Tag Archives: Review

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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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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18 Minutes of Foreshadowing: Skam Season 4, Episode 2

header_sX-large-1Season 4, Episode 2

April 21, 2017

It is the rite of passage of international Skam fandom.

Given that the series’ global reach grew exponentially only recently, during the show’s third season, most viewers never experienced the show happening in real time. While I knew while watching the show that each “episode” I was watching was broken up into clips released throughout the week, and some of the fan subbed-copies I watched remained separated as those discrete installments, I always had the luxury of playing the next clip without delay, moving from week to week and eventually season to season without pausing.

That all changed this week, as it changed for thousands more last week. After catching up with the first three seasons—which I wrote about here—I became yet another international Skam viewer who had to adjust to a very different Skam experience. While bingeing the show is all-consuming in one way, watching the show in real time is all-consuming in another, but with the show itself replaced by the hour a day you spend Google Translating the transmedia elements and another few hours sifting through fan speculation or chatting with fellow viewers on Twitter.

I have to imagine that those who have been watching from the beginning find new viewers’ difficulty adjusting to the change of pace entertaining, sitting back and watching as those who got hooked watching the show without week-long hiatuses where you have no idea what’s happening to the characters you’re invested in are forced to feel what they felt in seasons past. For me, though, the “full Skam experience” has been more instructive than frustrating, both in terms of getting a better sense of how the show is consumed (read: developing obsessive tendencies) and in terms of understanding how this season is intending to balance its primary and secondary storytelling goals.

That said, though, it seems like even those who got used to watching live last week might have been frustrated by a fairly thin episode, with only 18 minutes for this week’s installment. It’s a decision that reflect a week that was fairly light on significant narrative events, focused instead on some housekeeping as the stakes of the season—and the season’s burden of acknowledging season’s past—came further into focus.

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13 Reasons Why is a teen show built for Netflix, for better or worse

13ReasonsKeyArtLast week, media scholar Casey McCormick posted a piece at Flow—where I have also been contributing during this most recent cycle—based on her research into Netflix, with a specific interest in the way they tell stories. I saw her present some of this research last week, and at the heart of it is an interest in what she terms “Netflix Poetics.” While this can take many forms, at Flow McCormick narrows in one element wherein many series “tend to be particularly metafictional, or self-conscious about storytelling,” citing the use of voiceover or direct address in shows like House of Cards or Narcos.

I was thinking a lot about the idea of “Netflix Poetics” as I watched 13 Reasons Why, Netflix’s most recent drama series, and the second this year that we could call “Young Adult” programming after A Series of Unfortunate Events. But whereas that series adapts a dark but ultimately whimsical set of children’s books, 13 Reasons Why—developed by Brian Yorkey with Tom McCarthy as the director of the opening episodes—taps into the very real tragedy of Jay Asher’s novel about a teenage girl who commits suicide, and the tapes she leaves behind to call out those she holds responsible. Channeling the type of issue-focused storytelling that’s characterized shows like Canada’s Degrassi, and which emerges more sporadically in teen programming on U.S. cable channels like MTV and Freeform, 13 Reasons Why offers an unflinching consideration of the social problems that would leave someone like Hannah Baker to take their own life.

I have a lot of thoughts about 13 Reasons Why, but more than any other Netflix series all those thoughts are caught up in the fact that it is a Netflix series. Based on both the narrative it presents and the way it chooses to tell that story, both the good and the bad of the show feel inseparable from the context of its distribution. It is a show that feels like it might have only been able to do what it does on Netflix while simultaneously feeling like it encapsulates some of the pitfalls of the rigidity of the Netflix model and its associated expectations. It is a show that is brutally honest about the struggles teenagers face today in ways that are refreshing and important, while simultaneously positioning itself to appeal to the cynical binge culture that Netflix increasingly relies on its original programming to construct.

It is also ultimately very good, and well worth your time, but I want to focus on how it represents a meaningful case study of the distinctiveness of Netflix’s original programming on the level of both the text itself as well as its distribution.

[The following will contain light spoilers for the entire first season of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why.]

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Cultural Review: One Day At A Time turns a cynical instinct into a culturally-specific triumph

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Michael Yarish / Netflix

On Friday, Netflix debuts a new series from Norman Lear, but I don’t want to talk about either the streaming service or the iconic producer.

This is, admittedly, somewhat counterproductive. One Day At A Time is part of a growing collection of multi-camera projects for Netflix, and thus part of their larger programming narrative—the service continues to expand its profile in the TV industry seemingly every week, and its investment in this “traditional” genre is undoubtedly part of this. And as for Lear, my disinterest in discussing his involvement in this reboot of his 1975 sitcom is not meant as a slight on his legacy or his contributions to this series, which are all deserving of praise.

However, in both cases, I struggle overemphasizing these parties when discussing the myriad strengths of One Day At A Time, a show that thrives in its specificity despite being a product of a culture of reproduction. While Netflix will get kudos for distributing the series, and Lear deserves recognition for his pioneering of a sitcom model imagining television as what Newcomb and Hirsch dubbed “the cultural forum,” One Day At A Time succeeds because it finds purpose and meaning where none was guaranteed, or even likely.

The origins of the series, as presented by Vulture, can be read two ways:

When legendary sitcom producer Norman Lear kicked off the book tour for his 2014 memoir, Even This I Get to Experience, the head of production and development at his company, Act III Productions, had a thought. “I wanted to get him back into TV to show people how relevant he still is,” said Brent Miller, the Act III executive. “It’s something people miss.” The idea to revive one of Lear’s legacy properties — the 1975 CBS sitcom One Day at a Time — was floated, but with one crucial difference, driven by the results of a marketing survey showing that single Latina mothers are a desirable target demographic: This time, it would center on a Latino family.

The first way is to focus on Miller’s goal of bringing Lear—a television icon—back to the industry, a timely one given the debut of NBC’s The Carmichael Show and the increased focus of ABC’s Blackish into cultural issues during this same period. That goal is admirable, and no one would be upset at the idea of Lear coming back to television.

The second way, however, is to focus on Miller’s actual strategy. Instead of having Lear work on a new series, perhaps partnering with a young writer similar to Carmichael‘s Jerrod Carmichael to develop a new property, the immediate instinct is to remake one of his existing series. Moreover, the choice to focus on a Latino family wasn’t motivated by a perceived lack of representation: it was motivated by a marketing survey, chosen to make the concept more desirable to Sony (the studio that held the rights, and would go on to produce the show) and Netflix (the distributor who would eventually purchase it).

This is not, ideally, how creativity is supposed to work, although it’s typical in the television industry. There’s a suggestion here that Miller—perhaps from past experience—did not believe that an original project from Lear would find a home, and that’s unfortunate if true. But the idea that this had to exist as a reboot of an existing property, and that its focus on a Latino family originated with a marketing study, points to the television industry’s unwillingness to abandon traditional profit motives, even when creating something that can—and, considering the final product, should—be framed as a step forward for representations of Latino families on television, and even when Netflix theoretically should be able to function outside of those logics as a self-proclaimed “disruptor.”

And so the fact that One Day At A Time is a great and meaningful television show is in spite of—rather than as a result of—its origins. Some of this credit goes to Lear, certainly, but it has much more to do with those who came on to run the series managed to turn it into something far beyond what its origins required. There is a version of One Day At A Time that barely goes beyond its initial pitch, telling generic family sitcom stories but with Latino actors, and living up to its promise for Netflix (interested in targeting niche audiences as a subscription-based service) and, on a basic level, to Miller’s initial goal of reviving Lear’s production company. However, what debuts on Netflix Friday is far from generic, and it has everything to do with what happened after the show was initially conceived.

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