A Beginner’s Guide to Skam, Your New Teen-Drama Obsession

The best thing about Skam? Everyone is good at kissing. Photo: Norsk Rikskringkasting

In recent weeks, a small but growing portion of the internet has become obsessed with a Norwegian teen drama called Skam. Perhaps you’ve heard nothing about it. Or perhaps, while wandering around online, you’ve seen GIFs or images of its characters, typically clad in an assortment of comfortable knits. Maybe you’ve even seen long, emotional responses to its various plot developments on Tumblr. Like all the best teen dramas, Skam inspires intense devotion — and the good news is that it deserves it. If you’re looking for some wintry comfort viewing, you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s start from the beginning. What is Skam?

Skam, which translates as “shame,” is a teen drama created by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK). It first premiered in September 2015, and it follows a group of kids who all attend the same high school in Oslo. Think Gossip Girl, but with kinder people and warmer coats, or Skins with softer lighting and better interior design.

It’s a TV show, right?

Well, sort of.

So it’s a web series?

It’s a little of both. Skam is most famous for its unique distribution model. Clips from each episode appear online as if they are airing in real time. When the characters are at a party on Friday night, that scene will go up on a Friday night; if they’re chatting during the school day, that scene will pop up during a school day. Each of these segments also goes up without warning, leaving fans to speculate what will happen next and when exactly it will happen. At the end of the week, the four to six scenes are packaged into an episode that ranges anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. In addition, NRK also manages the social-media accounts of Skam’s main characters, and posts additional tidbits to supplement the series’ main action, such as screenshots of text conversations between the main characters.

Tell me more about these teens.

In the vein of Skins, which took the perspective of a new character each episode, Skam focuses on a new character each season: first, Eva (Lisa Teige), a first-year student in a fraught relationship with her hipster boyfriend; then Noora (Josefine Frida Pettersen), a cool girl pursued by a rich asshole; and finally, Isak (Tarjei Sandvik), a second-year who’s questioning his sexuality. The other main characters, each of whom could become the focus on the forthcoming fourth season, include Vilde (Ulrikke Falch), a cloying but ultimately sweet control freak; her best friend Chris (Ina Svenningdal); and Sana (Iman Meskini), a hijab-wearing girl with a dry sense of humor who gets Skam’s best one-liners.

What do the characters actually do?

Like any good teen drama, Skam features a lot of partying, drinking, and hooking up. But series creator Julie Andem digs beneath the gilded surface with meticulous observations about teenage life, which, at this point, pretty much revolves around social media. Before making the show, Andem traveled around Norway interviewing teenagers about their lives, trying to get as close to reality as possible, and saw more than 1,000 young actors before casting her leads. To that end, the show depicts the lives of teenagers — full as they are with Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat — better than pretty much any other show. A trademark Skam scene might involve two characters texting one another while everyone else carries on a tangentially related conversation. Both the real-life and digital chatter compete for your attention, like melody and countermelody intertwining in a pubescent fugue.

Okay, now I’m worried about the teens.

You should be! The kids on Skam tend to be very supportive of each other, but boy do they get into some rough situations. Although the show’s first two seasons can be corny around the edges, they’re anchored with the melancholy that comes with growing up and facing the complexity of the world. The third season, a jarringly intimate chronicle of character’s coming out, will straight-up wreck you.

Is that the season that made the show popular outside of Norway?

Yes. According to the New York Times, Skam has had double-digit audience growth in the U.S., Russia, and France this fall. The massive amount of recent fan enthusiasm on Tumblr and uptick in international coverage of the series would also support this theory. It’s worth watching the first two seasons before getting to the third, but you won’t miss too much by starting there either.

How do I watch?

Episodes are posted online by NRK. Unless you have a fluent understanding of Norwegian, however, you’ll have to rely on fan-made subtitles, which come with a whole bunch of personality. Not to endorse any shady activity, but the internet is your friend. It’s not too difficult to find subtitled versions of Skam out there.

Any chance Skam will come to America?

Yes, sort of. There isn’t any news about a subtitled version of Skam arriving on American streaming services yet — the show heavily samples contemporary pop music, so licensing could be an issue — but American Idol creator Simon Fuller is producing an American adaptation. It’s called Shame, and it will have the same distribution model. We pray that it is better than the American Skins.

One final question: What the hell are “russ buses” and why does Skam keep talking about them?

This might help.

A Beginner’s Guide to Skam