The Show That Will Make You Feel Better About 2016

You know how Scandinavia is just… better? Now they’ve made a TV show called SKAM that is better, too. You’ll probably have heard a few people talking about it over the last few weeks, and if you haven’t, get on the case. SKAM is a series about a group of teenagers in Oslo navigating issues like love, desire, friendship, sexuality, religion and bigotry, and it’s a breath of fresh air.

For starters, you have to go and find SKAM on the internet because it’s not readily available or neatly packaged up for you under a Netflix paywall. Instead, British and American viewers are racing around on Tumblr to find clips with English subtitles but the Tumblr got shut down last week, so now fans are flocking to Reddit forums and being redirected to Twitter and Instagram accounts of the characters (all first-time actors), where they’re posting clips with subtitles on Google Drive, hours after they’ve been filmed. Trust us, you'll gladly join the race.

So how come this budget TV show about teenagers in Norway is ripping through the internet?

Well, 2016 was rubbish – and the TV it produced a scary forecast of things to come. Charlie Brooker wrote an epic show set in a hyperreal universe for his latest season of Black Mirror where Instagram likes replaced currency and humanity, and Adam Curtis’s documentary HyperNormalisation shook our digital consciousness in revealing how algorithms pulled the wool over our eyes on Brexit and Trump. But while us millennials are disillusioned, pissed off and pointlessly wondering whether we should for-real quit Instagram, there’s a whole generation behind us coming of age, and they're not making the same mistakes. They’re called Gen Z but let’s not let that prescribe them the way millennial did us. Because the kids in SKAM don’t suffer our limitations; they instinctively know the difference between hijab, niqab and burka; they fully get that Islam isn’t to blame for hate; they understand what LGBT rights mean to those who fought for them; they actually react naturally when their mates come out as gay, instead of trying to, and they know what to say to their friends battling serious mental health issues: “You’re not alone”.

These kids have found the language and the fluency to say what millennials have been trying to say for ages

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The teenagers in SKAM have found the language and the fluency to say what us millennials have been trying to say for ages, inarticulately. Clip by clip, they educate their parents, teachers and viewers on the way forward.
Photo: Via @skamfansofficial

In addition, you'll fall hopelessly in love with the characters, who will remind you of yourself at that age. The Norwegian writer and director Julie Andem presents the teenage years artistically, the way we remember them. Her close up portrayals of youth pan out like a series of photographs in a Wolfgang Tillmans’ exhibition and no doubt the stylish lead characters in season 3, Isak and Even, will be on the Spring covers of youth culture magazines the world over, shot by someone like that.

The conversations the characters have are littered with pop culture references to Stranger Things and Narcos. It’s funny hearing them say “Whatever” in English – the most teenage of words – alongside phrases like “Control Your Hoes”, which is said by a Muslim girl to a group of boys. That mildly irritating iPhone PING message alert is heard throughout, as characters get texts from their parents, friends and people they fancy, which are written out on screen so that you’re seeing what they’re seeing and how they react. All this makes SKAM resonate because it feels like a real life, present-tense existence.
Photo: Via @skamfansofficial

But the double edge of SKAM is that it uses as many past-tense references as present with Isak and Even’s love unfolding to the 1996 Baz Luhrmann Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. Season 3 is, in a way, an adaptation of the adaptation of the Shakespearian love story. Isak and Even kiss underwater to Des'ree “Kissing You”, and there are scenes where Even is painted like Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo, smoking like he does in the film, and where Isak is painted like Juliet, lying on his bed thinking about Even – and watching the film. Isak’s mum provides the religious undertone, texting her son Bible verses every day and asking him to come to a church with a neon cross, which is where he realises his fate. It's an old story, told in a modern way, from one generation to the next.

This split level storytelling, from the '90s to Gen Z, is, possibly, only possible because the writer/ director herself is 34, which is also apparent in the rest of the soundtrack featuring older anthems like LCD Soundsystem’s 2007 “Someone Great”. The show speaks to the ones who will remember those years and the art on offer then, and the ones who are living it now, listening and watching back. It serves as a wonderful connection between the two, and shows reassuring progression.

The immortal first line of the 1978 song "Teenage Kicks" comes to mind watching SKAM: “Teenage dreams, so hard to beat” since, given the state of the world right now, we could all use a little teenage dreaming.
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