Any exposure to the Internet in recent months might have introduced innocent scrollers to Skam –the risk-taking Norwegian show that is sweeping teenagers into a world they’d never known on screen before. Often compared to the UK show Skins, Skam –which translates, literally, to “shame”- tells the story of a group of high school students as they grapple with alcohol, drugs, sex, love, friends and family, navigating their differences as they attend the school Hartvig Nissen in Oslo, Norway.
What sets it apart from every American show set in a high school, however, is the wonderful accuracy with which Julie Andem –writer and director- tackles the story-lines, with the last two seasons of four especially affecting the audience. Each season is filmed through the “perspective” of the main character, and each episode is released through a series of clips posted in real time. Which means, if the characters are at a party at 1AM on Friday night, the clip will be released at 1AM on Friday night. The clips are then compiled into an episode released weekly. Alongside the episodes, the NRK website hosts in-universe texts and emails that are uploaded in real time, as well as the characters Instagram accounts that are updated frequently, given us a glimpse into the off-screen world belonging to the characters.
In the four seasons, we follow the stories of four of the eight main characters introduced.
The first season follows Eva, as she deals with finding new friends, isolation and feeling as though she’s losing her boyfriend as she struggles with finding her place in the social hierarchy of a high school. In the second season, we follow Noora, Eva’s first friend at Nissen whose first lines in the first season made her an instant fan favourite, (“Girls who call other girls “sluts” are 90% more likely to get chlamydia.”) as she finds herself falling in love with William, the popular boy she tore down for using girls for sex in the previous season, and deals with the after-effects of sexual assault and anxiety.
The third season, which undoubtedly was the most popular, follows Isak, a closeted gay boy with a mentally ill mother who falls in love with Even, a bipolar, pansexual hipster with a tendency to quote Baz Luhrmann movies. The fourth and final season gives us insight into the life of Sana, the smart-mouthed, intelligent Muslim girl who we see kick ass several times in the previous seasons, as she navigates falling in love, balancing her faith and friendships, and learning to trust others as they trust her.
The show’s strength is in its honesty. Each moment is a private moment between friends and family, and as such is authentic and real without ever trying too hard to be. Each character, from Noora’s wacky, hilarious flatmate Eskild, to Sana’s playful older brother, Elias is well rounded and carefully executed –even when the plotlines they’re given lack certain elements.
At its core, Skam is a story of growing up, which resonates with its young audience. There’s banter and bickering, dancing, music, falling in love and friendship. Although there are moments where Julie could have done better, there’s something about her characters that draw us in and make us stay.
Skam was cancelled, recently, for reasons that are unclear. Some claim that once American director Simon Fuller bought rights to reproduce the American version of Skam, NRK no longer needed the funds for its network. Others claim that the young actors were being harassed, which led the writers to cancel the show in order to protect their lives. Whatever the reason, Skam was cut in the middle of its intended nine-season run, but it lives on in the hearts –and on Tumblr, where you can join the “Skamily” in keeping it alive.