Mark Gatiss and Matthew Sweet in action at the Sherlock Prom. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou
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Proms 2015: The Sherlock Prom goes inside the mind of the great detective

Fortunately, there was more to this programme than just a lot of TV adaptation soundtracks.

With the licence fee under threat and charter renewal on the horizon, the BBC is on a mission to remind us why it is worth every penny that we give them. The Proms is a big part of that - now in its 121st season, the world-renowned concert series could only exist in its current form with the emphasis on accessibility and low-priced tickets if underwritten by public money. This is partly why the announcement of every year’s programme sets off a rash of comment pieces debating exactly what kind of music we should be supporting: new compositions and artists, genre-crossing innovations, highbrow and serious performances of major works, or populist programmes that will get new punters into the hall?

The answer, of course, is all of the above. Yet when I saw the inclusion of a “Sherlock” Prom on this year’s programme, I was still a bit apprehensive. The BBC’s Sherlock is one of the corporation’s most on-brand and successful global exports, so I could absolutely understand the desire to do a bit of cross-pollination and remind the Proms audience that there’s more to it than Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones - namely, its Emmy award-winning soundtrack. But as the NS’s Elizabeth Minkel has pointed out in a great essay about the Sherlock fandom, there just isn’t very much of it: “falling for a show with three episodes every two years does terrible things to your mind”, she writes. Unless they were actually going to wheel out Cumberbatch (unlikely, given his current Hamlet commitments) and fill a lot of the time with clips from the show, I just couldn’t see how it would even be long enough.

I was very relieved to discover, then, this was a concert dedicated not to Sherlock, but to Sherlock Holmes in all his various guises. Subtitled “a musical mind”, the programme was filled with a combination of the themes to the various film and TV adaptations as well as the music that Conan Doyle’s original character is said to have an affinity with in the stories. Thus, we got the themes from 1985’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the main title music from 1970’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, but also two Lassus motets (upon which Conan Doyle’s Holmes once wrote a monograph) and a movement of the second violin concerto by the detective’s most admired violinist, Paganini.

The programme also served as a useful reminder that in many cases, TV and film music isn’t quite what it was. So while Frank Skinner’s (not that one) spectacular and dramatic suite for 1942’s Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror was thrilling and amusing in its propagandistic, camp way, Hans Zimmer’s rather insipid music for the 2009 and 2011 Guy Ritchie detective films was barely memorable. When we finally got to David Arnold and Matthew Price’s music for Sherlock, I was all soundtracked-out - although it was intriguing to see quite how much percussion their themes require.

Christine Rice. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

The highlights of the afternoon, though, came from the non-soundtrack portions of the programme. Mezzo-soprano Christine Rice, resplendent in a nineteenth century opera gown, gave us two arias that Sherlock Holmes’ “woman”, Irene Adler, is supposed to have sung - “Una voce poco fa” from The Barber of Seville and “Ah, Tanya, Tanya” from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Her deep tones and smooth delivery brought some much-needed contrast to the mostly-instrumental programme. Jack Liebeck’s Paganini, too, gave a bit of flair to the proceedings. Less successful by far was the inclusion of Wagner’s Ride of Valkyries, in a slightly ponderous and muted version by the BBC Concert Orchestra.

In between pieces, presenter Matthew Sweet and Sherlock co-creator and star Mark Gatiss provided the “musical mind” narrative that linked the music together, as well as short readings from the original stories. Although this was a long way from the full-costume pageantry of the Doctor Who or War Horse Proms of the past, there was a bit of effort made with the wing-backed armchairs the presenters occupied when not speaking and their velvet and tweed costumes. The glee of Sweet and Gatiss, clearly visible throughout, reminded me just why Conan Doyle’s characters have endured the way they have, to be adapted and remixed by every successive generation. As Laurie Penny has pointed out, Sherlock, its latest TV reincarnation, “doesn’t just engage with fan fiction - it is fan fiction”, created by lifelong fans of the Holmes canon. Judging by the knowing chuckles from the audience at all the nudge-nudge-wink-wink references in this programme, quite a lot of their peers were in the hall yesterday afternoon.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

Photo: NRK
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Skam, interrupted: why is the phenomenally popular teen drama ending before its peak?

The show has been building towards high school graduation – but now it’s ending before its lead characters finish school.

“Have you heard they started their bus already?”
“One month into high school – and they started their bus.”

This Skype conversation between Eva and Isak comes early in the first episode of Skam. The phenomenally internationally successful series follows teenagers at a high school in Oslo. The “bus” they're discussing is a key plot point and concern of the students' lives. That’s because, in Norway, graduating high school students participate in “russefeiring” – it’s a rite of passage into adulthood, a celebration of completing high school, and a farewell to friends departing for university or jobs around the country.

Students gather into groups, give their gang a name, wear matching coloured overalls, rent a big car or a van, and spend late April to mid May (17 May – Norwegian Constitution Day) continuously partying. They call it the “three week binge”. It’s a big fucking deal. 

Skam, with its focus on teens in high school, has therefore spent a lot of time thinking about “russ”. The show, which is set at the exact same time it airs, has followed its four main characters Eva, Noora, Isak and Sana (who each have a season of the show written from their perspective, a la Skins), as well as all their friends, from their first few weeks at school in September 2015. In other words, preparations take years, and we’ve heard a lot about the plans for their russ bus.

In season one, Eva has fallen out with her best friend, and is hurt when she hears she is moving on and has formed a new bus, with new friends, called Pepsi Max.

We meet one of the show’s most prominent characters, Vilde, when we see her trying to get a bus of girls together. The show’s five main girl characters, Eva, Noora, Vilde, Chris and Sana, become friends because of her efforts: they bond during their “bus meetings” and fundraising attempts. They flirt with a group of boys on a bus calling themselves “The Penetrators”.

The latest season follows Sana’s struggles to ensure the bus doesn’t fall apart, and an attempt to join buses with rivals Pepsi Max. The joyful climax of season four comes when they finally buy their own bus and stop social-climbing, naming themselves “Los Losers”. Bus drama is the glue that keeps the show together.

But now, in June 2017, a whole year before the characters graduate, Skam is ending. The architect of the girls’ bus, Vilde, has never had her own season, unlike most of her friends. Many assumed that Vilde would have had her own season during her final year at school. Fans insist the show’s creator Julie Andem planned nine seasons in total, yet Skam is ending after just four.

The news that Skam would stop after season four came during the announcement that Sana, a Muslim member of the “girl squad”, would be the next main character. The show’s intense fandom were delighted by the character choice, but devastated at the news that there would only be one more season. “I can’t accept that this is the last season,” one wrote on Reddit.

“I'm so shocked and sad. It’s honestly just...weird. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair that we’re not getting a Vilde season. Most importantly, it’s not fair that we’ll never get to see them on their russ, see them graduating, nothing. It seems like such an abrupt decision. It doesn’t serve the storyline at all.”

No one has given a concrete reason about why the show ended prematurely. Ina, who plays Chris, said in an interview that “we all need a break”.

Some fans went into denial, starting petitions to encourage Andem to continue with the show, while rumours abound suggesting it will return. 

Many speculated that the show simply became too popular to continue. “I think that the show would have had six seasons and a Vilde season if the show didn’t become popular outside of Scandinavia,” one wrote. “I think the pressure and the large amount of cringy fans (not saying that some Scandinavian fans aren’t cringy) has made making the show less enjoyable for the actors and creators.”

Andem has stayed mostly quiet on her reasons for ending the show, except for a statement made via her Instagram. She recalls how very early on, during a season one shoot, someone first asked her how long the show would last:

“We were standing in the schoolyard at Nissen High School, a small, low-budget production crew, one photographer, the sound engineer and me. ‘Who knows, but I think we should aim for world domination,’ I said. We all laughed, ‘cause I was obviously joking. None of us understood then how big Skam would turn out to be. This experience has been completely unreal, and a joy to be a part of.”

Skam has been a 24/7 job,” she continues. “We recently decided that we won’t be making a new season this fall. I know many of you out there will be upset and disappointed to hear this, but I’m confident this is the right decision.”

Many fans feel that season four has struggled under the burden of ending the show – and divisions and cracks have appeared in the fandom as a result.

Some feel that Sana’s season has been overshadowed by other characters and plotlines, something that is particularly frustrating for those who were keen to see greater Muslim representation in the show. Of a moment in season four involving Noora, the main character from season two, one fan account wrote, “I LOVE season tw- I mean four. That’s Noora’s season right? No wait, is it Willhell’s season??? What’s a Sana.”

Others feel that the subject of Islam hasn’t been tackled well in this season. Some viewers felt one scene, which sees Sana and her white, non-Muslim friend, Isak, discuss Islamophobia, was whitesplainy. 

One popular translation account, that provides a version of the show with English subtitles, wrote of the scene: “A lot of you guys have been disappointed by the latest clip and you’re not the only ones. We do want to finish this project for the fans but we are disappointed with how this season has gone.” They announced they would be translating less as a result.

The final week of the show has been light on Sana. Instead, each character who never received a full season has had a few minutes devoted to their perspective. These are the other girls from the girl squad, Vilde and Chris, and the boyfriends of each main character: Eva’s ex Jonas, Isak’s boyfriend Even, Eva’s current fling “Penetrator Chris” and Noora’s on-off boyfriend William.

It’s understandable to want to cover key perspectives in the show’s final week, but it can feel teasing – we get a short glimpse into characters' home lives, like Vilde struggling to care for her depressed mother, but the scene ends before we can really get into it. And, of course, it takes precious time away from Sana in the show’s final minutes.

Some were frustrated by the characters focused on. “Penetrator Chris” is a particularly minor character – one fan account wrote of his scene: “This is absolutely irrelevant. 1) It sidelines Sana 2) It asks more questions 3) It doesn’t answer shit. This isn’t even Sana’s season anymore and that’s absolutely disgusting. She didn’t even get closure or ten episodes or anything.

“Sana has been disrespected and disregarded and erased and sidelined and that is fucking gross. She deserved better. Yet here we are watching a Penetrator Chris clip. How ironic that it’s not even called just “Christopher” because that’s all he is. “Penetrator Chris”.

It’s been a dramatic close for a usually warm and tight-knit fan community. Of course, many fans are delighted with the final season: their only sadness is there won’t be more. One of the largest fan accounts tried to keep things positive. “I know people have mixed feelings about Skam and who deserves what in terms of screentime this season (etc),” they wrote, “which I totally understand.

"However, everything has already been filmed, so there is nothing we can do about it. I think this last week of Skam will be much more enjoyable for everyone if we focus on the positives in the clips ahead. Skam isn’t perfect. People are allowed to disagree. But let’s go into this week being grateful for everything Skam has given us.”

Some fans choose to look to what the future holds for the show – an American remake. It will keep the same characters and plotlines as the original, and Andem may be involved.

Few think it will be a patch on the current show, but some are excited to have the chance to watch it teasingly as a group regardless. It seems unlikely that the US remake will compare in terms of quality – not least because the original was so heavily researched and tied to Norwegian culture. But for fans struggling to let go of Skam, it can’t come soon enough.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

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