I stayed up ‘till 3:00 am just to finish Skam. Call it an obsession, an addiction, my own lack of patience—they’re all true. Skam was worth more time than my precious hours of sleep. In fact, any show I get to the last season of is worth watching over the shut-eye. Mostly I stay up to find out some plot development: twist, introduction, 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 and it's on to another thirty minutes of screen time. Maybe it’s thought of as a cycle, or a trap, but I’d like to think of it as normal TV watching: Watch. Click. Repeat.
This Norwegian teen drama is different. It does use the conventional cliffhanger techniques as well (Skam’s not so good that it doesn’t need them), but I think the TV show encompasses a larger theme to keep me latched: the exploration of shame. It’s not surprising, considering that the title Skam literally means “shame” in Norwegian, but that’s all it is. Shame. You’re watching high school kids go through their own “shameful” situations. Like, a teenager is struggling with his closeted homosexuality? Let’s see what happens when he falls in love with another guy and his actions hurt other people. Oh, and that other girl is being bullied because of her religious differences? Well, let’s see what she does when her friends are punished for her cruel response to the bullies. The show does this four times, each season; and it’s one person per, 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 been put in. It’s not: “Oh, dang, poor Sana.” then “Haha, look what happened to Eva!” It’s more like: “Oh, dang poor Sana” to “What’s she going to do now? I’m worried about her.” This combination of the common theme of shame and the show’s use of seasonal, individual focus sets the basis for the unique appeal of Skam.
But it gets even better. According to the rules of story arc, you shouldn’t end a narrative without a resolution to the problem. It wouldn’t be sufficient, well-rounded, clear, amazing, appealing. Skam knows this all too well. It takes half a season for them to reciprocate the problem that the first half introduced. If you watch all four seasons like I did, then you’d notice this plot development, but you’d also notice something more?a common pattern in which Skam approaches the resolution?courage. Yeah, yeah, you might say, 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 approaches courage as a result of our solidarity?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 produces our courage to face it head-on. For example, and also for the sake of spoilers, let’s imagine that there’s a character on the show named Harald (because it has to be Norwegian). Harald struggles with drug addiction, and throughout the season his stigma affects the other characters on the show. He starts to feel guilty because of the situation. Harald retreats from his friends, his family, his school, all because he fears that he will constantly impact them with his addiction. But he decides to reach out to them for help. The next four episodes, Harald learns that he needs to face his drug addiction. Does he do it? Well, that’d be spoiling the show (even if Harald isn’t real). Anyhow, Skam runs through this basic process of shame, retreat, solidarity, and courage in each season. It’s what makes it interesting behind the appeal of cliffhangers: First we focus on one character to build a relationship, then we observe see them go through 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 ‘till 3:00 am doesn’t do Skam half the justice it deserves. I didn’t mention how realistic it is with American high school issues (even if it’s from Norway). I didn’t mention how it uses non-professional actors and no makeup to relate with the audience. I didn’t even mention how the show utilizes social media, not for promotion, but for viewer enhancement. It’s not what I remember from the show after spending a week watching four seasons. Skam teaches me that, in the end, the people around us are important. That we can not only can impact their lives with our problems, but that they may the ones to help us solve those problems in the first place.