Tag Archives: Location

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

Adapting Skam 3

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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Season Premiere: Shameless – “Summertime” and Televisual Space

“Summertime” and Televisual Space

January 8th, 2012

After rewatching the entire first season over the holidays with my parents, I found myself enjoying Shameless more than when it premiered (as I wrote about soon after), and I looked forward to checking out the second season. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was to find it so disarmingly different from what we saw last year.

This isn’t to say that the show has dramatically changed its approach to storytelling, although there is evidence to suggest that they are finding better ways of balancing the different character dynamics based on reviews from critics who have seen beyond tonight’s premiere. Rather, the fast-forward to the dog days of summer has created both a temporal shift and, more importantly, a spatial shift in terms of the characters and the world they live in. More generally, though, the long summer days offer a plethora of sunlight, dramatically transforming the aesthetic of the show and signaling a new season in a very direct, meaningful fashion.

I realize that this is not particularly evaluative, and if we were to speak exclusively on those terms I found the premiere promising but uneven, but I want to spend a bit of time discussing these changes relative to the question of space, an increasingly important factor as worlds begin to converge in a new spatial dynamic within the series.

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30 Rock – “Winter Madness”

“Winter Madness”

January 21st, 2010

Jack Donaghy has had many relationships in his time on 30 Rock, and while some of them have been adventurous or novel (Isabella Rosellini as his ex-wife, Edie Falco as his congresswoman girlfriend) the rest have been remarkably dull. And while Alec Baldwin is technically capable of elevating any material, and the show has always hired potentially funny actresses to play the roles, his relationships can be a black hole for the show at times. While Emily Mortimer is a great actress, Phoebe the bird bone fiance was painful, and Salma Hayek’s nurse had one decent episode (“Generallisimo,” although I liked the McFlurry story) but never amounted to anything else. And yet, because they’re major guest stars and represent Jack’s main storyline, the characters stick around longer than any other character with such little potential ever would, and the show suffers for it.

I like Julianne Moore, but her character on 30 Rock was a one-joke one-off that should have never developed into anything more. While there was potential in the story for Jack to tap into parts of his past (the episode in which Moore didn’t actually appear but Jack and Kenneth broke into her house actually did this better), the story has spent too much time on her character’s divorce and not enough time on Jack himself. There are some fun bits in “Winter Madness,” and I’m sure the episode was quite enjoyable for Bostonians, but the stories felt as if they weren’t actually creating enough comedy to form anything close to a cohesive episode.

Although American Historian Tracy Jordan can hang out on my television anytime.

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