Hiatus Hangups: The Uncertainty of Skam’s Midseason Breaks

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The Uncertainty of Skam‘s Midseason Breaks

May 18, 2017

When I wrote my first reflective piece about catching up with Skam, I noted that it was a fundamentally different experience: not only was I watching a deeply specific Norwegian series from the perspective of a North American viewer, but I was also missing out on the real-time elements that are central to the show’s narrative.

This was a blanket acknowledgment that by binging the first three seasons, I wasn’t getting the full Skam experience, which covered me for my relative ignorance to the different social elements being posted to the show’s website. However, when I wrote this, I had no idea that there was a key element to the series that I had been entirely ignorant to: the midseason hiatus.

It’s logical: making Skam has to be an all-encompassing job, between production, post-production, and the transmedia elements being posted throughout the week. The hiatus gives all involved a chance to take a breather, and potentially even make some course corrections on the plans for the rest of the season. Ranging from ten days to two and a half weeks, these breaks seem like they’re probably primarily there to serve the logistics of production, but they also have an undeniable impact on the audience. Suddenly, after being sucked into the ongoing drama and awaiting each day’s content with baited breath, Skam’s audience is forced to sit with the characters’ predicaments for a longer period, and await resolution when the series resumes.

I was warned about the likelihood of a hiatus earlier this season, so this week’s delay didn’t come as a surprise: indeed, as I wrote in my review, I actually presumed there was a hiatus based on the cliffhangers in the episode before I came back online and confirmed my suspicions. But what was interesting to me was that I suddenly realized how weird it was that I had never noticed any of the previous hiatuses. Given the the show retains its real time structure after its hiatus, there is—I presumed—a significant chunk of time missing from each season that I never registered. Shouldn’t I have realized that there was a two-week gap? Or was I wrong in my presumption, and there was no gap at all?

And as I’ve followed some of the online discussion during this season’s hiatus, I realized I wasn’t the only one who was a little confused about how hiatuses work, which inspired me to revisit past seasons to discover just how these hiatuses engage with the show’s narrative in advance of discovering how season four will handle its hiatus beginning on Monday.

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The Loser Has To Fall: Skam Season 4, Episode 5

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“Episode 5”

May 12, 2017

The nature of Skam’s real-time structure means that often it is the Friday installment that makes the biggest impact, and that is certainly true this week: there is a huge amount of plot movement in the back half of that ten minute clip, a turning point for the season in more ways than one. It can be easy, at times, to look at the content during the week as procedural bits necessary to get to the point we reach on Fridays, as seen here when Sana’s paranoia about Sara pushing her out of the bus is established and then tragically confirmed in a wave of bad news for this season’s protagonist.

But “Humble,” the previous installment, is the week’s most engaging clip, and I’d argue the most important to the season as a whole out of this week’s content. It stands out because it’s about relationships—parent and child, brother and sister—the show has never really explored directly, and which reinforce that what sets Sana apart from the previous POV character is the balancing act of her life. Although her religion is the central theme of the season, reinforced a little too cleanly here by the choice of “Imagine” as Even’s karaoke song, it is one part of a collection of relationships that Sana is constantly negotiating as she tries to live the life she wants to lead. Whereas the previous POV characters lacked siblings and shared distant or infrequent relationships with their parents, Sana’s family dynamic is a huge part of her life, and one that cannot be dismissed as a simple “conflict” with her relationship with her friends. It is a deeper struggle than that, a push-and-pull that turns to violence and betrayal in the wake of the karaoke party.

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You Gotta Have Faith?: Skam Season 4, Episode 4

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Season 4, Episode 4

May 5, 2017

When you binge through Skam, you don’t always realize how the week’s clips have been divided: even if you’re aware of the real time conceit, you aren’t always thinking about the balance between the different days, although I imagine that many episodes ended on significant Friday episodes based on the weekly “climax” created by the linear airings.

This week, though, marks the first time in the fourth season where the Friday episode represented over half of the week’s episode, as a foreshadowed café visit for Sana and Noora turns into an unexpected chance for Sana and Yousef to talk through what they’ve been going through as of late. In addition to reaffirming their status as the season’s OTP, the episode also commits to a very different type of “courtship,” especially when compared to the comparable episode last season.

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Same Old Sana?: Skam Season 4, Episode 3

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Season 4, Episode 3

April 28, 2017

We are still early in Skam’s fourth season: it has only been three weeks, and the “story” as it were has only really just begun. It is premature to suggest that the show is or is not living up to the previous seasons, especially as someone who binged the previous seasons and has a blurry sense of their narrative pacing as a result.

That said, this week’s episode reinforced for me how Sana is different from the previous point-of-view characters. As I noted in the article I wrote about catching up on the show, each season’s point-of-view serves a different narrative function: the first season is an introduction to Eva, the second season contrasts Noora’s outer confidence in season one with her insecurities, and the third season pays off a developing narrative about Isak happening in the margins of seasons one and two.

Season four, however, doesn’t have a clear narrative function yet, as it has yet to give us any particularly new insights into Sana’s character. Over three seasons, Sana was drawn as an opinionated and motivated Muslim who wants to be a part of Norwegian culture while still respecting her religion’s belief system. Although the character’s no-nonsense approach made her a fan favorite both within the central group of girls and in her Biology partnership with Isak, ultimately her “story” was more or less about the seeming incompatibility of her religion and her social life…which is also the central conflict of season four. While it’s an interesting conflict, and took a twist at the end of this week’s final clip, there isn’t that same sense of discovery that felt central to each of the previous seasons, at least thus far.

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Adapting Skam: Finding America’s Oslo [Part Five]

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Finding America’s Oslo

Part Five

[This is the fifth post in a five-part series about the pending U.S. adaptation of Norwegian teen drama Skam. You can find the other parts of the series here, as well as my other posts about Skam here.]

The general conclusion of the previous post in this series was that the only way to successfully adapt Skam for the American market is to start from scratch. Rather than “remaking” the show, take its production structure and do a new set of interviews, finding culturally specific stories facing American 16-year-olds and build a show around those concerns. There are certain values from Skam itself—a cross-section of gender and sexuality—that could carry over, and chances are that a U.S. version would actually push questions of racial diversity more than the Norwegian series (which, until Mahdi’s introduction in season three, had really only one non-white character in Sana).

Yesterday I noted my skepticism that producers would follow through on this potential, but even if they did there’s a tough question to answer: where would this theoretical series take place?

Hulu’s East Los High, the closest thing U.S. television has to Skam, is set in East Los Angeles, but this is because the show is explicitly focused on representing and speaking to Latino audiences, something that Skam would be unlikely to do given the way it would position the show as aimed at a single niche rather than an age group as a whole. How do you find a location that doesn’t—through some element of demography—suggest you’re aiming at one group of teenagers over another?

Skins faced a similar challenge, and for a brief time it appeared they had settled on Baltimore in place of the U.K. series’ Bristol setting based on its—per MTV—“diverse ethnic groups and socioeconomic levels and urban and suburban areas.” However, by the time the show entered production, it had abandoned that plan: although the show could have easily “doubled” its financially-motivated production location in Toronto for Baltimore, they chose not to, despite having done focus groups with local teens. Creator Bryan Elsley told The Baltimore Sun that

“although we initially considered shooting ‘Skins’ in Baltimore, we have always preferred that the series should have a non specific setting so we are going for a general eastern seaboard environment. This allows us more freedom to tell stories about whatever we think relevant and funny to young people.”

This quotation chills me to my core. The idea of “non-specific” being associated with a show that is ostensibly supposed to be rooted in realist teen experiences is just fundamentally wrong, even for a show like Skins that contrasted that realism with absurdist turns for no particular reason. And yet you can imagine this same logic being used with Skam, built on a rhetoric of “relatability” that is a scourge on actually telling compelling stories through media. It’s a buzzword that my students are constantly using in their papers, arguing that shows are successful because they are “relatable,” but what that term actually means is unclear, and using it as a guide to how to tell stories could risk destroying the fabric of what makes for good television. (And yes, students, this is me telling you need to stop casually throwing the word relatable into your papers and pretending it means anything specific).

And yet “relatability” will fundamentally shape the decision of where a U.S. version of Skam would be set, and could lead to yet another placeless series that fails to understand that stories rooted in any reality are more “relatable” than the obscuring of geographical location to foster some type of illusion of homogenous cultural experience.

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Adapting Skam: Remake vs. Adaptation [Part Four]

 

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Remake vs. Adaptation

Part Four

[This is the fourth post in a five-part series about the pending U.S. adaptation of Norwegian teen drama Skam. You can find the other parts of the series here, as well as my other posts about Skam here.]

Format sales are the heart of the international television market: although the export of shows from the United States or Britain remain significant sources of revenue for the television industries in those countries, other countries which might not be able to export as much of their TV content can still generate significant income by developing formats that can be licensed for use in other markets.

And so rather than suggesting that Skam is getting an American “remake,” it is important to acknowledge the ways this simplifies the exchange happening here. Simon Fuller purchased the rights to create a U.S. version of Skam, but he was really purchasing the format: this includes the show’s narrative, true, but it’s also the transmedia storytelling approach, the production bible on how the show constructs its real time stories, and likely even the promotional blackout that I discussed in part three. What Fuller does with this remains an open question, but he has bought more than the rights to create American versions of Eva, Noora, Isak, and Sana and playing out the same stories but with English language dialogue and fewer references to Russe buses.

And yet that’s often what happens. The challenge with adapting formats is that there are two competing instincts. The first is to make significant changes to reflect a different market, particularly in cases like this one where Norway and the U.S. are—I know this is shocking—very different countries. However, the second is an industrial belief that the reason you use formats is to take advantage of their proven success, a belief that pushes producers to change as little as possible to ensure they’re not wasting the opportunity to have a successful show with minimal additional effort.

The only way to successfully adapt Skam for the American market is to throw out everything but the show’s core values and start from scratch. This is also something that is extremely unlikely to happen, given the context in which it is being developed.

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Adapting Skam: The Impossibility of Inconspicuousness [Part Three]

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The Impossibility of Inconspicuousness

Part Three

[This is the third post in a five-part series about the pending U.S. adaptation of Norwegian teen drama Skam. You can find the other parts of the series here, as well as my other posts about Skam here.]

The “lore” of Skam is a huge part of its appeal. The story, as understood through the various “What is Skam?” articles floating around and the show’s Wikipedia page, is that there was no promotion done on the series, with none of the actors allowed to speak to the media. The show simply appeared, designed as something for kids to discover on their own rather than something sold to them by the media, or introduced to them in spaces their parents might inhabit.

I am fascinated to know how those on the ground in Norway experienced this particular rollout, and how word of mouth functioned within it, but this strategy is very much specific to that context. As public service broadcasting, it didn’t matter how many people watched the first episode of Skam: the entire season had been commissioned, and therefore it had time to find an audience, and a mission—of discussing key issues facing young people—that might be worthwhile even if a small audience was watching. The show wasn’t promoted because there was no reason for it to be promoted, and what little press the show has done has been a victory lap of sorts, an acknowledgment that the show had become too large for them to ignore the media frenzy around it entirely.

Once the show is removed from that context, though, could a U.S. version of Skam fly in under the radar in the same way? On a basic functional level, the show would be an adaptation of a successful overseas series, and therefore garner certain types of coverage from the trade press (building on the existing coverage). But so much of the way many of the channels or streaming sites I discussed in part two market shows is now built on hyper-saturation to stand out from the crowd, and could those rules be rewritten in a culture where celebrity matters considerably more?

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