A Little [More] Conversation: Skam Season 4, Episode 7

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Season 4, Episode 7

June 2, 2017

In the transmedia elements for this week’s episode of Skam, the show laid the groundwork for an epic Friday showdown. Today is Eva’s birthday, and plans were made for a party at Chris’ house. It is the type of situation that has resulted in some of Skam’s most dramatic situations, and fans naturally brainstormed how the various story points could have converged in such a setting.

The party at Chris’ house never happened. [Edit: Saturday’s episode suggests it’s happening next week instead.] The suggested “climax” of this week’s episode was derailed by the chain reaction from Sana’s decision to share her screenshots of Sara’s Facebook conversations with Isak, which spiraled into a hate campaign against Vilde and eventually Isak being identified as the perpetrator and choosing to accept blame knowing Sana was the true culprit. The week was deeply invested in actions and consequences, beginning with Sana’s decision to post the screenshots to Instagram and then watching as she lost control of the resulting fallout. She thought that Sara’s friends were all going to collectively realize that she was a bad person: in truth, turning Sara into a victim only inspired sympathy, and then a quest for revenge, and in the end several (relatively) innocent people getting hurt.

There are a range of conflicts that still needed to be resolved heading into this week, but outside of some throwaway exposition—which I’ll address below—those are mostly delayed in favor of a deep investigation into why and how Sana gets herself into conflicts to begin with. At the end of last week’s episode, Sana had to decide the type of person she was when she decided to go through Isak’s Facebook; this week, the show uses multiple situations and characters to force Sana into a state of self-reflection, a crucial step in the season’s overall arc if also a messy one at the point in the season where some might seek greater clarity.

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The Dangling Carrot: Skam Season 4, Episode 6

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Season 4, Episode 6

May 26, 2017

In a post last week, I explored the somewhat unclear approach that Skam has taken to its hiatuses in the past three seasons. Some have argued that time passes in the show as it did in real life during these breaks, but others have suggested the gap in time is simply ignored. There is no definitive answer to speak of here, and so the conclusion is that it has been left ambiguous: you can either read the missing time into the narrative or you can presume the show is picking up more or less where it left off. (I’ve seen both positions defended very aggressively).

However, regardless, it is safe to say that viewers had to wait a week between episodes, and spent that week pondering the events from the karaoke party. What happened with the fight? How did Noora and Yousef end up hooking up? What’s the full story behind the Pepsi Max girls’ efforts to push Sana out of the bus? The hiatus forced us to sit with these questions, think about our own reactions to them, and wonder how Sana would react when the show returned.

And then the show returned, and it spent an entire week on Sana sitting with these questions, thinking about her reactions to them, and then deciding how to react.

The result is an episode that is well executed in the abstract, but seems poorly calibrated to the reality of the preceding hiatus.

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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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Season 4, 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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