Skam: the real and risqué norwegian tv show causing teen hysteria. Skam is taking over teenagers’ lives – fans are adding their own subtitles, skipping school, and losing sleep over this Skins-like high school drama that subverts stereotypes
This past week, I received an email from a 24-year-old girl urging me to write about this Norwegian TV series, Skam. I was skeptical. Was this some grassroots PR at work? Was she somehow involved with the show? “No,” Hanne Selboe Karagülle assured me, “I am not involved in the series in any way, just a fan (like everyone else in Scandinavia it seems)!”
Later, I would discover that fans, people like Karagülle, were on a tireless crusade to make this racy teen drama more popular. They’re hard at work tweeting at celebrities and launching petitions for the network on which it aired, NRK, to add English subtitles for international fans. All fighting for a show that doesn’t really need the help. Despite being in Norwegian, it’s drawn viewers from countries around the world who have all pictured themselves locking lips with William, dishing spicy one-liners like Sana, or coming out to friends like Isak. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
Karagülle told me it centred on high school students and their struggles, dreams, and rakish hookups in Oslo. Each season is told from the POV of one main character. It’s unique in that clips of the show are posted in real time online, as if its characters are real people. So, for example, if a party on the show is happening Saturday at 2am, that’s when the party clip is posted. On Fridays, all the clips published that week are assembled into one episode.
When the show isn’t on air, fans can interact with the characters via fake profiles on Instagram and Facebook. Text messages between characters are also posted online, prompting speculation throughout the week. It’s like you’re living with them, says 20-year-old Grazia Ames, a fan of the show. “I like some photos on Instagram because I like the fact that they make them seem just like another friend or real person out there.”
At the bottom of Karagülle’s email, there was a link to a teaser for season three. Harmless enough, I thought. Wrong. Shirtless teen boys in a locker room spray each other with water bottles. A milk carton narrowly misses one guy’s head, exploding into a milk shower, which soaks Isak’s face. It looked so much like gay porn. What the hell was this show? Some were calling it a less OTT, less pretentious version of UK drama Skins.
I decided to give Skam a shot. I was consumed, swallowed up in a vortex of startlingly normal teen drama. I binged two and a half seasons, containing 12 episodes each, in less than two days. I started telling friends about it, following the characters on social media and throwing favs at tweets from fan accounts. As I hooked up to the drip feed that was Skam,
I poked around online. I began to realise just what a phenomenon this show was becoming. The first season aired in September 2015, and at certain points during season two, Skam – which translates to “Shame” – was watched by some 1.3 million viewers. Norway’s population is 5 million people. Over one-fifth of the country was tuning in to watch. Skam came out of nowhere. Shielded from the press, the actors in the show did nothing to drum up publicity. Many of them still have day jobs. (The actress who plays Noora works as a telemarketer.) There were no advertisements for the show. The creators simply relied on social media to rocket launch this TV series to the masses.
Now, Skam is causing teen hysteria. Some kids are reportedly skipping school to watch the show. NRK has been bombarded by tweets from teens saying they can’t sleep because they’re aggressively refreshing the page, awaiting new clips or text messages.