Skam: Rediscovering The Norwegian Coming of Age Drama
5 years on from the final episode and Skam’s storylines are more relevant than ever
From 2015 to 2017, a fairly low-budget Norwegian TV series became a phenomenon amongst young people online. The series reached audiences across the globe. Incredibly, it was even reported that over 4 million teens in China were secretly streaming episodes from illegal sources. Skam, meaning shame in Nordic, was a teen drama exploring the complexities of being a teenager in the context of a temperamental modern world. The incredible storytelling navigates some distressing topics, such as mental health, sexual abuse, homophobia and Islamophobia, in a way that is both educational and inspiring. Here is the story of how Skam – for a brief moment – took over the world.
How did Skam come about?
The series was created and written by Julie Andem and is set in the ordinary Hartvig Nissen School, situated in the wealthy borough of Frogner in Western Oslo. According to Ole Hedemann, Head of Formats at Broadcasting company (NRK), the purpose of the show was to “help 16-year-old girls strengthen their self-esteem through dismantling taboos, making them aware of interpersonal mechanisms, and showing them the benefits of confronting their fears.” Body positivity is one of the many topics that Skam touches upon in relation to female empowerment.
Another important topic that Skam takes on is Islamophobia. During the show’s peak, Europe was seeing a disturbing growth in Islamophobic abuse: exacerbated by the wave of terrorist attacks in Europe. Sana, a brave and feisty hijab-wearing Muslim character suffers relentless bullying by other kids at the school. The unfiltered and sarcastic nature of Sana means that viewers are able to get straight to the core of some of the most misunderstood stereotypes of Islam. But as well as being tough, Sana is also tender, which helps viewers emphasize with the complexities of being from a different heritage in a white and wealthy world. The power of the show comes in its realistic and informative approaches to some hard-hitting and current topics.
Who are the main characters?
One of the main storylines is between Isaac and Even. As the seasons progress, Isaac learns more about his sexuality and realises that he has feelings for Even, who is a more “hip” and confident gay teen. The story suddenly gets deep as Isaac struggles to come out to his friends, and Even’s mental health issues start to surface. The storyline follows the classic struggles that queer people face in society, but also goes beyond that, digging deeper into sensitive topics surrounding bipolar. The relationship between Isaac and Even is a beautiful example of the resilience of queer relationships despite the hardships.
There are several other main characters who all have their specific episodes, which are dedicated to their individual identity and insecurities. Another reason why Skam is so popular is that most issues that teens face are represented in some capacity, and most people can relate to characters in one way or another.
What are the standout moments?
The standout moments are the moments when nothing much is happening. Each episode is a different length, depending on the nature of the scenes and the topics within them. Each scene is given its own breathing space and the time it needs for its story to be told. Some scenes are incredibly simplistic and entirely consist of two of the characters making out on a hungover Sunday morning. The limited editing in these intimate moments really captures the essence of being young and in love. They transport you back to your youth when the best moments are when you aren’t doing anything in particular – just listening to music and hanging around.
Will there be a sequel?
The show ran for 4 seasons, and each storyline was rounded off well, giving the show a sense of completion. For that reason alone, it’s unlikely. Although many fans speculate that Julie Andem could create future seasons, considering how much the world has changed since 2017. However, by now, the characters would have finished school and be in their early 20s, so a future season would have to take place outside the school setting.
Although, Julie Andem created an American Skam! “I have decided to showrun and direct the American version of Skam,” she said, in an interview with the New Statesman. I didn’t want to give it to someone else. It will be a challenge to try to make it in a different culture, in a different language, to a much larger and diverse audience, but I promise that I will put all of my effort and heart into it.” The show ran for two seasons and has some impressive viewing statistics, most of which are on YouTube. However, most fans agree that the US version didn’t have the same charm as the original – most missed the charming Nordic language and Oslo settings.
However, if you fall in love with Skam, don’t fret, as there are several remakes from Italy, France and even Spain, to name a few!
Where can I watch it?
For two years this was the biggest pain in the ass for international fans of Skam. In Norway, Skam was released in real-time. This meant that if the episode is set at 15:00 pm, then it would be released at 15:00 pm. This helped fans feel even more connected to the world of Skam. But international fans had to avoid the landmine of spoilers when searching for a reliable stream. Skam has never been released on Netflix and other streaming services. But a quick google search will send you to a Tumblr page with English subtitles. There was a lot of piracy,” said Håkon Moslet, a producer on the show. “But we didn’t mind.”