TEENAGERS are unpredictable. Hormonal turmoil and pressure to fit in can make growing up an ordeal. But spare a thought too for the hard-working television executives trying to capture young people’s lucrative time and attention. Few, it is safe to assume, could have foreseen that teenagers would anoint a low-budget web series produced by NRK, Norway’s national broadcaster, as one of the breakout shows of recent years.

“Skam”—which translates as “shame”—brilliantly told the story of an amorphous group of friends at the illustrious Hartvig Nissen High School in Oslo. The show found a fervent fan-base, and unexpectedly attracted an audience of millions around the world. Viewers outside Norway discovered the show through fan-made subtitles, dedicated blogs and an unstoppable flow of illicit downloads. When the final episode of “Skam” was released in the summer of 2017 it was met with a curious nostalgia for something lost; some viewers turned on showrunner Julie Andem for moving on and letting her characters grow up. Now Ms Andem has brought the show back.

“Skam Austin” debuted earlier this week. It once again follows a group of school friends and airs online, with short clips uploaded daily. But the differences are immediately apparent: the show has been transplanted to Bouldin High School in Texas; Oslo’s quirky brickwork has become identikit Texas suburbs; and the pitching and falling Norwegian has been replaced by creeping vocal fry. As one of the first shows commissioned for Facebook’s burgeoning Watch video platform, it is aimed at a global audience rather than Norway’s roughly 500,000 teenagers.

What made the first iteration of “Skam” so distinctive? Before it reached screens, Ms Andem spent months interviewing young people around Norway, learning about their anxieties and eccentricities, and the universal truths and idiosyncrasies of growing up in one of the world’s happiest countries. TV shows have gone some way towards depicting the authentic adolescent experience before, of course. Early series of the British show “Skins” approached sensitive topics such as eating disorders and grief with an honesty that often belied its apocryphal wild nights and hazy mornings.

“Skam” also dealt with difficult subjects, such as such as sexuality, bipolar disorder or the personal effects of the European migrant crisis. But what is striking is how much the viewer was expected to grow and learn with the characters. When the protagonist of the third series, Isak, admits he is gay, he adds that he’s not about to become “all gay pride” just because he likes boys. His flatmate replies with a defence of the gay-rights struggle and a warning about internalised homophobia that could easily seem contrived in another show. In “Skam” it triggers a collective awakening. Many viewers will never have to grapple with these issues, but were forced to do so through the show.

Ms Andem did her research well, and “Skam” didn’t so much strike a nerve as drive a pickaxe into a particular teen psyche. Its immersiveness stems from a balance of heightened drama and believability. Ms Andem admits that her characters are amalgamations of the individuals she met while researching the show, and many of the actors—surprisingly for TV, actual teenagers rather than 20-somethings in pig-tails—had scant previous experience.

The absorbing nature of “Skam” was enhanced by its craft, too. Short clips were drip fed to viewers online, not unlike social-media updates, before being combined to make an entire episode. The fictional characters of the show had seemingly real accounts on platforms such as Instagram, so that when viewers weren’t watching them on one screen, they were following them on another. The show mastered the new media that teenagers were already consuming. 

The relatable moments and quotes in “Skam” stimulated a generation dulled by broadcasters’ lazy commissions. Now Facebook hopes to reap the same viral success with its even more accessible reboot. The first few episodes—again released as clips of just a few minutes long—show promise, but lack the Nordic version’s crackle of originality. So far Ms Andem has mirrored the Norwegian story, with some sequences recreated almost shot-for-shot. The faces have changed, with local actors chosen from an open-call casting, but fans are already pointing out how their Norwegian favourites have been reincarnated. They may be of a different gender or background, but they fill the same Noora, Eva or Isak-shaped holes in the narrative.  

This might seem like a safe bet, but taking a cookie-cutter approach is risky. Where, previously, characters’ blurry and heavily-filtered Instagram uploads felt like an engrossing way to exist within the show’s universe, the overly-polished social-media presences of the new characters smacks of Facebook (Instagram’s owner) using the show to hawk its own wares. Interestingly, this month NRK quietly announced a new show about life after high school. This could yet prove a more worthy successor.

In an interview with the New Statesman last year Hakon Moslet, an executive producer on the original series, mused that “perhaps ‘Skam’ will save Facebook.” Facebook’s teenage users are increasingly turning to newer platforms, but if “Skam Austin” is to grab them in the same way as the Norwegian show did, it needs to tell new stories. “Skam” offered a generation an education that their parents and teachers could not. It also proved that a show can be deeply rooted in a specific culture and still resonate widely. If the same storylines are repeated, just in Austin rather than Oslo, it could prove more than just an expensive flop. It would be a real shame.