Netflix's most underrated original series deserves another chance
“The sea giveth and the sea taketh away. And this time the sea tooketh......... my sword.”
Before Midsommar introduced horror fans to the Scandinavian concept of Ättestupa, another show explored the Scandinavian concept of elder suicide. But unlike Ari Aster's traumatizing (and historically incorrect) portrayal, this Netflix series got a lot closer to the truth behind the myth of Ättestupa.
Norsemen opens against the beautiful backdrop of Scandinavian mountains. Soaring music plays as the camera pans over a waterfall to focus in on a group of old men being led to a cliff. They're told to jump because Ättestupa is one of the "most honorable things you can do," but after the first man leaps to his death, the rest decide it isn't really their "kind of thing." Instead, they agree to leave town and never return.
It might sound like a dark way to open a TV show, but the entire scene is played for laughs with a unique sort of Scandinavian dry humor that drives the entire series. Don't believe me? See for yourself.
If you enjoyed that, get ready for a whole lot more. Norsemen is packed full of awkward humor, along with some halfway decent action and lots of familial betrayals over who gets to rule the small Viking village where the show takes place. It's the perfect show to sink into as quarantine drags on and you tire of rewatching The Office for the umpteenth time.
Norsemen premiered in October 2016 and debuted its third season on July 22, 2020. The historical comedy (which is filmed in both Norwegian and English) is one of Netflix's most underappreciated gems. The streaming service didn't even bother promoting Season 1 and only took notice after producer Anders Tangen spent his own money on Facebook ads to create interest in the show.
"Three weeks after we launched, Netflix called me: 'You need to come to LA, your show is exploding,'" Tangen told The Hollywood Reporter in a 2019 interview.
Season 2 got a bit more support, including the honor of a "Netflix Original" label, but it's still mostly considered a cult hit. Season 3 launched in the middle of the week with no fanfare at all.
When I launched the app this morning on my phone, the show was at the top of my feed (likely because I've watched Seasons 1 and 2), but when I dropped into the other profiles of my shared family account, Norsemen seemed like an afterthought. It's not listed in the app's rankings of the most popular shows and movies of the day, either, though it's possible that will change once more people begin watching later this evening. (And to pull back the curtain slightly, Netflix's press site, which lists specific PR agents for each original series, didn't offer any contact info for Norsemen Season 3.)
Obviously, Netflix has bigger shows and movies to promote than Norsemen. Cursed is a big-budget production with Hollywood stars that needs to do well. The service probably paid big bucks for Zac Efron to tour the world while taking off his shirt and calling stuff "sick," and the streaming rights to Michael Jordan's documentary series The Last Dance likely wasn't cheap, either.
Compared to all those shows, Norsemen is bargain bin content, but it's the kind of hidden treasure you'll be glad you routed around that bin to find.
Norsemen Seasons 1, 2, and 3 are streaming now on Netflix.