Scandinavia’s favorite TV-show Skam — or “Shame”— is airing in the US, at 3.40PM CT today on Facebook Watch. Oh, you have no idea how excited you should be.
Skam, as it is called in the original, is a Norwegian tv-show produced by the public broadcasting channel NRK. It follows a group of friends at a high-school in Oslo and depicts their everyday lives, struggles, and insecurities. The show first aired in the fall of 2015 and soon became a massive success — and even achieved cult status. The success of the series is based in its incredibly honest, funny, realistic and tolerant depiction of teenage life and experiences.
I’ve seen the show in its entirety and loved every second of it, so let me make one thing clear straight away: this article is biased AF. In my opinion, Skam is hands-down the most amazing thing that has happened in teenage drama, ever. And I’ll explain to you why.
Julie Andem was showrunner and creator of the original Norwegian show. Prior to casting, she conducted thousands of interviews in order to pin down just what it meant to be a teenager in Norway. What were their dreams, how did they think, and what was important to them? The goal was to create a show that would resonate with teenagers in Norway and depict their reality accurately and honestly.
If I told you that this was a simple story of Norwegian teenagers, falling in and out of love, dealing with friends and family drama, that would not do it justice. The show courageously, unapologetically and realistically portrays issues that young people today are facing and navigating. The exploitative uses of social media. The balancing between a religious culture in a secular society. The coming to terms with your own sexuality or to speak openly about mental illness. All these themes are dealt with throughout the show’s four seasons. Each season plays out over one school semester and follows a different character from the friend group.
The characters are played by actual teenagers who collectively portray the unfiltered reality of being young, with all the partying, all the drama, and social pressure that it entails. Also, it’s just a ridiculously funny show, filled with attitude, Norwegian slang, awesome footage and a killer soundtrack. Seriously, there’s nothing not to love about this show.
Internet storytelling for the internet generation
So how did this show manage to become so insanely popular among Scandinavian teens? The show stayed true to its main audience by using social media platforms to convey its story. All the show’s characters had Instagram accounts and on the show’s website (and on Instagram, of course), the pictures were posted, along with bits of Messenger correspondence being sent between the characters.
Each full episode was posted online and broadcasted on Norwegian television on Friday evenings. More interestingly, fragments of the upcoming episode were posted on the website during the week, in real time. So if something happened in the episode on Tuesday morning, that particular scene would be posted on the website Tuesday morning as well.
This completely altered the way you would normally watch a show. Instead of binging it end-to-end on Netflix, the audience was constantly waiting for something new to be posted. Where would it be posted? How would it be posted? And, most importantly, when? The show, this way, managed to balance a line between on-demand television and the old-school way of enduring the wait until Friday night.
Fan participation reaching way beyond Norway and Scandinavia
Almost immediately the show became a smash-hit in Norway and the rest of Scandinavia. Other Scandinavian countries can understand Norwegian as well, at least most of it, so for them, it was easy to watch and follow the show. But Skam reached further than that — much further. As its success grew, international audiences heard about it too and they wanted in. What then happened was fan participation at its absolute best.
Episodes from the show were posted on a Google Drive network, where Norwegian fans voluntarily added English subtitles to the episodes. In no time, the fanbase had expanded beyond Scandinavia to include people from Korea, Iran, Brazil, the US, Europe — everywhere. Basically, fans from all over the world were breathlessly keeping track of what was going on with a fictional gang of friends in Oslo, Norway.
Besides democratizing the distribution of the show, fans were also actively engaging in the plots and storyline of the series. Entire podcasts were dedicated to the show and Facebook groups with thousands of members were brimming with discussions and interpretations.
The craze became so intense that influential people in the industry also started to pay attention. This lead to Simon Fuller buying the rights of the show for an American remake. And now the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain are all due to make remakes of the show as well.
Everyone should get a piece of Skam
The driving force behind the Norwegian success, Julie Andem, is also running the show that’s airing in the US today. She explains on her Instagram, that as with the first show, significant work has been put into researching the reality of the teenagers the show focuses on. This time, the kids are from Austin, Texas. Andem explains on her Instagram that:
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
I must admit: The thought of Skam being remade both in the US and all over Europe makes me a bit anxious. How can it possibly become as good as the original? How can anything else ever do it justice? The Norwegian broadcasting channel, NRK, has sold the rights for remakes of the show, with the condition that NRK will be supporting and advising on the process, to ensure the best result. This is a soothing thought, and the fact that Andem herself is leading the production of the American remake is also a huge reassurance.
However, the bottom line is that Skam did amazing things for young people in Scandinavia. It was funny, influential, educational and preached virtues of tolerance and open-mindedness and gave teenagers everywhere an accurate mirror for self-reflection. The blog thankyouskam is proof of its amazing outreach. So, if more people get easier access to this phenomenal show thanks to these remakes, that’s good enough for me. Everyone should have the opportunity to see it.