I don’t often think of a television screen as a vehicle for community. I’ve never really bought into “fandoms,” in fact, I’ve always hated that word. It seems to trivialize the thing people are so caught up in loving, or at least it does to me. I never imagined the ways in which a TV show could transform existing friendships until the winter of my sophomore year of high school, when my friend Talia started talking about–and would not shut up about–this Norwegian show called Skam, which translates to “shame.” Being 15 and unbelievably bored, we all started watching it; per Talia’s instruction, we began with what is known as the OG, which is the Norwegian version, because, for some miraculous reason, this show was remade in almost every European country (it was also attempted in the U.S., but was a colossal failure in my opinion).
For some background, Skam goes like this: each season focuses on one character’s story within a broad friend group in an Oslo high school. There are four seasons in OG, and it aired from 2015-2017. One of the show’s more singular aspects is the way it uses clips. Each episode is composed of various clips, which contain moments in the character’s lives stitched together throughout the week, and before each clip, there is a label–’Mandag 19:05,’ etc. It is a favorite of mine to, while watching the show with friends, exclaim the day’s name in my best attempt at a Norwegian accent. What is special though, besides the slightly disjointed nature of the episodes, is that any given clip will be released to the public at the exact time it takes place in the story. The audience experiences everything in real-time, and excitement builds up every day waiting for a new clip to drop. In addition to clips, each character in the show has their own public Instagram account that viewers are encouraged to follow, because the actors will publish stories and posts in character, reflecting whatever happens in that week’s episode. Skam effectively created their own world for fans to surround themselves in, and the way in which the executives harnessed the power of social media is utterly unlike anything ever done before in typical teen television. The final element of the Skam experience is the pure difficulty that comes with trying to watch the show in English. There are sketchy Google Drive folders containing translated episodes, you can try and watch on an equally sketchy website called Daily Motion, and if all else fails, you can turn to Tumblr, where blogs about the show abound. Trying to watch the show is a hilarious endeavor, and one that is to be savored.
In the original (OG) version, large parts of the plot revolve around a specific Norwegian tradition called “russefeiring,” or russ for short. This is a mind-blowing practice wherein fifth year students rent out busses for the last month of the school year and party for about 30 days. There are themes, matching outfits, and so much drunken celebration. There was an exchange student at my high school from Norway who was a good friend of Talia’s, and we followed along with his russ the following spring. So, Skam is about russ, but it’s more so about regular, unglamorous teenage life. The first season follows an eventual breakup, the second a love story that I still don’t trust myself to rewatch, in fear of the person I will become (Noorhelm!), the third a boy falling in love with another boy, and the fourth a Muslim girl coming of age in an austerely secular nation. Every character is armed with complexity, humor, and understated, revealing moments. The show tackles big topics, but unlike Glee or, god forbid, Riverdale, it handles them with nuance, slow pacing, and care. The show was a massive success, leading to all of its remakes, and many other countries followed the existing plotlines quite closely, if not verbatim. Often the only aspects changed were character’s names and aspects of the country’s culture–obviously, russ can only exist in Norway. But Skam France (another commercial success; when I visited Paris in 2019 there were posters for the show in every metro station) ended up adding two entirely new seasons, showing that the series can live past its original Norwegian iteration.
Skam was a huge part of my life when I was 15, and this surprises me to look back on. I’m really much more of a bookworm, and TV shows, while enjoyable, were never my favorite kind of entertainment. But Skam is different from any other show, and my experience with it was different from anything I’ve ever known of television. My friends and I had watch parties every Friday night (at this point Norway was long since wrapped, but Skam France Season 3 was airing), we figured out how to obtain international VPNs so we could watch Skam NL (Amsterdam), and we would have hysterical moments throughout every school day, stopping each other to say (scream) “Did you see the clip?” Like most things, obsessions like this never last long, and for me, my Skam immersion experience was pretty much over by the spring of 2019. But, because of this decidedly odd, likely low-budget Norwegian show, I made and reinforced lovely, lasting friendships. I’ve even found a new friend in college to rewatch OG Season 3 with me. I saw in a tweet recently that Skam was something that you just had to be there for, and while I agree to some extent, I think that really only applies to the mania that was induced. It’s a show that, if you can find episodes with English subtitles, can be enjoyed at any point, under any circumstances. If you’re ready to potentially dive into a rabbit hole (what better way to enjoy your winter break?), I will end with my elevator speech–look up “Skam Norway Season 1 Episode 1,” know that the show doesn’t get really good until Season 2 but stick with it, and once you’ve finished Norway, move onto France, and then Italia. Happy viewing!