Norwegian tv series are some of the oddest shows I’ve seen. In a good way? Read on…
Trondheim turned into a winter wonderland this weekend with a fresh coat of sparkly snow (did you see my Instagram?), but something else wintry is happening here as well: it is getting dark. It’s not even December yet but the days already feel so short – the sun set at 3 pm yesterday – so it sort of blows my mind that we’re technically still in southern Norway way up here.
But what is there to do on these long winter nights? Watch TV shows of course! And luckily Norway has some brilliant offerings in that department.
Cue the eye rolls from anyone who has ever turned on a television in Norway.
What’s the best way to describe Norwegian television series… Dull? Interesting? Wait, SPECIAL. Yes, Norwegian television shows are certainly special. So special, in fact, that watching television in Norway has probably been the single greatest way for Dan and me to learn more about Norwegian culture.
Five Norwegian tv series in particular have taught me so much about the (often crazy seeming) Norwegian way of life.
The Summer Boat
When we first came to Trondheim all that NRK ever seemed to be showing was footage of a boat. Sometimes the shots were from the boat, sometimes of the boat, of people waving to the boat from land, and every once and a while the boat would stop somewhere and people would throw a party for it.
It was the Summer Boat we were watching, a tiny taste of Norway’s “slow TV.”
It all started in 2009 with NRK’s 7 hour live broadcast of the train journey from Bergen to Oslo. Since then they’ve shown 18 hours of minute by minute salmon fishing, 13 hours of live knitting, and all 899 hymns in the hymnal sung live for over 60 hours. And then there was my personal favorite, the 12 hour broadcast of logs burning in a fire, which garnered such excitement that even the New York Times puzzled over Norwegians’ reactions to it, such as,
I couldn’t go to bed because I was so excited… When will they add new logs? Just before I managed to tear myself away, they must have opened the flue a little, because just then the flames shot a little higher.”
In a world of smart phones, 4G, and endless multitasking, it’s hard to imagine people finding genuine excitement for something so, well, slow.
Is it something about all the time Norwegians spend out in nature that makes them more appreciative of the simpler things in life, or does the frozen landscape just mean that everything, including entertainment, moves at a slower pace here? I’m not sure, but I feel like getting excited over watching someone put logs on a fire is probably a really good thing, and I hope that after more time in Norway it happens to me too.
Lilyhammer is probably Norway’s most famous drama series at this point, right? I mean, Norwegian tv series are super famous to begin with, but a lot of my friends abroad have heard of this Norwegian tv show.
In case you don’t know it, it’s a show about New York gangster Frank Tagliano (played by Sopranos star Steven Van Zandt) going into hiding in Lillehammer, where he gets into all sorts of fun mischief with the adorably innocent locals.
I showed Lilyhammer to Dan when we first started talking about moving to Norway and had actually expected it to turn him off of the idea of living in Norway, but it did the exact opposite. Yes, the show points out many of the ways Norway is old fashioned, lacking in diversity, and not the easiest place to get things done, but it also just makes the country look so freaking quaint.
Like when Tagliano goes to jail and it looks super cozy and he spends all his time doing fun crafts and group therapy. Dan said he’d happily move to Norway because worst case scenario he can just hang out in prison! He was kidding of course, though if he hadn’t been he might have had a hard time getting in anyway – during four months of living in Norway’s third largest city I have seen a police officer exactly zero times.
Well, there was that time in the summer when everyone was drinking in the park, which is technically illegal here, and a police van slowly drove by, but no one ever got out. Our friends told us that they were just gently reminding us that they’re here, and… not going to do anything?
Alt For Norge
Alt For Norge brings a group of Americans with Norwegian heritage to Norway for the first time, where they compete in various Norway related games to win the grand prize of getting to meet their Norwegian relatives.
Dan and I are hooked, mostly because watching Americans struggle to learn Norwegian history, culture and language is a nice weekly confidence boost.
Alt For Norge has also taught me two important things about Norwegian culture.
First, Norwegians love to talk about how special Norway is. With American pop culture having such a large presence in Norway, I think people here enjoy seeing Americans try to learn more about their little country.
The show takes the contestants around the most beautiful and culturally significant areas of Norway, and I have a feeling I’m not the only person watching with a sense of pride over how lovely Norway is. This might be why this article is one of my most popular blog posts.
And second, Norwegians hate confrontation. Each week the contestant who has shown the best team spirit wins the “Spirit Award,” which means they are safe from elimination the next week. This also means that everyone is always super nice to each other in the hopes of winning the award.
Like, what? I thought the job of television producers was to amp up the drama, not eliminate any possibility of conflict ever breaking out. Apparently not in Norwegian tv shows.
Adam Seeks Eva
I’ll admit I was a bit surprised when I was flicking through the channels and stumbled on some full frontal nudity. Um, did Dan order cable and forget to tell me?
Nope, this is just Europe. Swearing is also totally cool here – even on NRK I’ve heard people saying c***, a word considered so bad in America that I only dare write one of the letters down.
Adam Seeks Eva is a dating show where two people meet on a deserted island without any clothes. It was originally a Dutch show, but now a lot of European countries have made their own versions – including Norway!
It’s not the best show, but I do love that the people on it have totally normal bodies. Can you imagine what an American version of this would look like? I’m sure it would not be good for my self image.
And then there’s the national news, which rarely fails to make me feel warm and cozy.
Especially now when so many news channels around the world seem to be successfully filling people with terror (um, speaking of which, the U.S. State Department has now put a travel alert out for the entire world? Until the end of February?!), I’m very happy to be in Norway, where the other day a good five minutes of the evening news were devoted to footage of a woman feeding a squirrel. For real.
Have any other bizarre Norwegian TV series you’d like to add?