteed to pick up at least a bit of Norwegian, particularly if you binge-watch. Also?! Subtitles improve reading skills?!! Honestly, how are you not on board at this point? C’mon people.
So. As you are now thoroughly convinced of why you need SKAM in your life, actually watching it. While you can’t access the NRK website unless you are currently residing in Norway (who knows, but then you would already be watching SKAM, huh?), every episode is stored in various corners of the internet. I’m not endorsing any back door activity (although that is how the international audience was birthed), but a quick google search will point you in the right direction. Alternatively, try this link.
Believe me, you will not regret it.