Norway leads TV with popular show “Skam”

Pictured above is Sana, the beautiful lead of Season Four of Skam. The show tackles serious issues that teens face in the world today, with this season centering on Islamophobia. / Courtesy of Twitter

Last year, I wrote about the impact “Skam,” a Norwegian television show created for teens, had on my life and how it changed how I viewed the world. Shortly afterwards, the fourth season of the series was announced, and with this came a notice from the show’s producer that this would be its last.

I was immediately hit with a wave of devastation. While I had only been aware of the show since December of last year and the announcement of the fourth season was in April, I felt as though the show had been with me for much longer. It was nothing like I had ever watched before, with its unique usage of media and realistic portrayal of the characters, who each come with a different burden they carry throughout the show’s run.

Clips are posted in real time to NRK’s website, which is the channel that the show is featured on, and then compiled into a 30-minute episode airing on Fridays. So, if the season lead has a breakdown after a party at 3 a.m. on a Saturday, then viewers get to see the clip at that time. It creates a special relationship between subject and viewer, one that has never been explored on this media platform.

I was first drawn to the show after seeing images of Isak, the protagonist of Season Three, on Twitter and read- ing tweets of people freaking out about how amazing this weird Norwegian show is. If you want to read a detailed analysis of my love for Isak and the best season of television I have ever had the pleasure of watching, go read my other review!

Each season has a different lead, who for roughly 10 episodes deals with what is deemed to be their shame (“Skam” translates to shame). Seasons One and Two focus on the difficulties that accompany being in a relationship at such a confusing time in your life. Season Three centers on coming to terms with your sexuality and understanding how to cope with mental illness. With Season Four, Julie Andem, the show’s wonderful producer, gave a voice to one of the few non-white characters on the show by making Sana the season’s lead.

Sana is a beautiful, strong teenage Muslim girl whose season revolves around the discrimination she faces being a religious woman in what she defines as a faithless country. She has been a strong presence throughout the show’s run, giving some of the best speeches and advice to former leads. I was ecstatic to see her finally given the opportunity to tell her own story. Season Four had the potential to be the most important yet, with almost a third of Norway’s population watching the show, along with millions of others throughout the world. It promised to serve as a way to educate people who may not understand Islam and its complexities.

With that said, the first half of Season Four was incredibly disappointing. Like the previous seasons, Sana spent most of her time pining over a boy, Yousef, which is something we all find our- selves doing, but I was hopeful that this season would show that you don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy. This filled up about half of the season’s drama, with both Sana and Yousef awkwardly flirting with each other until the second-to-last episode, which gives them a beautiful conclusion.

A particularly heartwarming clip from this episode features the two of them on their first date by the riverfront of Oslo. The cinematography is stunning, with the city backdrop surrounding the two as they sit on the ledge of a pier, gazing into the distance. Titled “The Best of Islam,” Yousef discusses why he has strayed away from the religion, citing its homophobic ideologies as one of the predominant reasons.

Yousef’s former close friend Even, who is Isak’s love interest in Season Three, went into a manic episode after attempting to suppress his sexuality for the sake of his Muslim friends. It was a difficult situation, but Yousef took from it that he didn’t need to follow all of the complexities of religion to be a good person, which I think is a very interesting argument that isn’t often talked about. Yousef is a good influence on Sana, as he helps her see the world as not being designed against her, but rather if she tries to see the good in people, it is full of love and possibility.

Sana’s belief is further asserted through the season’s other predominant plot, which features her feeling excluded by her friend group that has been together since the first episodes of Season One. The group, which is all white other than Sana, has oriented itself around the mean girls at the school as they form a bus to celebrate graduation (In Norway, designing and being in a good bus is the most important social project in high school.) Sana becomes the leader of the bus, and a particularly strong scene is set from Sana’s point of view as she looks out at the 25 white faces staring at her after she discusses the plan for the bus.

This plot is messy and gets resolved quickly toward the season’s end, having Sana reuniting with her best friends and flipping off the mean girls as they ride off into the “sunset,” or rather ride off in a old van they are using as their bus. I was annoyed by this throughout the season and felt like it took away from so many opportunities to do more educationally, as the show has a massive platform, but instead continued with the mean girls plot that every teenage show has centered on.

The show’s final episode completely makes up for all of the poor plots this season. I found it fascinating how Andem parallels its first episode. Eva, the Season One lead, has learned that she can be independent and also be in a relationship. Noora, the lead of Season Two, has opened up about her insecurities and also worked things out with her boyfriend. Isak has come to terms with her sexuality and is in a loving, caring relationship with Even. Sana has learned to trust others and open up to the people who love her.

In its final frame, Jonas, Eva’s boyfriend, reads a speech written for Sana celebrating her and Eid. It parallels the speech he first read in the opening frame of Season One, but with a much happier note. The last lines of the show, “Fear spreads but, luckily, so does love” destroyed me. It was truly a beautiful ending for the best show I have ever watched.

While I am still distraught about the ending of “Skam” months later, Andem gave justice to the show through its fantastic resolution. Simon Fuller, the producer of “American Idol,” is working on an American remake of the show, with Facebook buying the rights to the series just a few days ago. I am beyond reluctant to watch and confident that America will ruin another beautiful thing, but Andem has signed up to oversee production. Not all hope is lost, and I’ll give it a chance.

Even if you hate subtitles or are asking your- self why in the world you would watch a show about Norwegian teenagers, I highly urge you to reconsider. “Skam” is the most accurate portrayal of growing up in 2017 out there, and it may even help you make sense of this confusing world.

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