Norwegian series Young and Promising (Unge Lovende) centres on the friendships between Nenne (Gine Cornelia Pedersen), Elise (series writer Siri Seljeseth) and Alex (Alexandra Gjerpen). The women are all go-getters looking to make names for themselves in creative fields, only to find over and over again that there’s a very big gap between dreams and reality, no matter how hard you wish. And it’s in that gap that the show finds its comedy – well, in that gap and in bad poetry.
But the world has changed a lot since HBO's Girls debuted back in 2012, and Young and Promising’s DNA contains traces of later female-centric comedies such as Broad City and Fleabag alongside Lena Dunham’s series.
For one thing, despite the trio’s high-flying ambitions, Young and Promising is more grounded and less obviously about pushing boundaries, though it doesn’t shy away from topical issues either. It’s more matter-of-fact; its charm comes from the warmth between the trio (who are real-life friends) in a world that feels like it’s constantly telling them to come back later.
The series begins with Elise returning to Oslo from LA. She’s an aspiring stand-up comedian whose career hasn’t yet taken off, and she has to come home to renew her visa. She returns to separate but equally messy relationships. One is with her best friend Anders (Jakob Oftebro). She slept with him on her last night in town, which makes things a bit awkward now she’s back.
The other is with her parents. Awkward barely begins to cover her home life – she’s just found out that her father is expecting another child… with another woman. Her mother’s refusal to let this tear the family apart is almost admirable when viewed from one direction. Elise views it from another, swinging between amusement and anger at the way her mother seems to be letting her father get away with a massive betrayal.
Nenne’s dreams of being an author at times veer closest to Girls territory, especially in the second episode of season 1 where she meets up with some young publishers. They’re keen to publicise her work as speaking for all women of her age group rather than being personal and individual. “It says something about what it’s like to be a woman today,” one of them tells her. “That’s like saying Moby Dick is about a whale,” she retorts. Suffice to say, she doesn’t quit her waitressing job – though that turns out to be a plus when she helps a publishing executive who gets into an extremely embarrassing situation after he has a little (okay, a lot) too much to drink.
It’s would-be actor Alex whose storylines have the most bite early on. While she's auditioning for acting school (for the fourth time), a male actor touches her inappropriately. She reacts angrily in the moment, only to spend the rest of the episode torn between her guilt at losing the audition and talking to her fellow actors about whether she was right to break character. It’s never preachy, but it shines a bright light on one of the show’s major themes: how much abuse and humiliation should you accept as the price for “starting out”? How do you maintain your dignity when losing it seems to be the only way to get ahead?
These women might be struggling, but they’re not innocents. They know where they want to go and over the three seasons to date (each six episodes long) the trio goes through many ups and downs as they slowly start to make some headway. Alex gets a big movie role, only to find being on the big screen doesn’t solve all her problems; Nenne’s writing career drifts towards work-for-hire jobs where the money’s good and fame is just around the corner but her heart’s not in it; and for Elise her family becomes a never-ending source of drama – and of comedy, as she mines her private life for material that will send her career off in a direction she never really expected.
Through it all, the bond between the three women remains strong. They’re each on their own journeys – this isn’t a show where they all meet up at the café each episode to debrief – but when they do get together (and later on, occasionally work together), their friendship is real. Like much of this very funny show, it’s comforting and despairing at the same time; in a world that can treat you so badly, it’s important to have people you can rely on. You’re really going to need them.
Season four ofYoung and Promising is available to stream at SBS On Demand from Thursday March 14. You can binge the first three seasons now:
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