Current Issue #488

Stream Time: Norsemen Review

Stream Time: Norsemen Review

Norsemen is a hilarious six-part comedy series that re-imagines a world of Vikings with modern day Norway’s attitudes and progressive sensibilities.

On its title and production pictures alone, Norsemen would seem to be a low-budget knockoff of Vikings — which is itself a low-budget knockoff of Game of Thrones — and who wants to endure an inception of soulless, opportunistic television?

Luckily, Norsemen is none of that. It’s a charming, refreshing comedy from Norway that’s well worth your time. Released last year under a different name (Vikingane) in Norwegian (the English version was shot side-by-side), the show landed a prestigious screen award in its homeland, and has made its way West.

For centuries, Vikings raped and pillaged their way across Christendom. The old stereotype of a Scandinavian (a hulking, bloodthirsty Pagan who’ll kill you and everybody you love) is the polar opposite of the contemporary stereotype (a soft-spoken bureaucrat who loves arthouse cinema). The delicious comic conceit at the heart of Norsemen is to tell the tale of barbaric Vikings, but to give those Vikings the manners and concerns of modern day, namby-pamby Norwegians.

“Are they horns on your helmet? Are they simply decorative?”

The Chieftain, for example, doesn’t want to be too rough with his slaves because he’s worried that a fear-driven leadership-style doesn’t really suit him. The mighty pillager, who’s only sexual experiences have been non-consensual, apologises profusely to his new, darling wife when he can’t get himself to full mast. There are raids, murders, buggery and cruelty, but almost every character, for the entire series, delivers their lines in a serious, deadpan, almost apologetic manner.

As good as the concept is, it is surprising that there’s enough life in it to fuel six episodes. The first episode makes it seem as though the show will be fragmented — a series of scenes that merely serve to flesh out the fundamental comedic comparison. Again, you might be hesitant about how worthwhile three hours of this will be, and, again, you’re proven wrong. It is a great testament to the writing that, although the show is built on a novelty, it remains compelling viewing throughout.

“Next time I just have to join in. It’s just that my back was a bit.. but it’s better now.”

The performances, demure as they may be, are terrific. Nils Jørgen Kaalstad, who plays Arvid, a kindly, heroic and dimwitted warrior, is a standout, as is Kåre Conradi as the degenerate stand-in chief Orm. The season’s best moments, however, come from Trond Fausa as Rufus, a Roman actor turned slave who desperately tries to bring some culture to the uncivilised northerners.

The season wraps up elegantly, tying up lose ends from the very first episode, and stands alone as a mini-series. In the final few minutes of the final episode, however, things are wrenched open, paving the way for the possibility of a second season. It feels forced, and doesn’t really make sense, but heck, if the show runners can squeeze six great half-hour episodes out of this idea, who’s to say they can’t do twelve? A second season of Vikingane has been shot, so it’s a matter of time before Norsemen season two lands on Netflix as well.

James McCann

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James Donald Forbes McCann is a writer and award-winning stand-up comedian.

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