What Is 'Skam' and Why Is Everyone So Obsessed? A Dane Explains
Skam | NRK P3
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What Is 'Skam' and Why Is Everyone So Obsessed? A Dane Explains

The Norwegian teen drama leaves you with an intense feeling of nostalgia about your own teenage years, that's equal parts "Take me back" and "Thank god it's over".
May 5, 2017, 8:27am

This article originally appeared on VICE Denmark

People on the internet just won't shut up about how great Skam is – the Norwegian web-based show about a group of high school friends. I'm fully aware that it can be quite a turn-off when the internet gangs up on you, urging you to watch a particular show by, for example, publishing 4000-word think pieces on the "phenomenon". But honestly, you're robbing yourself if you're not watching Skam. Finding the episodes won't be the easiest thing in the world – the series can legally be watched only on the show's official website, where videos are geo-blocked. And while Norwegian fans make an effort of translating every episode for fans outside of the country, the show doesn't officially have English subs. But I personally believe it's one of the greatest things to ever have happened in the history of the moving image, so it would be worth your trouble. Allow me, speaking from a position of Scandinavian authority, to explain why.

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I might not be a Scandinavian of the Norwegian variety, but the show is wildly popular in my native Denmark too. In fact, 28 percent of the total viewership during the show's third season in the fall of 2016 was Danish, so we like to feel we had something to do with the buzz it is getting around world. And whatever the differences between Norwegians, Swedes and Danes – whenever the world finds something Scandinavian remotely interesting, we all feel that we're part of it, wherever we're from.

To begin with, Skam follows a group of teenagers attending the Hartvig Nissen School in Oslo, trying to survive school and adolescence as best as they can. Each episode is released in parts throughout the week, which are then combined and broadcast on Fridays. The daily clips are released in real time – meaning that if the character in it is hanging out at home on a Sunday night at 9.15 PM, that's when the clip will appear on the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation NRK's website. On that same blog, viewers can also read the characters' meme-filled group chats, usually revolving around their party plans for the upcoming Friday, which is also when the full episode of the week is released. The characters also have their own Instagram accounts, which is a nice added bonus.

The trailer for Skam's fourth and final season

That real-time release schedule and the characters' social media presence are some of the reasons I've come to care so much about them – even more than about certain non-fictional people in my life. If we're waiting to see if a character's crush will respond to a text, I'll refresh the homepage more eagerly than I've ever looked at my phone waiting for a text from someone I actually know. Hanging out with these characters feels so cosy it can take over your life and have some very real-world consequences. I didn't think twice one time about skipping an actual Friday night party with my co-workers to watch Skam with a friend instead. I did have a bit of a sore throat at the time, but still. And it's not just me – a bunch of people in Denmark have started organising tours to see the show's filming locations in Oslo, and a Facebook fan group called Kosegruppa DK has more than 45,000 members at the time of writing.

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Each of the four seasons is focused on a separate character. The first season's lead, Eva, struggles to make friends in school, while she grows increasingly suspicious that her boyfriend might be cheating on her. The second season follows the stylish and opinionated Noora, as she reluctantly falls in love with alpha male William. The third focuses on Isak and his coming to terms with his sexuality, as he falls in love with Even – who turns out to be bipolar. The fourth and final season, that is currently running, is about Sana, and it seems that a major theme will be her dealing with her Muslim identity as part of a society that's prejudiced against it.

We've seen those themes – first love, friendships, coming out, mental illness, religion – dealt with in a series about teenagers before. I believe a double denim clad Brenda Walsh sulked about the same issues in Beverly Hills, 90210. But Skam sets itself apart by not explicitly trying to educate its audience about those issues. Characters mostly just deal with it – and in fact, the show even spoofs high school series' tropes from time to time. Like when adorably insecure social climber Vilde thinks she's pregnant in the first season, and brings her friends along to see the school nurse. It could have been a very 'Papa don't preach' kind of moment, but instead we see the school nurse casually pointing out that the positive pregnancy test Vilde brought along is actually an ovulation test. That quickly puts an end to the teenage pregnancy storyline. Skam's characters seem to be fully fledged personalities instead of the walking, talking do's and don'ts for the kids watching at home that we are used to.

The trailer for Skam's third season

Skam also feels pretty slow-paced, which is ironic given the fact that its target audience is used to instant gratification and generally tends to be brutally disloyal to anything that's boring for even a second. It's surprisingly uneventful for a TV show, but not for real life. The most dramatic scenes on this show are just close-ups of each character sitting in bed at home, alone. Like when Isak hesitantly creates a Grindr profile and gets swarmed with lewd messages, or when he watches Romeo + Juliet after learning that his crush's favourite director is Baz Luhrman. It's when the show risks to be seen as boring, that it becomes truly great.

The fact that Skam is Norwegian makes the series even better. That leads to storylines like the one where a group of girls try to get their hands on a russebuss – a genuine Norwegian high school custom where seniors pay an astounding amount of money for a bus decked out for partying (season four has the girls making a bid on one costing about £27,000, which they initially plan to raise by selling toilet paper and getting sponsored by a chain of tanning bed salons). Also: Norwegian sounds objectively adorable. They say "føkkboy" instead of "fuckboy", for example.

If you do decide to watch it, please don't wait for the English language remake, that'll be called Shame. I might be biased as a Scandinavian, but I think the real power of this show translates just fine. The combined effect of all the things Skam does so well, is leave you with this intense feeling of nostalgia about your own teenage years, that's equal parts "Take me back" and "Thank god it's over". Personally, I've seen my own struggle of coming out in Isak's storyline, which is portrayed in all its loneliness and complexity in a way I've never seen on TV before.

And it doesn't just hold up for gay men – everyone I've talked who watches it, feels that way about some aspect of the show. So please, try to watch it, and find out which part resonates most with you.