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Norwegian TV: The best shows to watch to understand Norwegian society

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
Norwegian TV: The best shows to watch to understand Norwegian society
Pictured is a person watching television. Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Norway has a long history of producing many great and some not-so-great television shows and series. 


If you've got a good grasp of Norwegian but still feel like there are some cultural references you don't quite 'get', here's a list of programmes to help get you up to speed.

For those looking for their next Nordic noir to binge, you will perhaps find their exclusion from the list a notable omission. As it's an article looking at Norwegian society, it would be amiss to include television programs about serial killers and mass murders, as there are only 40-50 murders per year. 

Besides, many a TV nerd will be quick to point out that the best examples of Nordic noir, in televised form, tend to be Swedish or Danish in origin. With all the talk of the decision-making behind the list, there'll be some recency bias with TV shows mostly from the past 30 years or so. Although if you are after a tip for a Nordic noir, the thriller Wisting is worth checking out. 


With all the talk of gruesome murders, it may be best to start with something a bit lighter. Mot i brøset is a situational comedy set in Oslo and was the first show of its kind in Norway. The series follows Karl, an economist who moves into a flatshare with Henry and Nils after divorcing his wife and getting fired. 

The show was loosely based on American sitcoms of the time but is more directly derived from the much older Three's Company. It aimed to blend the sitcom format with a Norwegian tone and humour. The show does a decent job of bridging the gap between the Norwegian sense of humour and a familiar format. 

Another show considered groundbreaking was Skam, which gained an international following for its ability to tackle big issues and its unique original release format. The show, by public broadcaster NRK, followed the lives of Norwegian high-schoolers and, unlike other shows depicting the lives of teenagers at a pivotal moment of their lives, has fans from all age groups. 

Since the series ended, it has continued to gather a cult following due to its interpretation of what it is like to be a young person in modern Norway. 

Another show to make a bit of television history is Lillyhammer, Netflix's first original series. The series, a joint venture from NRK and Netflix, follows fish out of water New York city Mafioso, Frank (portrayed by Steven Van Zandt, most known in the acting world for his portrayal of mobster Silvio Dante in The Sopranos) as he adapts to Norwegian culture and society in Lillehammer. 

Some of the show's plotlines haven't aged particularly well and can seem in poor taste or offensive now. However, there are several themes that foreign residents in Norway will be able to relate to, such as adapting to the culture and the pain of the Norwegian bureaucracy.

Lillyhammer also features a mix of Norwegian and English, making it perfect for those who want to take the training wheels off and brush up on their Norwegian language skills.  


In a similar vein, Himmelblå is a series about a single mother who leaves the city (Oslo in this case) behind for a new life in northern Norway in a village facing extinction due to its dwindling popularity. The series highlights life in rural (very rural in this case) Norway and the struggles and adaptations of trying to fit in with one's new surroundings. The show ran for three seasons between 2008 and 2010 and was hugely successful during its run on NRK. 

To break up all the drama and situational comedies will be something a bit more lowbrow to give your brain cells a rest. For that, we suggest a bit of reality tv. Paradise Hotel and Ex on the Beach are two of the most popular. While Norwegians may seem like a sensible, thoughtful and mild-mannered bunch, they (well, some) do enjoy scandalous reality dating shows too. 

Not all reality shows are as harry, as the Norwegians would say, with locals also tuning in to episodes of The Voice and The Masked Signer

Speaking of scandal, Exit follows the lives of a group of men from Norway's financial elite, partially based on true stories. It takes place on the west side of Oslo, typically home to the capital's wealthiest individuals and movers and shakers. Many see Norway as the face of "cuddly capitalism", but this show reveals the dark underbelly that lies beneath the surface. 

Oil is the catalyst which helped supercharge Norway's economy and saw it overtake neighbours Denmark and Sweden financially. Therefore it's only fitting you tune into Lykkeland, a drama that tracks how oil has changed the city of Stavanger. The first two seasons follow families living in the town at the time as it goes from a local community reliant on fishing, shipping and agriculture to an international oil hub.  


Another show on the oil fund is the comedy-drama Oljefondet, which follows fictional investors who practice investing billions of kroner of tax revenues into ethical investments while following guidelines put in place by politicians. 

And finally, is Norsk-ish. The story follows an Iranian-Norwegian family consisting of two parents born abroad and their three children born in Norway. The show launched by NRK in 2020 follows the family's lives as they adapt to cultural changes and other problems. Norsk-ish looks at what it means to be Norwegian and balancing that against one's own traditions and cultures. The series was created and written by Bahareh Badavi and Melike Leblebicioglu, who based the series on themes from their own lives

Did we miss out your favourite Norwegian TV show? What else deserves to be mentioned? Let us know in the comments.


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