I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. just to finish watching the final season of “Skam.” Call it an obsession, an addiction, my own lack of patience – they’re all true– but “Skam” was worth more than my precious hours of sleep.
In fact, any show I get to the last season of is worth watching over the shut-eye. I typically stay up to find out some plot development, twist, introduction, or conflict resolution. Perhaps it’s for the sake of knowing; I have to find out what and who and why and when and how. And if I’m not satisfied with the situation, then my finger clicks the next episode. Watch. Click. Repeat.
“Skam,” a Norwegian teen drama is different. It does use the conventional cliffhanger techniques as well (“Skam” isn’t so good that it doesn’t need them), but the TV show encompasses a larger theme that keeps me hooked: the exploration of shame. It’s not surprising, considering that the title “Skam” literally means “shame” in Norwegian.
The show revolves around high school kids who are each dealing with their own “shameful” situations. One teen is struggling with his closeted homosexuality and we watch what happens when he falls in love and hurts other people in the process. A girl is being bullied because of her religious differences. What does she do when her friends are punished for her cruel response to the bullies?
Each of the four seasons focuses on a different character, another feature that differentiates it from conventional shows. The individual focus adds depth to the appeal. If we had to watch the show with multiple cases happening in one episode, our attention would be split in multiple directions. But when we only focus on one – say, the girl with religious differences – then we care more for how she responds to the shame she’s experiencing. It’s not: “Oh, dang, poor Sana,” then “Haha, look what happened to Eva!” It’s more like: “Oh, dang, poor Sana,” then “What’s she going to do now? I’m worried about her.” The combination of the common theme (shame) and the show’s use of a seasonal, individual focus gives “Skam” a unique appeal.
But it gets even better. According to the rules of a story arc, you shouldn’t end a narrative without a resolution to the problem. It wouldn’t be sufficient, well-rounded, or appealing. “Skam” follows the arc well. It takes the entire second half of a season to resolve the problem that the first half introduced. If you watch all four seasons like I did, then you’ll notice a common pattern with which “Skam” approaches resolution, and it involves the message that courage can be found through solidarity. Yeah, we all know it takes courage to face a difficult situation; a show doesn’t need to come across the sea to tell us that. But “Skam” explores how courage is a result of our solidarity with others, that feeling of belonging and mutual support one receives from being in a group. The show takes the theme of shame and claims that solidarity gives us courage to face the shame head-on. The characters all follow the pattern of shame, retreat, solidarity, and courage in each season. This emotional process is what makes “Skam” interesting – beyond the appeal of its cliffhangers. First we focus on one character to build a relationship, then we observe them reaching a low point, then we root for them as they build the courage to solve their problem. Watch. Click. Repeat.
Don’t take it from me, though. This guy who stayed up until 3:00 a.m. doesn’t do “Skam” half the justice it deserves. I didn’t mention how realistic it is and how relatable the issues are to American high schoolers (even if it takes place in Norway). I didn’t go into how the show uses non-professional actors with no makeup to make the characters more relatable with the audience. I didn’t even mention how the show utilizes social media, not for promotion, but for viewer enhancement. These aspects of the show are amazing, but it’s not what I remember the most after spending a week watching four seasons.
“Skam” taught me that, in the end, the people around us are
important. We not only impact their lives with our problems, but they may be the ones to help us solve those problems in the first place.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.