The Curious Case of the Repeated SKAMs

They say there are no new stories. That every tale we watch, read or write has been told thousands of times before. One writer, Willa Cather, went so far as to say that “there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” Today I’d like to talk about a TV show that has taken this truth to a whole new level.

SKAM was a little Norwegian show that took the world by storm a few years ago. It ran for four seasons, with each season focusing on a different character from within a group of friends attending high school in Oslo, Norway. SKAM set itself apart from previous shows in a number of ways. For example, each episode was delivered through a series of clips released online at the exact time they were set, so that viewers experienced the events in ‘real time.’ Episodes were then screened in their entirety at the end of the week. The characters had their own social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, etc). Snippets of group emails were also available that added to the storylines. Most importantly, the characters were played by actual high school students. This wasn’t a group of 20-year-olds pretending to still be in high school (I’m looking at you Riverdale). They were actual students with acne and ‘not always perfect’ hair. SKAM became so incredibly popular that production companies around the world bought the rights to the show and set about developing their own versions. The characters names often changed, but the basic stories did not.

Personally, my favourite season of SKAM was season 3, which focused on the character of Isak Valtersen. Isak begins the season as a rather depressed young man. Estranged from his mother, who suffers from a severe mental illness, and his father, who had already left the family, Isak lives in a shared apartment with several other characters from the show. After meeting Even Bech Naesheim, a newcomer to the school, Isak (who is yet to admit to anyone, including himself, that he’s gay) falls hard and fast. Isak and Even’s romance gets off to a rocky start due to the fact Even has a long-term girlfriend, and tends to blow hot and cold. It’s not until after they finally establish their relationship that Isak discovers Even suffers from bipolar disorder. In order to move forward, Isak must confront his own prejudice about mental illness, and accept the consequences Even’s illness will have on his life. In the end, Isak commits to supporting Even and they get their happy ending.

Over the last few months, I’ve watched this basic storyline being repeated in SKAM Italia with Martino and Niccolo, SKAM France with Lucas and Eliott, and in DRUCK (SKAM Germany) with Matteo and David (though we’re still in the early stages with that one). It will continue to be told in America, Spain, the Netherlands, and who knows where else. I don’t see a SKAM Australia happening, but if it did I would watch the hell out of it.

The question I’ve been asking myself (and yes, my husband has also asked me several times, while wearing a baffled look) is WHY? Why do I continue to watch the same story being retold over and over again without ever getting bored. I believe it comes back to that quote from Willa Cather. I watch each version, with as much fascination as the last, because while the basics of the story are the same, the way it comes to life is always unique. SKAM Italia was sweet and restrained. SKAM France was polished, poetic and full of light. DRUCK is younger, gritty and raw. Each writer, each actor, each director, each set designer, each cinematographer adds their own individual interpretation of the story. It’s the same reason we keep making and watching incarnations of Cinderella, Romeo and Juliette, Beauty and the Beast, and every other beloved tale told over the centuries.

And so it goes with books. Every romance novel contains the same core elements. Two (or sometimes more) characters who are destined to fall in love, an attraction that pulls them together, obstacles that tear them apart, the development of a deep and abiding love, a black moment where all seems lost, and finally the longed for and hard won happily ever after. Familiar though it may be, we continue to love it and lose ourselves in it over and over again. Because every time it’s different. Because every time it happens as fiercely as if it had never happened before… and for those particular characters in that particular story, it’s always true.

For a little taste of the original SKAM, and its remakes, click on the links below:

Isak and Even (Original – Norway)
Martino and Niccolo (Italy)
Lucas and Eliott (France)
Matteo and David (Germany – partial story)

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