The internet works in cruel ways, such as the one time it forced me to obsess over a Scandinavian teen drama on the eve of finals week. See, I thought my fangirling phase was long over. After all, “Gossip Girl” ended in 2012, the last “Harry Potter” film premiered in 2011 and David Archuleta lost “American Idol” about a decade ago. There was virtually nothing to go crazy about anymore. That is, until “Skam” popped up on my radar.
After breaking historic records in Norway, “Skam”—which translates to “shame”—has begun to receive international attention thanks to devoted fan, who have flooded social media with fan-made content about the series. Naturally, I wanted in on this worldwide craze. And so, I binge-watched the entire three seasons in two days. Here’s a spoiler-free, comprehensive beginner’s guide on “Skam”:
It has unique storytelling
The premise of the show is conventional: A group of teenagers attend school while facing personal issues and the reality of growing up. Yet its narrative structure is far from conventional. Each season focuses on a single person from the main cast, giving viewers an in-depth character study. The storyline, however, never neglects the fascinating assemble of recurrent characters that pop in and out of the protagonist’s narrative. It’s a move that humbles the show and prevents it from contriving character development.
It’s a ‘real-time’ series
The series’ most captivating aspect comes from the way in which it shares its story. “Skam” occurs in real-time. Or, virtually in real-time. If a scene within the story is taking place at school on Friday at 10 a.m., that clip is released at the same time. This distribution method was responsible for the immediate craze that emerged after the show’s initial premiere. Fans now religiously monitor the webpage in the wait for a new clip every day. On Fridays, all clips released throughout the week are put together into one episode. It’s hard to think of a series that has successfully attempted this approach to television. And that’s just one way in which “Skam” is ahead of the game.
It evokes good old teenage drama
Since the end of “Gossip Girl,” I’ve been advocating for a new teen drama to take over our lives. Yes, there’s “Pretty Little Liars,” but the premise is too implausible for me to take seriously. Disney Channel seems to be waging a war against good television. And the once-reliable The CW is now Average Superhero Series Network. Yet “Skam” has revived teenage goodness, in a perfect marriage between “Skins” and “The O.C.,” minus the pretentious flair. The ensemble cast is charming enough for us to fall for them, the drama amongst them is juicy enough to force us to continue watching and the stories are engaging and unique enough to invest our time in them.
The characters are ordinary
Every character in “Skam” feels and looks like a real teenager. The characters don’t look like supermodels or Hollywood actors. Despite a problematic lack of diversity, it boasts an ensemble of memorable characters who never feel too fictional. Among them is Sana, a Muslim girl who isn’t afraid to call people out and ruthlessly educate her white privileged friends. She’s my favorite. We also meet Isak, a teenage boy and season three protagonist who explores his sexual identity. They are average teens, doing average things, but the chemistry among them and the superb acting make you feel like part of the gang because they just ooze coolness.
It’s a real snapshot of teenage culture
On that note, what makes “Skam” groundbreaking is that it doesn’t aim to be groundbreaking. It is revolutionary in that it shows teenagers as they are, even if it isn’t fascinating stuff. We watch them binge-watch a show on Netflix on a Friday night, or do their homework after school, or hang out at their friend’s house or pregame before a boring party. Their conversations aren’t full of witty, clever remarks but rather are plain and normal. They dress the way teenagers dress, not in the latest fashion or the quirkiest outfits. These are 21st century teenagers.
The soundtrack is karaoke-worthy
If the characters weren’t cool enough already, the series’ soundtrack certainly helps the cause. Featuring a range of radio hits and indie tracks, the music is a faithful representation of what the current generations are listening to these days. In one scene, Noora confesses to her friend Eva that she loves Justin Bieber and starts singing “Baby” to her. For one, it makes for a great time capsule, to look back and hear what was trending. But, it also adds a subtle layer to the portrayal of the modern teenage experience and its universality, even through the power of music.
It touches on real-world topics
The teenagers in “Skam” care about world issues in the way that average teenagers do—that is, in a superficial way. This in and of itself makes for great conversations among them. They have thoughtful, sometimes naive conversations about religion, refugee crisis, feminism, sexuality and more. These are moments that sneak up on you and shock you in a satisfying manner. Look out for Sana’s monologue about wars in season two. It’s a memorable one.
It’s an intro to Norwegian culture
In terms of originality, “Skam” automatically has a leg up because it takes place in Norway, a country that most of us know very little about. This makes for a fascinating watch, if only because we can learn about the particularities of Norwegian culture. For example, in the first season we are introduced to the crazy concept of “russ.” In simple terms, “russ” is a high school tradition that is equal parts road trip, graduation rave and cultural parade. Students in the final year of school design a party bus, drive around the country while wearing overalls (because, why not?) and party like absolute maniacs, with it all culminating in a jovial parade celebrating Norway’s independence day. And that’s just a slice of what you’ll learn about Norway.
All the characters are on Instagram
“Skam” is so committed to creating a nearly realistic viewing experience that every character has an Instagram account. They post photos and videos, even during the off-season. Their posts never reference the show itself (that would break the sacred fourth wall). Instead, they post random photos of their day-to-day lives. In addition, we can also read text messages they send to each other in real-time on the official website (albeit, in Norwegian). It’s a fun little strategy that deepens our obsession over these characters, as we learn more about them beyond the weekly episodes.
It achieves greatness in half an hour
For all that “Skam” is able to accomplish, it is insane to think it does it in an average of 30 minutes per week and 10-12 episodes per season. Most dramas need twice that length to fully realize their narratives. “Skam,” on the other hand, is very straightforward in its story arc, without ever feeling predictable. This is high praise for a series that falls in a genre that tends to be cliche. More impressive is that all of the episodes are slow-paced and deliberately uneventful, in a way that channels shows like “Mad Men” and, most recently, “The Crown.” But, don’t be fooled: Every episode has a lot to say.
Where to watch: There aren’t exactly ‘official’ outlets on which to watch the English-subtitled version of “Skam.” But, if I’ve sold the show to you, you’ll find a way to watch.