Norwegian Slow TV Creeps into the U.S.
Daniel Barabasi | Sunday, January 19, 2014
The release of “The Wolf of Wall Street” reminded the U.S. that success in this country is based off a good idea, guts and speed, all of which can apparently be attained from mountains of cocaine. Yet Scorsese isn’t the only one to capture this message — look anywhere in the media and the common message is “faster, faster, faster.”
Commercials have moved from screening important plot points to flashing images of the funniest or most violent seconds of the movie, accompanied by a pop song. At the same time electric music cranks up the bpm on songs, while videogames solidify lightning fast reflexes with nonstop high speed pacing. In the day of the smartphone, if you want attention, you have to grab it fast.
Norway, in a classic Scandinavian counter-culture manner, has decided to keep the on-screen activity manageable for the eyes. Last week Netflix confirmed a third season for its Norwegian-written and Norwegian-directed original series, “Lilyhammer.” Even more amazing though is the prevalence of true “slow TV,” which can be best imagined as the offspring of the “Yule Log” TV program and a documentary.
Netflix’s “Lilyhammer” follows the storyline of a stereotypical crime show, with a mob boss trying to build up his or her career against all odds, except that its set in the quiet Norwegian city of Lillehammer, known only for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics. Former New York gangster Frank Tagliano, played by Steven Van Zandt, leaves a headcount far lacking when compared to his contemporary Walter White, and his syndicate boils down to a few local thrill seekers partnered at times with the area bike gang.
Despite its snail-like progression, the show has its magic and pulls a fifth of Norway’s population in its local viewership. As an American, its intriguing to see the softness of crime abroad after all the terrorist baddies that shows like “24” and “Homeland” portray. Automatic weapon shootouts and biological attacks aren’t relevant in the life of Norwegians, instead the big crises revolve around a finger getting almost chopped off, a moonshine operation exploding in a garage, or, if things get really heated, children fist fighting at the elementary school.
Though this type of television can be equated to the majesty of “Mad Men,” the Norwegian public broadcasting company, NRK, did not want simply to imitate. In 2009, NRK aired an experimental movie that recorded a seven hour train ride from Oslo to Bergen. All the viewers saw were dark tunnels and snowy landscapes, but over 20 percent of the population watched it, albeit most likely not in its entirety.
Since then, the popularity has only increased, and in 2011 over half the country tuned in to a 134 hour journey of a cruise ship. Then, in 2013, the National Firewood Night aired for 12 hours, where viewers could witness logs being chopped and burnt. Critics, including “The Colbert Report,” picked up a few laughs from examining the marketing for the show that encouraged users to submit their own tips for chopping wood.
On the surface, the Norwegian method seems ridiculous. In such a fast-paced world, who has the time to spend six, twelve, or even 134 hours watching life slowly pass by? But in the critique is the beauty of the medium. These extended shows, and even the calm manner of “Lilyhammer,” make viewers appreciate the importance of the details of life, of the small perks that make us happy. Slow TV forces us to slow down for a few, or many, hours, leaving time for the contemplation that no longer fits in an employed man or woman’s schedule.
Or perhaps its just a Norwegian coping technique for living in the long, cold, dark winters of Norway.