REVIEW: ‘Skam’ is the naughty teen drama you should be watching

ARMY OF ME - The Philippine Star
REVIEW: âSkamâ is the naughty teen drama you should be watching
Teenage kicks: Season 3 of Skam features the budding romance between Even (Henrik Holm) and Isak (Tarjei Sandvik Moe). Credit: NRK TV

The comparisons to Skins were inevitable. Like the British teen drama, Skam — set in a reasonably wealthy middle-class suburb in the Norwegian capital, Oslo — also features high school students and documents their struggles, dreams, hang-ups and hookups. Each season is told from the perspective of one main character, much as Skins — about a group of teenagers in Bristol — named episodes after a featured individual.

But it seems the similarities between the two end there. If Skins was a frank rendering of youth going through life in the late 2000s to early 2010s, Skam, which translates to “shame” in English, is clearly a show for the late 2010s.  

When it made its debut in September 2015, the series followed 16-year-old Eva, who had been ostracized by friends and was navigating a relationship with her boyfriend Jonas. That the first episode became the most viewed of all time on NRK TV online marked the beginning of what was to be a TV phenomenon.

While Skam continued to enjoy massive popularity throughout its second season — this time about the feminist Noora, another student of Hartvig Nissens — it’s the third and current one that appears to have cemented Skam’s status as a progressive hit. Season 3 finally focuses on a gay storyline that has been bubbling under ever since the show’s premiere. Isak, a relatively popular student coming to grips with his sexuality, finds himself intrigued by both first-year Emma and mysterious older guy Even.

Word of mouth

As Skam’s fresh-faced actors have done close to nothing to drum up publicity, it’s storylines like this and good old-fashioned word of mouth that have made it a success. Its creators kept the faith that social media would do the work for them and, fortunately, it did. Despite being in Norwegian, the show has managed to draw viewers around the world. On Tumblr, where the show is massive, fans have even gone as far as to provide each episode with English subtitles until broadcaster NRK listens to petitions and does it themselves.  

The show may have been a smash with teenage girls initially, but Skam also has its share of adult fans. The issues the show tackles, from Islamophobia and homophobia to date rape, eating disorders and mental illness, feel authentic because they are presented earnestly, sometimes inducing mild claustrophobia. Skam creator Julie Andem and a team of producers traveled across Norway to talk to teens in order to portray their lives onscreen as accurately as possible.

Its own Meta-Universe

As the show has no adult point of view — young people tend to rely on their friends, after all — it has somehow created its own meta-universe. Skam is pioneering in that clips are posted in real time online, as if its characters truly exist. For example, if a scene in school takes place on the show on Monday at 9 a.m., that’s when the clip is posted on the NRK TV website. Every Friday, all the clips that were aired that week are then compiled into one episode. NRK admits that the program’s innovative and progressive structure is proving to be a challenge to foreign buyers, who are used to TV shows being produced a certain way.

Off air, make-believe profiles on Instagram and Facebook allow fans to interact with their favorite Skam characters. Even the show’s music, available on Spotify, pretty much reflects the anything-goes taste of young people in the 2010s. Tunes from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet soundtrack — Baz Lurhmann references abound in season 3, as do nods to Stranger Things — mingle seamlessly with songs by Nas, The Weeknd, Tears for Fears and Robyn, among others.

You don’t have to be a teenager, Norwegian or Scandinavian to appreciate Skam. Even if your carefree youth is now part of the past, this TV series still offers a fascinating insight into what young people are up to and how they interact. You’ll be pleased to know that apart from the manner in which they communicate, the teenage experience — in all its awkward glory — is truly universal.


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