I can distinctly remember the day I started watching Skam because it was the day after the American presidential election. I guess I was in some sort of shock so I distracted myself from those feelings by starting a new TV show, as I usually do. Little did I know that would be the day I’d become crazily obsessed with a Norwegian teen drama.
I had been seeing Skam around social media for a few days, on my Twitter feed and Tumblr dashboard. I didn’t know if it was a movie or a TV show, or if it was even in English. Google led me to find out that Skam was a Norwegian TV show (skam meaning “shame”) created by the national broadcasting company NRK. It was a teenage coming of age drama. Each season was centered on a single character and their own story, like how Skins focuses on a certain character per episode. Basically, I assumed it was like every other American teen show ever made, but set in Norway.
However, there were very few articles or pages about it. I found no trailers on YouTube. The only places that gave me enough information were IMDB and some English language website from Norway. From what I could tell, the show featured a lot of partying, a lot of underage drinking, and the general teen drama and angst you find in these types of shows.
The mystery of it all piqued my curiosity. So I decided to start the show. It seemed that Skam was becoming more and more popular internationally, and people had started adding English subtitles to the episodes. I was able to find subbed episodes quite easily. Was it legal? I’m not entirely sure. But I’m definitely grateful for the people who added subtitles.
Skam had me completely hooked after the first episode. I binged it all in a week. It takes place at Hartvig Nissen, a high school in Oslo, and every season, a new character deals with the feeling of shame and general teenage struggles in their own way. There’s also a lot of talk about a Norwegian graduation tradition known as Russefeiring (honestly, just Google it).
The first season focuses on Eva, and her struggle to fit in at her new high school. She has been shunned by her friends, and is trying to make new ones. She also deals with the insecurities she feels with her boyfriend, Jonas. During Eva’s season, we see how important strong female friendships are, how personal growth can be challenging, but rewarding, and how important it is to value your own opinion. The second season is about Noora, Eva’s new friend. Noora is a feminist, who has caught the eye of the pretentious and popular pretty boy, William. The two are almost polar opposites of each other, and though she vehemently denies it, Noora definitely has feelings of some sort for William.
The third and latest season is arguably what brought Skam to its current level of popularity. It focuses on Isak, a teenage boy who struggles with his sexuality, especially once he develops a crush on Even, a boy from his school. His coming out story is one that many have experienced, and deals with the challenges of being accepted by yourself and others.What makes Skam so different from most shows is its unique delivery. Every day, a new clip is posted on the NRK TV website at real time. For example, if a scene takes place at lunch on a Monday, or at a party on a Friday night, that’s when the clip is posted. The website also shares text messages sent between the characters, and they have Instagram accounts that fans can follow. It really connects and submerses fans to the characters’ worlds.
One of the reasons I, and so many others teens, enjoyed Skam so much is because of its accurate and well-developed portrayal of teenage life. The very real personal and social problems that many teens face are addressed. The importance of platonic friendships, especially female ones, is personally what I find refreshing. It has also given a beautiful representation of important topics that youth face today. The show has accurately covered subjects such as homophobia, feminism, LGBT relationships, mental illness, rape, and eating disorders, in a way that does not demonize or objectify them.
Islamophobia is also addressed, an issue that is especially relevant these days, considering Donald Trump’s controversial views on Muslim immigrants. One of the characters Sana, a proud Muslim teenager and a fan favourite, is unapologetic about her beliefs. She doesn’t hide her Islamic beliefs, or her preference to wear the hijab, which is rare to see on television. She also gives amazing advice. In season two, Sana drops major truth bombs, stating, “War doesn’t start with violence. It starts with misunderstanding and prejudice. If you say you’re in favour of a world full of peace, you have to try to understand why others think and act the way they do. You have to accept that not everyone sees the world the way you do. You can’t just believe that everyone has the answers to what is right and wrong.”
Skam has resonated with many people for telling it like it is. Like most shows, it has its flaws, specifically its lack of racially diverse characters. However, it has portrayed the teenage life without holding back. You don’t need to be from Norway to understand how brutally honest and truthful it is. Skam doesn’t dance around sensitive topics; it puts them right in the spotlight and finds a way to relate them to the youth.
If anything, Skam has proved not to underestimate teenagers. We deal with many of our own personal and social insecurities, we make mistakes and learn from them, and we know how hard it is to grow up. These are universal feelings, not unique to only Norway. It’s easy to relate to this show because it doesn’t patronize the teenage life; it portrays growing up unfiltered, as it should be.
By Emily Reynolds