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The Norse Comedy Series Vikings Fans Need To Binge On Netflix

Have you ever watched the History Channel's grim and gruesome series, Vikings and thought to yourself, "But where are all the laughs?" 

Well, your wish has been granted, thanks to the Norwegian comedy Norsemen. The series is filmed both in English and Norweigan, with the English language version reaching global audiences ever since it was added to Netflix in 2017 (via Nordic Drama). A third season dropped in July 2020, which means there's no better time to catch up on this clever parody. Even if you're not exactly tickled by the sound of a comedic version of Vikings and other gritty historic dramas, don't dismiss the series right away. Norsemen actually goes beyond parody and gives viewers a layered and intelligent offering that's more akin to The Office or Veep than the 30-minute SNL skit it might sound like. If you still need convincing, here are some things to know about this Scandinavian knee-slapper that is bound to be your next streaming obsession.

Norsemen invests in its humor and its characters

The idea of a comedic version of Vikings and other violent historic epics might immediately bring to mind a bad sketch show, or a mediocre Not Another Teen Movie-style parody. But that is far from the case with Norsemen. While the show certainly aims to poke fun at bloody historic dramas, it's more interested in mining humor from its characters and plot, rather than merely playing up a bunch of "funny" gags.

While the series certainly doesn't have the narrative complexity of the shows that inspired it, it does have storylines and character arcs that progress throughout the seasons. Much of the humor comes from the show's conceit of the titular Norsemen and Norsewomen reacting to the Medieval world they live in with a deadpan, modern sensibility. Imagine if the characters from an Armando Iannucci series were going out on missions to pillage villages, or plotting with mystics to have their rivals murdered. 

For example, the first episode begins with a group of village elders being encouraged to commit ättestupa, a Scandinavian tradition — likely mythological, according to The Ringer — of geriatric suicide, you might remember from Midsommar. After watching one man jump to his death off a high cliff, the next in line balks, saying, "I'm only 47 ... it's not that old. I'm just going to skip the whole thing."

That gives you a sense of the show's tone, but it also goes deeper than that.

Audiences and critics are in love with Norsemen

If you've never heard of Norsemen before, it's not because the show isn't popular. In fact, when it premiered in Norway it got huge ratings. According to Norweigan publication NRK, the first episode was viewed almost 1 million times in the country. For some perspective, the total population of Norway itself is around 5.5 million.

It isn't just Norwegians who are obsessed with the show. Since it has been airing on Netflix, Norsemen has received glowing reviews from publications around the world. Dan Gentile, writing for SF Gate, favorably compared the series to Curb Your Enthusiasm and said the show has, "a balance of escapism and familiarity, with a chaser of slapstick swordplay and blood fountains." Julia Raeside of The Guardian said, "If you are left uncharmed by Norsemen you are both heartless and immune to their heartily irreverent approach to situation comedy."

The series, which takes place in the 8th century AD, even has some history buffs on its side. The Middle Ages culture website Medievalists praised the show's use of absurdist humor to explore the trials and tribulations of historic Scandinavia. They urged readers to give it a shot, writing, "Since this show is a comedy, one should not expect too much historical accuracy about the Middle Ages, but there are a lot of things that Norsemen does which medievalists will enjoy."

Need more convincing? The New York Times even put Norsemen on their list of the top 30 international TV shows of the decade.

Norsemen's production team worked extra hard to make sure it was a hit

As if the glowing reviews and high ratings weren't enough evidence that the team behind Norsemen know what they're doing, they also launched their own marketing campaign when the show debuted on Netflix, to ensure they got viewers. In a profile in the Hollywood Reporter, series producer Anders Tangen described how he was able to cut through the nearly endless stream of programs on offer on Netflix, and get his Norweigan comedy to a wider audience. Basically, fearing that the show wouldn't make it onto one of the coveted "recommended" lists, Tangen and his co-producers fronted the money for a modest campaign of Facebook ads, targeted at users they thought they show would appeal to. The campaign was a huge success, and generated enough new viewers for the show to beginning popping on Netflix's elusive and mysterious algorithm. The first season of the show ended up doing so well on the streamer that for the subsequent two seasons, Netflix slapped the coveted "Netflix Original" label on the series.

If you are impressed with that feat of Norse ingenuity, make sure to check out Norsemen, currently streaming on Netflix. At the very least, it will tide you over until Vikings: Valhalla finally premiers.