Skam - the European teenage drama
Skam is a Norwegian TV series produced by NRK P3 released in 2015. The TV show focuses on the daily life of teenagers from the high school Hartvig Nissens in Oslo in the 2010s. The main character changes every season but is always someone introduced in the first season. The main characters are a group of five girls - Noora, Vilde, Sanna, Eva and Chris - that can be completed during a season by people of their entourage such as boyfriends, siblings, or roommates.
A teen drama is a genre with a major focus on teenage characters. It appeared in the 1990s with the popularity of the series Beverly Hills, 90210. Teen drama has elements of soap opera. The young characters must deal with the dramatic ups and downs of their friendships and romances while facing issues considered to be typical of adolescence. The series keep the essential traits of the teen drama genre but the extremely realistic treatment given to this characteristics and the inclusion of social media platforms create an new form of teen drama.
Skam keeps the essence of what TV teen drama is. The plot is based around adolescence and teenage’s problems. It is a teen drama since it shows the audience the daily lives of a group of teenagers in Oslo.
Moreover, this show integrates some typical characteristics of teen drama. The settings for example is something found in every TV teen drama. Just as Skam, it is set in high school with the halls, the corridors, the cafeteria, the gym and the classrooms as the main set of action, but also in the private spaces of the teenagers like their houses and mainly their bedrooms and kitchens. From Gossip Girl to 13 reasons why, these are the most common settings for teen drama. It helps the teenage audience to relate to these characters.
Set in Norway, the cliques are not as important as in the United States’ TV series. There is no such definite typology as for the American teen drama like the nerd, the cheerleader, the outsider, the bully, the wannabe or the new girl. But Skam keeps a distinction between the popular ones and the others. The Norway tradition of the Russ buss - which consists in a few weeks of partying to celebrate the end of high school - makes that distinction very clear with the « Pepsi Max bus » representing the popular girls and recognized as such by the characters themselves. It is even more obvious with the senior year boys whose leader William is introduced in slow motion with a rap song in the background.
The issues tackled in the show are the same in every teen drama : peer-pressure, the want to fit in, the fear of being an outcast. Eva, for example, does not have any friends when high school begins and she suffers from it. Her boyfriend Jonas even tells her « to get some new friends ». When Noora is nice to her, Eva sends her a friend request on Facebook and can not wait for her to accept it. Friendship is important to teenagers and therefore a constant theme in teen drama. In Skam, it is even more highlighted because even romance can not take over friendship. Eva has a boyfriend but she longs for the friends she lost until she meets Noora, Vilde, Chris and Sanna.
However, Skam is a kind of anomaly in its treatment of teenage issues and its ability to stay close to the reality of teenage experience. The show also avoids the typical drama to advocate for friendship and self acceptance more than fitting in.
Skam is more grounded into reality in the way it treats teenage issues. If they are common to every teen drama, the difference lies in how to show them on television. The attitude of the characters can inspire teenagers. In the second season, Noora is abused by William’s brother. Her friends convince her to get in touch with a lawyer instead of letting him blackmail her. The dramatic potential of the situation is not brought to an extreme as in a soap opera. The series gives an insight closer to an average teenage experience than Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars.
Friendship and self acceptance are the most important themes of the show. It offers a more realistic picture of friendship without useless drama. When Noora tells Vilde, in the second season, that she is dating William, it does not end up in a war between the girls but they move on. friendship is above anything else. It can be opposed to Gossip Girl’s constant drama about boys between its female principal characters Blair and Serena. Skam is more about sticking together than getting revenge. It is also about accepting each other’s differences. The show features girls of all shapes and styles. Chris is an important character and she is also a plus-size teenager who is not a stereotype of the « wanna-be popular ». She loves herself and does not want to change. Different religions are also on screen. Sanna is a practicing Muslim but she remains a teenager. The series gets away from clichés and try to feature every kind of teenager so anyone can find someone to relate to. Sometimes, the show starts from a cliché like with Sana’s statement « We are losers » but it’s not about becoming popular. It is about showing another experience of teenage years.
The appeal of Skam might not only be in its realistic depiction of teenage years but also in its ground-breaking concept that takes into account the media consumption today by teenagers.
Julie Andem, the creator of the series, travelled for six months across,Norway to get testimonies and meet with as many youngsters as possible. This creative process might be the reason Skam pictures this social group more accurately than any teen drama done before. The audience can follow the characters of the series on Instagram or Facebook and stay in touch with them. Throughout the week, the different scenes of the next episode and text messages sent between the characters are posted on real time on the official website. These clips are edited together and posted every Friday on NRKP3. An episode can focus on a few days or a whole week. The length of an episode is between fifteen and thirteen minutes which goes against the usual hour-long episode. It uses social media to stay in touch with its audience composed of mainly teenagers, just as the characters of the series. It takes into account the nowadays huge consumption of videos and the need to grab the audience’s attention. The series does not only show the reality of teenagers today but it also use their tools to interact with them and make feel a part of it. The process of identification is only stronger.
Moreover, the difference also lies in way of framing the shots. The episodes are hand-held filmed with many travellings and tight framing. The audience is constantly with the teenagers. The camera is always close to their faces which allows to see their tiniest expression and keeps us with them. It is always filmed from the point of view of the teenagers. If parents and more generally adults are absent figures in teen drama, in Skam they are not only absent from their kids lives but also from the screen. Most of the teachers are cut at the neck when the series take place in a classroom. The audience is kept with its main characters at all times.
Skam belongs to the genre of teen drama by its plot, the age of the characters and the focus on the typical issues of adolescence. It replaces the usual elements of soap opera used to create intense dramatic moments by a more realistic depiction of teenage years. The realism goes even as far as including the characters in the audience’s daily lives with the use of social media. These characters can be just as any other virtual friend. Skam offers an immersive experience going beyond the classic weekly episode. It is deeply in tune with its time which sets it out from the other series of the genre.