Hailed as the “Norwegian Mad Men,” the multiple award-winning Norwegian period drama State of Happiness is not to be missed.
Sometimes you just have to be patient.
I’ve wanted to watch State of Happiness (Lykkeland) since I first heard about it three years ago, a few months before it began shooting. A year later the series was one of the five Euro TV series selected to compete in the inaugural Canneseries Festival, where it won the awards for Best Music and Best Screenplay.
More awards followed, including Best TV Drama, Best Actor (Anne Regine Ellingsæter), Best Costume Design, Best Script, and Best Direction at the 2019 Gullruten (Golden Screen) awards ceremony.
Now State of Happiness is available for streaming — on both sides of the pond at that!
Set against the backdrop of the birth of Norway’s oil industry, the period drama follows four young adults whose lives are forever changed by the discovery of black gold in the country.
The series opens in 1969. International oil companies are pulling out of Norway because, hundred of wells later, no oil has been found in the Norwegian territory of the North Sea. Those with offices in the small coastal town of Stavanger will leave the place, already in a bad state, worse off. With the North Sea being fished out and sans oil, the local economy — whose unemployment is already at a record high, whose shipyards and factories are already in crisis, and whose restaurants and hotels are already near empty — will be even further in the tank.
But life goes on.
Anna Hellevik (Anne Regine Ellingsæter, Kiss Me You Fucking Moron), an ambitious, intelligent, and level-headed young woman from a farming family, and Christian Nyman (newcomer Amund Harboe), a petulant deep-sea diver and ne-er-do-well scion of a wealthy business-owning family, are celebrating their engagement. At about the same time, the attractive, cowboy boot-wearing American lawyer, Jonathan Kay (Bart Edwards, Young Wallender), arrives in Stavanger to shut down Phillips Petroleum’s operations.
Competitor Shell Oil is already moving their people out. Amongst them is the American boyfriend of Toril Torstensen (newcomer Malene Wadel), a deeply-religious Christian and cannery worker left pregnant, high and dry when he leaves Norway without her — and left unemployed when she loses her job at Christian’s father’s company. The fact that Fredrik Nyman’s (Per Kjerstad, Monster) business is in trouble and on track to go under throws his wife Ingrid (Pia Tjelta, Beck) into a deep depression.
In the days that follow, Anna lands a job as a secretary for (real-life) local politician Arne Rettedal (Vegar Hoel, Borderliner) and begins to surreptitiously use the information she learns from his meetings to help her family and future in-laws. Christian is devastated and traumatized by not one but two fatal accidents. Toril also experiences loss, in terms of both a life and her life. And Jonathan ends up staying in Stavanger far longer than he expected. The Phillips men on the last rig have found oil.
With this major discovery come new opportunities for folks in and around the Stavanger area, including land sales and new business launches. But the potential for big rewards comes with big risks — especially if the powers that be don’t make Stavanger the capital of Norway’s oil industry.
As the weeks and months go by, Anna, Christian, Toril, Jonathan, and others in Stavanger will find themselves having to make tough choices, seeing situations and people with new eyes, and moving forward in their lives in the best ways they know how.
If you go down the list of things that make a show a good one, all the boxes would be checked off for State of Happiness — from the top-notch production values and writing, to the brilliant acting from both veteran actors and newcomers, to the groovy period costumes and hairdos and kicking singalong soundtrack.
I love this show. I experienced a deep sense of satisfaction from watching it — for all the above reasons and the sense of grace that runs throughout the series.
The eight-episode drama features Mads Sjøgård Pettersen (Occupied), Adam Fergus (Being Erica), Roar Kjølv Jenssen (Home Ground), Laila Goody (Mammon), Anastasios Soulis (Johan Falk), and Max Fowler (The Killing).
Viewers in the UK can stream it on BBC iPlayer.
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