This SKAM Austin review contains spoilers.
SKAM Austin: Season 1, Week 1
Welcome to the world of SKAM Austin, which feels a little bit like SKAM(the Norwegian teen drama upon which it’s based), a little bit like Friday Night Lights, and a little bit like it’s own, wonderful thing. Like most things based on other things, presumably, it will soon develop its own unique flavor and momentum as it goes along, meaning those first two descriptors will fade from our minds and we will all stop comparing SKAM Austin to already-existing stories and judge it on its very own merits.
For now, however, I am not yet there, so this review will have a few comparisons between SKAM Austin and SKAM: The Original Series(I have decided to posthumously title SKAM in the tradition of the Star Trek TV universe—which, yes, is the highest of compliments.)
In Week 1, we are introduced to Main Character Megan (Eva, in the Norwegian version), a painfully average teen who is aware of all of the ways in which she doesn’t stand out in a world that is constantly telling her she needs to exceed expectations to be worth anything. Even more so than the original series, SKAM: Austin is grounded in a real-life teenage reality that is defined by pressure: the pressure to be yourself, but also to make sure that yourself is awesome. Mediocre selves need not apply.
The show and episode begin with a killer monologue, distinct from Jonas’ voiceover about capitalism in the original, that has classic overachiever Poonam droning on about her schedule of school and extra-curriculars, which lasts from early morning to almost midnight. When does she find time for herself? She watches Frozen from 11:00 to 11:30 every night. Poor, Poonam. That’s not even half the movie.
While Poonam may pity herself, she pities her deskmate Megan even more, who she sees as not caring enough to even try to stand out amongst the social hierarchy that is Bouldin High. Poonam may be the person with which Megan has the most honest conversations at this point in the narrative, but Poonam only partially sees Megan because she only partially sees herself—she organizes her world not through the wisdom gained through life experience, but through online articles she’s read. Such is the plight of today’s teen, who is asked to have it all figured out in high school, even though they’ve yet to accumulate much actual life experience.
It’s painful to watch Poonam and Megan interact, partially because of all of the painful assumptions Poonam makes about Megan and partially because these two girls have different parts of the puzzle figured out, but are unable to communicate that in any real way. Poonam desperately cares about what Society thinks, but it doesn’t seem to paralyze her in the same way it does Meg. On the other hand, Megan desperately cares what certain people she cares about think, but she is not so caught up in society’s opinion of who she should be to forget about the things that she actually wants and that bring her pleasure.
“Why would I do that if acting’s not one of my talents?” Poonam asks Megan when Megan dares to suggest Poonam do a scene from Frozen for the school’s Talent Night. Megan sees that following your own passions matter in a world that will eat your output alive, even if she can’t figure out how to do that without getting burned. Because, if there’s anything that we’ve learned about Meg in this episode, it’s how lonely she is. We see signs that she used to be part of the Bouldin High dance team alongside her best friend Abby, but that is definitely over now. Abby refuses to even talk to her.
For those who have seen the original SKAM, you know what caused these two to fall apart—even if you haven’t seen the original, you might be able to guess—but that doesn’t make watching Meg’s loneliness breath any easier. Everyone needs a diverse support system and, right now, for Meg, it’s only her boyfriend Marlon, who is sweet, but doesn’t have that much in common with Meg, and Poonam, who Meg doesn’t actually seem to like. We have yet to see Meg’s parents, but their fighting is a constant soundtrack to Meg’s home life. This girl needs people. We all do.
Luckily, it seems like Meg might be finding some people. Though we only get hints of the girl squad that will inevitably form in SKAM: Austin, they are there in this pilot episode. We meet Kelsey and Jo briefly (the equivalents to Vilde and Chris in the original). Like Meg, Kelsey wants to be on the dance team, but is not, though for very different reasons. She’s, um, not a very good dancer and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of benevolence on the team, or at least at tryouts, for allowing someone on the team who has lots of room to grow. Or at least they won’t allow Kelsey that space, who isn’t exactly the coolest of high school girls.
Kelsey does seem to have a badass bestie in the form of Jo, however, who gets a crying Kelsey to perform her dance team tryout for her, immediately reaffirming all of the things she is doing well. It’s an important moment for Kelsey, but it’s important moment for Meg, who is nearby watching, too: this is what healthy female friendship looks like, Meg. You deserve this, too.
It’s not the only example of what having someone to lift you up rather than tear you down that Meg gets at Talent Night, either. After going to the event herself when Marlon blows her off for a concert with his friends, Abby calls Meg a slut when she tries to talk to her. Cool, mature-seeming Grace (Noora, in the original) overhears from a nearby bathroom stall, giving Meg a pep talk before disappearing in a cloud of female empowerment and hipness.
If you’re already imagining what this girl gang will look like once completely formed, you’re not the only one. Meg desperately needs a squad because Meg needs to learn to love herself. Avengers of friendship, assemble!