Norsemen starts as it means to go on. The village of Norsheim has run low on food under the mismanagement of the “deputy chief,” and consequently the elderly of the village have been taken to a cliff to perform ättestupa, where they voluntarily throw themselves off a cliff to help the village. After being assured that it’s a matter of honour, one of them takes the leap. The others look over the cliff edge and wince. “Who’s next?” “Welllll,” one replies, “I’m thinking, what’s the worst that could happen, right, if I didn’t do the ättestupa?” A bit of mumbling about, “It’s not really my thing,” and they all wander off.
The art of Norsemen is that of understatement, and familiarising the unfamiliar. Rather than the brooding darkness of Vikings or The Last Kingdom, Norsemen leans into the setting, 790AD Norway, but populates it with modern personalities. Rather than aiming for a laugh-a-minute sitcom style, the creators let the absurdity of the situation build until eventually everything is hilarious. From chieftains worrying about their management style and the synergy of the tribe, to the too-real awkwardness of someone realising they haven’t been invited to pre-drinks before the big feast, or a Roman slave becoming the village’s creative director, Norsemen brings the tension and drama of daily life in the 8th century to sympathetic life.
The show is filmed in Norway, with a fully Norwegian cast, and was simultaneously shot in Norwegian for local distribution, as well as in English. Consequently, the characters all speak with convincing accents, which is a nice change from the occasionally wavering accents of historical dramas. In some cases, however, the commitment to historical accuracy toes the line between a blend of genres, and a clash. For example, the raids (the village’s ‘chief industry’) result in some of the best comedic material, yet some of the shots linger searchingly on the cast’s butchered victims. The argument could be made that this is the point; contrast the light-hearted moments with the gory reality, but it falls a little wide of the mark and becomes neither fish nor fowl.
In spite of that, Norsemen is quick and funny, and within the bounds that it creates for itself, outstanding. The acting, as well, is genuinely top notch, with great timing and sincerity. It is definitely one of a kind and recommended for those who like historical dramas, but also love Peep Show.
Image: Guiseppe Milo via Flickr