State of Happiness is a TV drama series that tells the story of Western prosperity, a changing nation, a Klondike town, and four young people who are thrown into a whirlwind of opportunities. The stories of these four young people are intertwined with each other, and they are all in one way or another affected by the oil industry and all the changes the oil brought with it; the development of the welfare state, equal rights for men and women, immigration and prosperity.
Growing up on a small farm in a small town wasn’t enough for Anna. She had dreams and ambitions that exceeded everything that she had grown to know. A mind like hers needed to flourish and flex its muscles, experience new things. However, nothing was new where she grew up, in fact, your life was basically predestined, and to go against that attracts snide remarks and contempt. Now faced with multiple dilemmas, Anna has to do what she thinks is best for her. Does she choose her rich alcohol dependent fiance or the American lawyer with the Oklahoma accent? Has she made a mistake in getting her family to sign a contract to sell their farm after she convinced them to, based on information she overheard? Also, does she go against the societal norms and attempt to become a businesswoman or politician?
Set in 1960s Norway, State of Happiness is an 8 episode Norwegian drama that I didn’t know I needed. Not only do the episodes get increasingly better as it progresses with no pitfalls, but it’s based on a huge part of Norway’s economic history. There are many questions the show poses that are pretty universal and are relevant in every culture. What would you do to elevate your family? Do you sacrifice your integrity in order to acquire more wealth? Do you allow society’s status quo to dictate the future you want? How do you hold on to your faith when it seems that the faith has failed you? How can you reach your state of happiness? Those questions and many more linger throughout and put you in the shoes of these complex characters. The characters include an ambitious love-struck lawyer, a 17-year-old religious single mother, a rich cowardly drunkard with secrets, and an opportunist from humble beginnings. Half are unknowingly in a love triangle of sorts. At every turn the character that you thought that you were rooting for changes as you feel empathy and relation for another. On the other hand, there is only one character that I didn’t like or relate to. It wasn’t because he is portrayed poorly, quite the opposite, he was done superbly to the point that I understood his plight and angst but still thought he was an ass.
The shows somber intro music sets a tone that is matched by the dreary ambiance of Stavanger, the town in which the story takes place. Stavanger, a religious village, was known for its fisheries, shipping, and canning but it later would be known for its oil. With Norway’s Labour Party practicing its ideology of social democracy it created a clash with American capitalists that wanted to fully invest and Norway’s Communist Party that wanted to control it all. Now we have an abundance of interpersonal drama that is related to and interwoven throughout the heated political drama. The show moves a tad slow at first because there are a lot of moving parts and they want accuracy when it comes to the historical aspects. Nevertheless, once the story begins to unfold, it’s captivating. The acting is phenomenal, the story is written very well, and the way they are able to connect every aspect of the show together with very real relatable characters makes this drama perfect. As far as language goes, I’d say it’s about 80/20, 80 being Norwegian and 20 being English. So if you’re not a fan of subtitles, you’re missing out on a great show. Since it’s an actual drama and not a comedy pretending to be a drama, the rewatchabilty is at a medium. Meaning it’s not something you just throw on as background fodder as you cook or fold laundry. However, I’m definitely watching it again.
Plot & Pace
Starting in Bartlesville Oklahoma, Phillips Petroleum lawyer, Jonathan Kay is assigned to head to Norway and close down an oil rig the company has in Stavanger. While there, a colleague is trying to convince him that it is worth staying because there is an oil well with untapped potential that no one has touched. Meanwhile, a young couple is celebrating their engagement with the family of the future husband. On the other side of town, a young pregnant girl is getting her heart broken as her American, Shell representative boyfriend is leaving without notice. If the oil companies leave permanently, it could mean financial disaster to the town as some traditional businesses are beginning to fail.
The future husband, Christian is a local diver on the oil rig that Phillips Petroleum owns. His fiance, Anna is a secretary for a man who deals directly with the oil companies. Jonathan Kay deals directly with Anna’s boss and she catches his eye. Christian’s family owns a slowly failing canning business that employees the young mother, Toril. Christian’s drunken habit leads him into tragically crossing paths with Toril’s family. Toril eventually is connected to Christian’s family in an unexpected way. And oil connects them all. Their all trying to get to a place in life that makes them happy and fulfilled. It sounds like a crazy cluster but unfolds perfectly. I’d explain more but you know I don’t do spoilers. As I said before, the pacing is just a skosh slow but is full throttle by the end of episode 4.
Characters & Chemistry
The chemistry on this show is palpable. The looks, the stares, the glances, the breakdowns, the nonverbal acting is what put it over the top. The love, or lack thereof, the sexual tension, the deceit, the ambition all could be felt through the screen. I want to say that Anna (Anne Regine Ellingsæter) is the standout. She was cunning, driven, and smart and in a way made everything fall into place. However, Amund Harboe who played Christian made me really dislike his character because his acting was so good. Toril (Malene Wadel) was also amazing. She was a character that I initially thought that I wouldn’t like but her evolution was my favorite. Depending on how you look at it, Jonathan Kay (Bart Edwards) could be looked at as a villain rather than a guy just looking for love. The rest of the cast also did amazing.
State of Happiness is now streaming on Topic. Enjoy the show and stay safe.
Topic is the new streaming service from First Look Media, curated for a curious and engaged audience seeking smart, provocative and meaningful entertainment. Topic features North American premieres and programming from around the world, complemented by a diverse slate of originals including scripted comedies and dramas, talk shows, documentaries, features and more. Topic is available to US and Canadian audiences on topic.com, AppleTV & iOS, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android, and Amazon Prime Video Channels.
Directors: Pa Jackman and Petter Naess
Writers: Mette M. Bølstad, Synnøve Hørsdal, and Siv Rajendram Eliassen
Runtime: 8 episodes. 45min per episode
Rating: 4.5 out of 5