We are living through uncertain times right now. If you’re like me, you’re probably on the hunt for something to take your mind off of the rapidly changing news cycle. Let me introduce you to your new distraction: SKAM.
If you know me in real life, you know I am a SKAM addict. I simply cannot get enough of this show, much to all of my friends and families chagrin. It’s just so dang good, and I’ll tell you why.
SKAM is a fictional Norweigian television show centered around the lives of different high schoolers in Oslo. It ran from 2015 to 2017, ending after its fourth season. It is truly unique in that, upon its initial release, it was not released in a classic episodic formula. Instead, the show was released in bite-sized clips throughout the week, with a timestamp to indicate when it was dropped. If a character was meeting up with a friend at 4:15 p.m., a clip would drop at exactly that time. If a party was happening at 2:37 a.m., boom, a new clip would appear.
Along with the “real time” element, each character also had an Instagram account where they would upload photos of themselves and of other characters. Chats between characters would be uploaded to the show’s social media feed. The goal was to integrate the story into the lives of teenagers, to make it feel as natural and realistic as possible. Each season is centered around one particular character, making you feel like you’re inside that character’s life and experience. Skam means “Shame” in Norwegian, and in this show you’ll notice that each character has one particular shame they are trying to overcome. Some of the issues they tackle are coming out, mental illness, sexual assault, and xenophobia.
I’m guessing you’ve probably never heard of this show. It hasn’t managed to penetrate the North American zeitgeist the way other non-english shows like Élite and Narcos have. If hearing that this show has subtitles immediately turns you off from watching it, I beg you to reconsider. As Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho said in his Golden Globes acceptance speech this year, “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films”… and TV shows!
Okay, by now you might be thinking “what’s so great about a random Norweigian teen show?” My answer to that? So much. Here are just a few reasons why it’s so great:
The way SKAM handles social dynamics & issues
The show’s creator spent eight months travelling around Norway conducting interviews and asking teenagers what their main problems were outside of school, before writing the show. This, to me, makes all the difference in how the character’s “shames” are portrayed on screen. The way the characters deal with the issues that arise in their lives (and the situations they get themselves into) feels incredibly relevant and fresh to the teenage eye.
In the final season, the protagonist, Sana, a proud Muslim girl, is trying to navigate her life in a secular country while maintaining her faith. The actress, Iman Meskini, is Muslim in real life, and had a hand in crafting the character to make sure that Sana was not a stereotype or inaccurately portrayed. The care and research put into these characters comes across in each of their seasons, as can be seen in Sana’s season.
The gratuitous slow-mo scenes
A trademark of SKAM is its slow-motion scenes. They are often positioned as comic relief, but I think they work as a way of highlighting how serious everything can feel in high school. When the school heartthrob is introduced, a slightly-too-long take of him walking into the schoolyard is used, while Constantly Hating by Young Thug plays overtop. It’s the most ridiculous shot, and is definitely a moment where the show is making fun of itself.
There are many more slow-motion shots to be enjoyed throughout the show, such as during a fight sequence or as the girls walk up to a party. Each one always goes on for just slightly too long. It feels ridiculous when you watch it back, but it really does emphasize how important everything feels when you’re sixteen. Plus, the music choice is always spot on.
I don’t know what kind of music licensing they have in Norway, but this soundtrack is something special. The songs often correspond lyrically to what’s going on in a scene, which usually works as comic relief in the moments where we desperately need it. The music starts to feel like it’s own character in the show, and it connects to the protagonist’s own interests and personality. I’ve discovered some great Norweigian music through the show as well (see: Fy Faen by Hkeem & Temur). You might hear a song by Tears for Fears, Justin Bieber, Robyn, LCD Soundsystem, and Nas all in one episode. In an era of streaming, that kind of diversity in song choice feels like I’m listening to my own playlist. Check out the SKAM playlist here to see for yourself.
Is it just me, or do the Scandanavians have casual winter fashion down to a science? All of the characters make dressing for winter look so cool and easy. My go-to winter outfit is usually all black, gigantic winter boots, and a sleeping bag esque coat, because I cannot be bothered to look good while trekking through snow. These Norwegian teens look so effortless and cosy in their neutral tones, fluffy coats, and colourful beanies. I have tried my best to recreate some of their looks, and yet no matter what I do, I don’t look as cosy and cute as the characters do. My personal best-dressed character awards go to Noora. She embodies the ever elusive idea of “business casual” so well, and she makes it look so easy. I want what they have.
The emphasis on female friendship
I am a sucker for a good portrayal of female friendship. The way that the central “girl group” in the show is set up is unconventional. They’ve thrown together because they don’t really have anyone else to turn to. They have hardly anything in common, and yet they stick together and (for the most part) defend each other through every messy moment. They make mistakes, as we all do, and often don’t know how to support each other. But they try really hard, and I think that’s beautiful.
Perfect portrayals of Girl Squads™ aren’t interesting to me anymore. Give me characters that don’t know anything but are down to figure it out as they go along. In one of my all-time favourite SKAM moments, four of the girls come to rescue a fifth in a van with “Los Losers” painted on the side; this takes place during a social intervention with a group of mean girls. It’s a touching moment that never fails to make me cry. In the third season, we take a break from the girls and follow a male protagonist, and while I love the friendship between the boys in that season, I end up really missing the girls.
Bonus: the remakes
As you might be able to tell, I am SKAM obsessed. Luckily for me, there are eight international remakes of SKAM to be enjoyed in various different languages. You better believe I’ve seen all of them, and my personal favourites go to SKAM España, Druck, and Skam NL (cancelled after season two, RIP, but still worth watching). Some of the remakes are almost identical in plot to the original (SKAM France, Austin), but others keep the general feel and themes of the season, while altering the plot or characters to keep you guessing (SKAM España, Druck).
If you’re really not down for subtitles, there is an American version available on Facebook Watch. If you’re trying to learn another language and there happens to be a version available in that language, give that version a try. Watching SKAM España while learning Spanish has helped me improve quite a bit.
I urge you to give SKAM a try, and hopefully some of the reasoning here will have sold you on it. I’ve rewatched it many times now, and each time I enjoy it even more. So put on an episode. What do you have to lose?